Ranji Trophy: Karnataka looks to continue winning momentum

After three games, Karnataka sits on top of Group B with 17 points, having ripped Delhi and Assam to shreds (both bonus-point-wins) en route. It is, thus, with much confidence that R. Vinay Kumar's men gather in Vadodara, for their meeting with Vidarbha.

Vinay Kumar will return to lead Karnataka, having missed the previous two games with a calf injury.   -  Kiran Bakle

Last winter, Karnataka opened its Ranji Trophy campaign with four straight draws, a sequence of results that precipitated the side's early exit from the tournament. It is fair to say there has been no such lethargy this season.

After three games, Karnataka sits on top of Group B with 17 points, having ripped Delhi and Assam to shreds (both bonus-point-wins) en route. It is, thus, with much confidence that R. Vinay Kumar's men gather in Vadodara, for their meeting with Vidarbha at the Moti Bagh stadium here on Saturday.

“Everyone's doing their jobs correctly,” said Karnataka's coach, J. Arunkumar, reflecting on this fine start to the campaign.

“Bhajji [K. Gowtham] has been bowling extremely well; he's got two five-wicket hauls already and Arvind one. If someone gets a five-wicket haul, it's easy for the others to pick up the rest of the wickets. The batsmen have begun well; for a debutant like Kaunain Abbas to score three fifties in a row is amazing. It builds our confidence for the rest of the season.”

Vinay returns

Vinay Kumar will return to lead the side, having missed the previous two games with a calf injury. He will replace Abhimanyu Mithun, who picked up a groin strain against Assam.

“Vinay bowled really well in the nets [on Thursday], a long spell,” Arunkumar said. “He bowled for nearly two hours. If there was a strain it would've shown.”

Karun Nair's absence will be felt. The 24-year-old had scored 326 runs from four innings, even leading the side impressively in Vinay's absence, when he was called-up for the England Test series this week. But Karnataka will be somewhat relieved that Manish Pandey, who has returned from ODI duty, is there to take his place.

An open ground, Moti Bagh is reputed to help swing bowlers, something borne out by Stuart Binny's five-wicket haul on Karnataka's last visit here.

“This is a red-soil surface. So there will be some assistance for the fast bowlers and spinners,” said Arunkumar. “When we played Baroda here (November 2012), Stuart took a five-for. It was swinging throughout the day. Even if it doesn't bounce this time, we can use the swing and do well.”

Batting at one-drop for Karnataka on that occasion four years ago was Ganesh Satish, who has since moved to Vidarbha. He is the team’s highest run-maker this season and will be relied on to contribute again. Vidarbha has drawn all three of its games so far, with nothing in those results to suggest that Karnataka will struggle here.

After a trying season, Vinay and his men have turned up with a renewed zeal. Gowtham's off-spin appears to have given the side's bowling attack a cutting edge again, while S. Arvind's form has been equally heartening. With Robin Uthappa, who rode his luck against Assam, and R. Samarth among the runs, there is nothing for Karnataka to lose sleep over.

“We will be looking at an outright win,” said Arunkumar, “and we don't want to compromise on that.”

Teams:

Karnataka: R. Vinay Kumar (Capt.), R. Samarth, Robin Uthappa, Mayank Agarwal, C.M. Gautam, Stuart Binny, Shreyas Gopal, S. Arvind, Abrar Kazi, Mir Kaunain Abbas, Pavan Deshpande, Arjun Hoysala, K. Gowtham, Ronit More, and Manish Pandey.

Vidarbha: Faiz Fazal (Capt.), Ganesh Satish, Aditya Shanware, Ravi Jhangid, Shreekant Wagh, Ravi Thakur, Akshay Wakhare, Aditya Shanware, Jitesh Sharma, Lalit Yadav, Akshay Kolhar, Rajneesh Gurbuani, R Sanjay, Akshay Karnewar, and Swapnil Bandiwar.

Other fixtures (Group B):

Assam v Saurashtra in Kolkata

>Delhi v Jharkhand in Thumba

Rajasthan v Odisha in Patiala