After two seasons of disappointment, Karnataka embarks on a fresh Ranji Trophy campaign with renewed hope. So high has the bar been set that even last year's quarterfinal exit, after a good run in the group stages, felt like failure. The coaching pair of P.V. Shashikanth and G.K. Anil Kumar, who replaced J. Arunkumar and Mansur Ali Khan in April, admitted there was a need to “revitalise” the side. Whether they have achieved that objective will be evident when Karnataka begins its journey through Group A against Assam here on Saturday.

The threat of rain hangs menacingly over the game. Overnight showers rendered nets impossible on match-eve, limiting Karnataka to a fielding session in the afternoon. Even that exercise was brought to an early halt by a downpour, leaving Shashikanth mildly concerned. The forecast will hardly cheer him up, with varying amounts of rain predicted over the next four days.

READ: Ranji Trophy: Depleted Mumbai faces MP in campaign opener

The pitch at the Gangothri Glades was relaid a year and a half ago, and the new surface is expected to take turn while offering greater bounce. “There are big cracks on the wicket,” Shashikanth noted. “We are thinking about fielding two spinners.” K. Gowtham, who was in boisterous mood during the catching drills on Friday, will be the team's primary spinner with all-rounder Shreyas Gopal likely to support him.

Assam's strength is its seam bowling and the visiting quicks will thus hope for some help from the pitch on the opening two days, at least. Abu Nechim Ahmed, the leader of the pack, took seven for 68 in the first innings over Delhi last week, when Assam forced a draw amid accusations of deliberate time-wasting. Against a Karnataka line-up missing its batting heavyweights, Ahmed will fancy his chances.

Lalchand Rajput, who last month took over as coach from Sunil Joshi after the latter left for a consulting role with Bangladesh, was pleased that his side had emerged with a point from Delhi. “Delhi is one of the better teams with Ishant Sharma and Gautam Gambhir and we denied them an outright win. So the morale is high,” he said. R. Vinay Kumar left the field on Friday complaining of gastric trouble; Karnataka will hope that is all the discomfort he endures this week.

The teams:
Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (capt.), R. Samarth, Abhishek Reddy, Mayank Agarwal, Mir Kaunain Abbas, Pavan Deshpande, C.M. Gautam, Stuart Binny, K. Gowtham, A. Mithun, S. Arvind, Shreyas Gopal, J. Suchith, D. Nischal, Sharath Srinivas, Ronit More, and T. Pradeep.
Assam: Gokul Sharma (capt.), Wasiqur Rahman, Abu Nechim Ahmed, Krishna Das, Arup Das, Swarupam Purkayastha, Kunal Saikia, Rishav Das, Pallav Das, Sibsankar Roy, Pritam Das, Rahul Singh, Pritam Debnath, Tarjinder Singh and Sunzow Brahma.
Match officials: P.M.S. Reddy (referee), Umesh Dubey and Nitin Pandit (umpires).