Fiery UP attack awaits Karnataka

Fiery UP attack awaits Karnataka

Hosts will look to iron out the chinks before the start of the quarterfinals

lull before storm: Karnataka’s Robin Uthappa (left) and Uttar Pradesh skipper Suresh Raina chat on Tuesday ahead of their Ranji Trophy clash at the JNNCE ground in Shimoga. DH PHOTO/ Krishna Kumar PS

For Uttar Pradesh, fourth in the group with 13 points, qualification to the knockout quarterfinals hinges on this match. For a weakened Karnataka, leading the table with 21 points and already through to the next stage, it’s about pitting their wares against a strong side ahead of the battles to follow, and see where they stand.

The beautifully maintained JNNCE ground offers the perfect backdrop against which this encounter will be played out, marking the return of first-class cricket to Shimoga after 32 years. The Ranji Trophy Group A fixture beginning on Wednesday is the first first-class game at this ground, expected to be heavily patronised by the locals who will relish watching hometown paceman SL Akshay, fit again after missing the last game against Punjab with a hamstring injury.

In many ways, the Punjab game was a wake-up call for a Karnataka side that has lost several key personnel over the last few weeks due to international commitments as well as injury concerns. On a flattish track that offered the bowlers little joy, pacer NC Aiyappa marked his comeback to the State side with a seven-wicket match haul, but the batting came a cropper for a third straight innings as the former champions conceded the first-innings lead for the first time this season.

Against a strong and versatile Uttar Pradesh attack, spearheaded by left-arm paceman Rudra Pratap Singh and including Bhivaneshwar Kumar, Imtiyaz Ahmed and leggie Piyush Chawla, the Karnataka batsmen will get one last chance to get their act together going into the quarterfinals. Skipper Ganesh Satish admitted that successive top-order failures had been discussed in detail, adding that the batsmen are all aware of what they need to do to avoid unwanted encores.

Satish himself could do with a few runs – the right-handed number three has got off to starts on most occasions but frustratingly failed to carry on – while Bharath Chipli, from neighbouring Sagar, too needs to spend time in the middle, having tapered off after a big century on his comeback four games ago. Both men possess the temperament and the technical wherewithal to rise to the occasion, and on a strip that should lose some of the grass and be to their liking, they should welcome the challenge Rudra Pratap and the rest of the attack will pose.

Manish Pandey apart, the batting has remained unaffected, but the bowling has taken a severe beating with Karnataka’s three best bowlers of the last couple of seasons – R Vinay Kumar, A Mithun and S Arvind – all unavailable. The onus therefore will be on the likes of Aiyappa and Akshay, all-rounders Stuart Binny and Sunil Raju, and left-arm spinner KP Appanna – who has gone off the boil after starting the season impressively – to rein in a formidable batting line-up with skipper Suresh Raina and Mohammad Kaif in the forefront.

Uttar Pradesh must win, and hope that Punjab don’t manage a like result in Mumbai, to seal their knockout berth, which is easier said than done given that they have blown hot and cold all season. The consistency that put them in three finals during a four-year stretch in the middle of the last decade has deserted them all season, though there have been sporadic shows of individual brilliance and the rarer collective effort that has showcased the team’s potential.

Raina believes a result is very much on the cards on this surface, and might be tempted to field Sudeep Tyagi as the fourth seamer in place of left-arm spinner Praveen Gupta. Desperate times, as they are for Uttar Pradesh, surely call for desperate measures?!

Teams (from): Karnataka: Ganesh Satish (capt), Robin Uthappa, KB Pawan, Bharath Chipli, Amit Verma, Stuart Binny, CM Gautam, Sunil Raju, SL Akshay, KP Appanna, NC Aiyappa, Adithya Sagar, Karun Nair, KL Gowtham, SK Moinuddin.

Uttar Pradesh: Suresh Raina (capt), Tanmay Srivastava, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Mohammad Kaif, Parvinder Singh, Arish Alam, Amir Khan, Piyush Chawla, Rudra Pratap Singh, Sudeep Tyagi, Imtiyaz Ahmed, Praveen Gupta, Eklayva Dwivedi, Umang Sharma, Mukul Dagar, Kshitij Lal, Prashanth Gupta.

Umpires: Pachim Pathak and Rajesh Deshpande. Umpires’ coach: KS Giridharan. Match referee: Manu Nayyar.

Hours of play: 0930-1200 hours, 1240-1440 hours and 1500-end of play.

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