Karnataka look to settle scores with Saurashtra

Paceman Vinay Kumar likely to be rested in an inconsequential match


After all, Robin Uthappa’s side has already, emphatically, sealed its quarterfinal slot as undisputed number one in Super League Group B. With 23 points from five matches, Karnataka are guaranteed a last-eight clash with one of the Plate teams, and therefore, their four-day face-off against Saurashtra at the distant Khanderi stadium, beginning on Tuesday, might not seem to hold too much significance. Then again, that’s only on the face of it.

For the first time in recent memory, Karnataka will go into a Ranji game minus a fit and available Sunil Joshi. The super-experienced left-arm spinner has been rested mainly because Karnataka are through to the knockout phase, and therefore can afford the luxury of testing their bench strength against an opposition battling to avoid the drop to the Plate division next year.

With seven points to their name, Saurashtra must aim for at least the first-innings lead to ensure that they, and not Maharashtra – who have only four points and meet Baroda in a must-win game at home – stay in the Super League. Against a Karnataka outfit firing on all cylinders, that will be a tall order for Jaydev Shah’s men, further handicapped by the unavailability of star all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja, away on national duty. Saurashtra has been something of a bogey side for Karnataka. Early last year, they ended Karnataka’s campaign in the all-India one-day tournament in Visakhapatnam; last December, they comfortably scaled down a 300-plus fourth-innings target in Mumbai to make the Ranji semifinals and the previous year they had eked out a narrow win over Karnataka in Mysore. So it was no surprise that revenge was uppermost on Uthappa’s mind, even if he measured his words carefully.

“Saurashtra have always done well against us,” the Karnataka skipper said after nets on Monday. “We are a young side, and while it is important to maintain the momentum, we want to take it as just another game. We don’t want the boys to put added pressure on themselves, the idea is to go out and enjoy ourselves.”
Karnataka’s young batting guns have enjoyed themselves immensely this season. The captain hasn’t been among the big runs, but KB Pawan, Ganesh Satish, Amit Verma and Manish Pandey have hit a rich vein of form. On a flattish, dry surface, they can expect to build on their impressive tally of this season ahead of the knockout quarterfinal, a game for which Joshi and former Indian captain Rahul Dravid will return.
As impressive as the batting has been Karnataka’s exceptional quick-bowling department. Between them, R Vinay Kumar (33) and the exciting A Mithun (28) have accounted for 61 wickets this season. Throw left-arm swing bowler S Arvind into the mix, and it makes for a versatile, intimidating attack that can test the best in the business in domestic cricket.

Cheteshwar Pujara will rank among the best. Saurashtra’s batting mainstay has lived up to his reputation, and must shoulder the responsibility again alongside the ageless Sitanshu Kotak if last year’s semifinalists are to save face – and their Super League status.

Karnataka are undecided on their composition. There is a possibility Vinay might be rested – “He is a team man, and if he is rested, he will understand it,” Uthappa said – which in turn will dictate the rest of the attack.

Teams (from): Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (capt), Chirag Pathak, Sagar Jogiyani, Sitanshu Kotak, Cheteshwar Pujara, Pratik Mehta, Rakesh Dhruv, Jayesh Odedra, Sandeep Jobanputra, Balkrishna Jadeja, Sandip Maniyar, Kamlesh Makwana, Sheldon Jackson, Vishal Joshi, Arpit Vasavda.
Karnataka: Robin Uthappa (capt), KB Pawan, Ganesh Satish, Amit Verma, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, CM Gautam, A Mithun, S Arvind, Udit Patel, KP Appanna, R Vinay Kumar, Ryan Ninan, B Akhil, Aditya Sagar.

How they stand
* So far three teams have qualified for the knockout stage. Tamil Nadu with 23 points from Group ‘A’ and Karnataka (23) and Uttar Pradesh (18) from Group ‘B’.
* Punjab, Mumbai and Railways will fight it out for the two places from Group A while Delhi and Baroda will be vying for the third team’s slot from Group B. 
* Mumbai (16) play a weaker Gujarat at home while Punjab (16) take on Railways (13).
* Delhi (15 points) play Bengal in away tie and they need just the first innings lead from a drawn game to be through. 
* In Group A, Hyderabad (6), who take on TN in last match, are most likely to be demoted.

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