Ranji Trophy: Karnataka, Saurashtra resume rivalry

All-rounder Shreyas Gopal will lead Karnataka in the absence of Karun Nair.

Cheteshwar Pujara’s century steered Saurashtra into the semis last season; he is slowly gaining form this season, having scored two half-centuries in his last two matches.   -  Sudhakara Jain

Karnataka faces a familiar and tricky foe in Saurashtra, in a Ranji Trophy outing which commences at Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground here on Saturday.

In a tense semifinal at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru last season, Saurashtra prevailed by five wickets over Karnataka. Emotions ran high when Saurashtra batting mainstay Cheteshwar Pujara was declared not-out on a couple of occasions even as rival players were convinced that he had edged the ball. Pujara, who chose not to walk, went on to make an unbeaten century in the second innings to guide his side home.

A season earlier, in a group-stage game, the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) Stadium pitch in Rajkot came into focus, when spinners dominated in Saurashtra’s 87-run win. After the contest ended inside three days, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) filed a complaint to the BCCI, terming the playing surface as under-prepared.

D. Jadeja, a big threat

Most of the protagonists — or antagonists, depending on which side of the fence you are on — will be seen in action here. Pujara leads Saurashtra’s batting line-up, slowing gaining form with scores of 69 and 57 in his two previous matches. Sheldon Jackson, centurion and able foil to Pujara at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, is his usual consistent, dependable self.

Left-arm spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, who was nearly unplayable during the course of his 11-wicket haul at SCA, is a big threat alongside skipper and pacer Jaydev Unadkat.

In-form Mithun

For Karnataka, fast bowler A. Mithun — on the wrong side of a vociferous caught-behind appeal against Pujara — has picked up an impressive 13 wickets so far this season. Mithun has formed a dangerous new ball combination with talented rookie seamer V. Koushik.

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Captain Karun Nair misses out, as he is set to get married in a few days. K. V. Siddharth and Pawan Deshpande return to strengthen a wobbly middle-order.

‘Stay in the present’

All-rounder Shreyas Gopal, who leads Karnataka in the absence of Karun, wants his players to leave past battles behind. “I don’t think too much about the past. It’s very important that we don’t get distracted by such talk, and focus on just giving our best. It’s important for players to stay in the present,” Gopal said here on Friday.

Karnataka has recorded 16 points, with two wins and as many draws. Saurashtra (two wins and one loss) is not far behind; it has 13 points.