It's advantage Karnataka

Cricket Ranji Trophy:Depth in batting and bowling gives visitors clear edge over Baroda

Nearly two years after a painful loss in the semifinals on a rank-turner here, Karnataka return to take on Baroda with a quiet determination to bury the ghosts of that defeat.

An astonishing 33 wickets fell in less than two days of cricket before Baroda emerged seven-wicket victors on an under-prepared surface. It was a deliberate ploy to undermine a pace-heavy visiting attack and the move paid handsome dividends for the hosts.

Baroda, now, ironically guided by the then Karnataka coach K Sanath Kumar, face a somewhat a similar predicament as they run into former champions in their Group ‘B’ Ranji Trophy opener here at the Moti Bagh ground from Friday.

Two of their main pace bowlers, Munaf Patel and Murtuja Vahora, have been ruled out for the opening tie due to injuries while their opponents are set to unleash a three-pronged pace attack comprising of skipper R Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and the canny Stuart Binny. Vinay, who was part of India ‘A’ side that played England in Mumbai, was expected to join the squad on Thursday night while the exciting Ronit More may get to make his Ranji debut depending upon the conditions on Friday morning.

The Moti Bagh pitch has a reputation of assisting seamers, but the ground-staff have left the square unwatered for the last couple of days that may result in a drier pitch as the match progresses.

Karnataka, however, appear to have plans in places for any eventuality. Off-spinning all-rounder Sunil Raju and left-arm spinner KP Appanna will form a potent slow-bowling attack along with part-timer Amit Verma who can be handy with his leg-spinners.

While Karnataka, under a new coaching staff, seem to have covered all bases so far as bowling is concerned, batting looks to be in a far better shape despite an injury scare to CM Gautam.

The lone specialist stumper in the side hurt his knee while playing football during Wednesday’s practice and remained a spectator as his team-mates went through their paces on Thursday.

If Gautam fails to recover in time, openers Robin Uthappa and KB Pawan will share the wicket-keeping responsibilities by turn. Gautam’s absence may also earn in-from middle-order batsman Kunal Kapoor his Ranji cap.

Envy of rival teams

In fact, Karnataka batting is the envy of rival teams as was pointed out by Sanath Kumar. “The depth in batting is simply amazing. The fact that guys as prolific as (KL) Rahul and Kunal (Kapoor) are in the reserve shows their batting might,” he remarked.

Having endured an indifferent last season, the likes of Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey will be keen to catapult themselves back into national reckoning while consistent performances from Ganesh Satish, KB Pawan and Amit Verma will further enhance their stature within the set-up.

That there is an array of youngsters snapping at their heels, both within the squad and on the fringes, should spur the ‘established’ lot to better the standards they have set for themselves.

The home attack, which lacks bite at least on paper, will be spearheaded by a rejuvenated Irfan Pathan. Though the left-arm seamer had a wicket-less outing against England in the practice match in Mumbai, he can pose serious questions if he slips into his rhythm.

Another bowler to watch out for would be young left-arm spinner Bhargav Bhatt who tormented Karnataka batsmen with a nine-wicket haul for the match when the two sides clashed the last time around. In Munaf and Vahora’s absence, the Yusuf Pathan-led Baroda are planning to pack their side with all-rounders like Ketan Panchal and Abhimanyu Chauhan, a scenario that Karnataka batsmen won’t be complaining about much.

Teams (from): BARODA: Yusuf Pathan (capt) Ambati Rayudu (vice-captain), Aditya Waghmode, Rakesh Solanki, Ketan Panchal, Irfan Pathan, Pinal Shah (wk), Abhimanyu Chauhan, Firdos Bhaja, Gagandeepsingh Natt, Sankalp Vohra, Bhargav Bhatt, Sagar Mangalorkar, Utkarsh Patel, Kedar Devdhar.

KARNATAKA: R Vinay Kumar (capt), Robin Uthappa, KB Pawan, Ganesh Satish (vice-capt), Manish Pandey, Amit Verma, Stuart Binny, CM Gautam, A Mithun, Ronit More, KP Appanna, KL Rahul, Kunal Kapoor, Sunil Raju, SK Moinuddin.

Umpires: Rajiv Risodkar (Madhya Pradesh) and Anil Chaudhary (Delhi); Match referee: Col Chinmaya Sharma (Services).

Match hours: 0930-1200; 1240-1440; 1500-close of play.

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