Enjoying one of their best Ranji Trophy seasons, Karnataka will look to stretch their winning streak when they face a struggling Delhi in the last league Group A encounter at the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium on Monday.
Karnataka, armed with 32 points after four successive victories, have already qualified to the quarterfinal. Four teams from the Group A —Gujarat (26), Mumbai (23), Punjab (23) and Delhi (19) -- will now be fighting for the remaining two spots.
The table-toppers are fresh from their exhilarating 160 runs triumph over defending champions Mumbai at home. It was their first outright victory over Mumbai, one which consolidated their lead at the top of the table.
The return of seamer and captain R Vinay Kumar has lent stability to their bowling unit while HS Sharath was particularly impressive against Mumbai, finishing with eight wickets. Abhimanyu Mithun, Karnataka’s highest run-getter with 29 wickets, is likely to be rested because of a swollen ankle that he sustained against Mumbai. Another paceman Ronit More, who picked up five against Haryana at Lahli, will be included in the 11.
Karnataka’s strong batting line-up, too, has asserted itself. KL Rahul and Manish Pandey knocked centuries against Mumbai. Karnataka are also likely to give a break to Rahul, 777 runs from seven matches, and bring back Mayank Agarwal at the top. R Samarth, too, chipped in with 75 in the second innings in his debut match. The hosts have a competitive all-rounder in Stuart Binny to add to their strength.
“After going winless in the first three matches, we got result-oriented wickets where we delivered. Our bowlers have particularly performed well this season. The team is confident of performing anywhere,” batting coach J Arun Kumar said on Sunday.
However, Kotla, hosting its first match of the season, does not hold the reputation of providing results. The historic venue has been shunned even by the home side, which had all their matches at the Roshanara Club ground. Being a private club, Roshanara ground would not be available during the New Year time and that left the Delhi team with no choice. Delhi has also grappled with selection issues.
The pitch on Sunday was given the finishing touches under the supervision of Kotla curator Venkat Sundaram and BCCI chief curator Daljit Singh. It is expected to assist the spinners.
The Karnataka coach, too, hinted at the possibility of going in with three spinners, including two part-timers, and seamers.
Delhi, on its part, face a must win situation to stay in contention. They will be hurt by the absence of its experienced seamer Parvinder Awana, who is nursing a stiff back. He has been replaced in the squad by rookie Javed Khan, who had impressed with his performance at under-25 level. Against a mighty Karnataka on Kotla, Delhi will need to stoke its appetite to bat. The batting collapse and subsequent defeat against Punjab at home has left them struggling to qualify for the last eight stage.
Captain Gautam Gambhir will have to show firepower with his bat too. He and Virender Sehwag, who has been painfully out of form, need to anchor the batting. For No 3, Milind Kumar might be given preference over left-hander Vaibhav Rawal. Mithun Minhas along with allrounder Rajat Bhatia remain the mainstay of Delhi batting.
The bowling will be led by inform left-arm pacer Ashish Nehra. Delhi are likely to field two left-arm spinners in Manan Sharma and Varun Sood.