Ranji Trophy: Kerala searches for first win

Kerala hopes to capitalise on the inexperience of Ranji Trophy debutant Chhattisgarh, which will be without its regular captain Mohammad Kaif, to post its first win in the upcoming Group C tie in Jamshedpur.

In Mohammad Kaif's absence, Abhimanyu Chauhan will captain Chhattisgarh.   -  R V. Moorthy

Ranji Trophy debutant Chhattisgarh has suffered a big blow ahead of its Group C clash against Kerala at the Keenan Stadium here on Thursday. Its influential captain Mohammad Kaif will miss the tie due to neck injury.

Chhattisgarh has depended significantly on Kaif’s captaincy and presence in its debut season, but will have to regroup without him against Kerala.

Kaif’s out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional field placements were behind Chhattisgarh’s early success this season. Its coach Sulakshan Kulkarni admitted the former India player will be missed, but tried to look at the silver lining – that it will present a good opportunity for others players to lift their game.

“[There’s] no doubt we will miss him as captain. Kaif was pretty unconventional with his field placing and was a very demanding captain. But we had played without him earlier in some tournaments and [this] is [an] opportunity for others to step up. There is only one way for us to improve, and that is by playing positive cricket. We will be doing that against Kerala,” Kulkarni said.

“We are not thinking much about our > loss against Haryana. We dominated them in some sessions and we will be taking positives out of it and keen not to repeat mistakes here against Kerala which is a pretty experienced side with couple of good players. But we are capable of beating them,” he said.

In Kaif’s absence, all-rounder Abhimanyu Chauhan will lead the side.

Despite dominating its opponents in the earlier matches, a win has eluded Kerala so far in the tournament. While rain robbed Kerala of a win > against Jammu & Kashmir, against > Hyderabad, it was Anirudh’s maiden first-class century that thwarted it.

'No easy matches'

Kerala’s captain Rohan Prem said his team was playing consistently well in the tournament, barring the one session against Himachal where team’s batting failed. “We are not taking Chhattisgarh lightly. Even without Kaif, they are a good side out to prove their worth. In Ranji [Trophy], there are no easy matches we will have to perform at our best to win," he said.

“Of course, Chhattisgarh is a little inexperienced side and we will be trying to take advantage of that. I am pretty happy with the form the batsmen are in and our bowlers have also chipped in. We will be positive tomorrow and we hope the wicket will aid us. Against Hyderabad, the wicket didn’t break as we thought it would,” Prem said.

Kerala’s slow batting in both matches - against Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad - had come up for criticism but coach Balachandran said the slow batting was mostly due to collapses the team suffered in those matches.

“Our aim is to put up big totals and be on the safer side. I hope against Chhattisgarh we will have good partnerships early in the innings as it has been a problem area for us. Chattisgarh is a good side and we have to be at our best to beat them,” he said.

The teams

Kerala: Rohan Prem (captain), Sachin Baby, V.A. Jagadeesh, Bhavin Thakkur, Jalaj Saxena, Sanju Samson, K. Monish, Iqbal Abdulla, Nikhilesh Surendran, Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampy, Manu Krishnan, Robert Fernandez, M.D. Nidheesh and Tilbin Joseph.

Chattisgarh: Abhimanyu Chauhan (captain), Rishabh Tiwari, S.S. Gupta, Ashutosh Singh, Ajay Mandal, V.C. Naidu, Shakeeb Ahmed, S.S.Ruikar, A.N. Khare, V.C. Naidu, P.R.Sinha, A.Kant Singh, Pankaj Rao, A. Tamrakar and Manoj Singh

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