Rejuvenated Karnataka eye another victory

 The Ch Bhansi Lal Cricket Stadium is more a grandiose ground than a normal stadium, but little over a month ago, this humble location, built bang in the middle of Haryana’s agricultural heartland, was no less than the Colosseum itself as one of cricket’s greatest gladiators took centre stage.

Sachin Tendulkar was playing his final Ranji Trophy match for Mumbai and the city and stadium were less than equipped to handle the ensuing brouhaha. The sanity -- barring the occasional sound of tractors ploughing the fields or the train running through the railway line that passes adajecent to the stadium -- has since returned to the venue, and Karnataka wouldn’t mind the tranquil settings as they take on hosts Haryana in their fifth Group ‘A’ encounter here from Friday.

The absence of R Vinay Kumar, who was initially picked to lead the squad for this encounter, and an injured Robin Uthappa does leave Karnataka a bit vulnerable but they have played without these two players on different occasions since the start of the season and have looked competitive enough.

Vinay Kumar, who got married on November 28, opted out of the tie due to personal commitments, while Uthappa’s recurring hamstring tendinitis in left leg has forced him out for another three weeks. Stuart Binny, who missed a couple of games due to a hamstring injury, will replace the dashing opener and lend some balance to the middle-order and versatility to the bowling unit.

As far as Karnataka’s bowling goes, given the fast nature of the pitch, the team management would prefer to use three seamers and one spinner. Abhimanyu Mithun and HS Sharath are certain picks while they will need to choose between either Sreenath Arvind or Ronit More to complete the three-pronged pace attack.

Abrar Kazi, who was picked ahead of frontline spinner KP Appanna for the game against Odisha, is likely to be retained as the only spinner while Mayank Agarwal’s part-time off-breaks will be used should the need arise.

Batting coach J Arun Kumar and bowling coach Mansur Ali Khan will be pleased with where the team stands on the points table (fourth with 13 points from four matches) but four games remain in the league phase and things will get progressively tougher as they run into Punjab, Mumbai and Delhi following this encounter.

This is perhaps Karnataka’s best chance to add six -- possibly seven with a bonus-point win -- points to their kitty without having to break too much of a sweat. That said, Haryana are no walkovers.

Led by Rahul Dewan in the absence of Ajay Jadeja, who returned home to take care of his ailing father, Haryana have endured a poor season so far with four losses and one win.

As it stands, Karnataka, led by CM Gautam, would fancy themselves now more than ever since Haryana are not only going through a rough patch but they are also without the services of leg-spinner Amit Mishra and seamer Mohit Sharma.

Nothing, however, is carved in stone, especially when Karnataka’s fluctuating form features in the equation.

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