Confident Karnataka hold edge

Cricket Ranji Trophy

Confident Karnataka hold edge

Vinay Kumar’s men look to get the better of Punjab in the semifinals from tomorrow

Contrasting as they appear, Karnataka and Punjab have quite a few similarities between them and nothing more exemplifies it than their respective captains.

They are led by bowlers who take great pride in their batting abilities. R Vinay Kumar’s maiden first-class century against Punjab in league fixtures in Hubli set-up Karnataka’s 10-wicket win while Harbhajan Singh’s count­er-attacking 96 against Jammu and Kashmir in the quarterfinals was the turning point of the match.

In nature, though, the two individuals are as different as the trades they practice. Harbhajan, the most prolific Indian off-spinner in internationals, is an impulsive character while Vinay, a medium pacer, comes across as a mild-mannered person. Their styles of functioning too are different but there is no doubting the stature of the two men in their sides.

A glance at the two sides shows the presence of some of the most exciting batting and bowling talent with just enough experienced lot to guide and complement them. Their progress to the semifinal of the Ranji Trophy, beginning here at the PCA Stadium on Saturday, has been identical though Karnataka have looked a bit more efficient and a far more settled outfit. Karnataka have notched up an unprecedented six wins in a row en route their last-four stage while Punjab have won five matches – the last three coming on the trot – to make the semifinal grade.

 On both current form and past record, Karnataka, who have beaten Punjab twice in as many previous meetings, hold the psychological edge but the hosts have every reason to fancy their chances given the familiar conditions. The stadium has been under the cover of heavy north Indian winter fog and given that the playing hours are going to be curtailed, first innings batting is going to be crucial.

There is forecast for rain on the opening day but the locals maintain it would be blessing in disguise as it would clear the weather.  It’s precisely for this reason Vinay dropped hints at playing an extra batsman, most probably Ganesh Satish, in place of a regular spinner especially with all-rounder Shreyas Gopal proving more than handy with his leg-spinners. Ronit More is almost certain to come in place of the injured HS Sharath to form a three-pronged pace attack along with the experienced pair of Vinay and A Mithun.

Given the form of the pacers, playing a fourth seamer in S Arvind would be a luxury but there is an outside chance of including the left-arm seamer in the final 11 instead of More as he can double up as a left-arm spinner, if need be. Along with the expected return of Ganesh, the other batsman making a comeback is Mayank Agarwal though he will not link up with Robin Uthappa at the top of the order. The in-form KL Rahul will continue to open while Manish Pandey, Karun Nair and CM Gautam will man the middle-order.    

 Punjab too are likely to field a three-pronged pace attack in MS Gony, Sandeep Sharma and most probably Siddharth Kaul who all know how to exploit the friendly fast-bowling conditions. Kaul comes in place of VRV Singh who is down with high temperature while Harbhajan will be the lone specialist spinner. 

Punjab have had a number of young batsmen show off their skills at various junctures but they haven’t clicked as a unit as often as the team management would have liked them to. Jiwanjot Singh is once again their top-scorer while vice-captain Mandeep Singh and Manan Vohra have not been far behind. Yuvraj Singh hasn’t been among runs in the limited number of matches he has played this season but the left-hander, keen to reclaim India slot, understands this could be his last chance to make an impression.     

 Come to think of it, there are a handful of players in both teams who are either eyeing a return or knocking on the doors of the senior national squad. And whoever shows more ambition, may just corner all the glory.

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