Karnataka face UP challenge

Vinay's men will look to take their league form forward as they eye spot in semis

Karnataka face UP challenge
Will Karnataka break the quarterfinal hoodoo?

When the Vinay Kumar-led side take on Uttar Pradesh in their last-eight Ranji Trophy tie here at the Chinnaswamy Stadium from Wednesday, their two successive failures to go beyond the first knockout stage will be playing at the back of their minds. They were stunned into a six-wicket defeat by Haryana at their own backyard here in 2011-12 while Saurashtra proved a hard nut to crack the previous season at Rajkot with Cheteshwar Pujara producing his highest first-class score -- 352.

Unlike the past few campaigns when Karnataka looked a bit brittle, barely managing to keep their heads above water, they have been the most dominant side this season by some distance. While the start wasn’t exactly ideal, they appear to have peaked at the right time. Barring a few hiccups in the middle-order, the batting seems to be in good health while bowling has been the most exciting aspect of their game. The spinners, whether due to the conditions or because of their own inability, haven’t been quite complementary to a well-rounded pace attack on most occasions but all-rounder Shreyas Gopal has shown signs of plugging the gap with his leg-spinners.

The match will also mark the return of opener Robin Uthappa who has played just two matches -- against Vidarbha and Odisha -- after twice being sidelined by hamstring injuries. Also coming back into the side are opener KL Rahul and paceman Abhimanyu Mithun who were rested for their final league match against Delhi. On the flip side, the hosts will be without the services of Stuart Binny, who will depart to New Zealand for the five-match ODI series beginning on January 19. The all-rounder, with his more-than-handy medium pacers and meaty contributions with the bat in the late middle-order, provided the perfect balance to the side and in his absence the specialist batsmen will have to shoulder more responsibility, especially if Karnataka choose to go with four pacemen.

The surface that is likely to break as the match progresses, however, may force the home team to go with a slower bowler in Abrar Kazi with Shreyas expected to play the second fiddle to the left-arm spinner. And given that it’s a five-day match, it does make sense to include a spinner. The impressive Ronit More, who may make way for Mithun, should consider himself unlucky but Karnataka wouldn’t be complaining about this problem of plenty. Indeed Vinay, Mithun and HS Sharath -- with 72 scalps between them -- form an enviable pace attack.    

The problem for Karnataka, though, is the lack of runs from CM Gautam. The right-hander, who was the highest run-getter in the tournament last season, has been a pale shadow of himself. The wicketkeeper-batsman, also the deputy to Vinay, will have to step up before it’s too late. Otherwise, the batting has been in good shape with Rahul leading the chart with 777 runs so far. 

Manish Pandey has found his range and rhythm while Uthappa lends both experience and urgency at the top of the order. Youngsters Karun Nair, fresh from his maiden Ranji century, and R Samarth too have proved that faith reposed in them wasn’t misplaced while lower order has chipped in with more than its bit.  

Karnataka know they will have to maintain the same intensity against Uttar Pradesh who make up for their lack of big names with big heart and an even bigger effort. They do possess internationals like RP Singh, leading the side, Mohammad Kaif and Piyush Chawla but there is more to Venkatesh Prasad-coached UP than these three familiar faces. When the two sides met last season in the league at Meerut, UP had the better of exchanges. But Karnataka have more than just a revenge at stake this time.

Free entry

The KSCA, the hosts of the quarterfinal between Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, have thrown open Gate No 4 of the Chinnaswamy Stadium on Queen’s Road for the general public on all five days. The entry is free. 

DH News Service  
             
The teams (from): KARNATAKA: R Vinay Kumar (captain), CM Gautham (vice-captain, wk), Robin Uthappa, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, R Samarth, Shreyas Gopal, A Mithun, HS Sharath, Abrar Kazi, Ronit More, Ganesh Satish, Amit Verma, KP Appanna.
UTTAR PRADESH: RP Singh (captain), Tanmay Srivatsava (vice-captain), Mukul Dagar, Prashant Gupta, Mohammad Kaif, Parvinder Singh, Amir Khan (wk), Imtiaz Ahmed, Amit Mishra, Piyush Chawla, Umang Sharma, Arish Alam, Eklavya Dwivedi (wk), Ali Murtuza, Ankit Rajpoot, Praveen Gupta, Kuldeep Yadav.

Match officials: Amish Saheba (Gujarat), Rajesh Deshpande (Mumbai). Match referee: S Sharath (Tamil Nadu).
Match starts at 9.30 am

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