Karnataka face tricky Baroda

Cricket Ranji Trophy: With Rahul back in the mix, champions look to step it up in batting department

Karnataka face tricky Baroda
Since the 2006-07 season, Karnataka have constructed a splendid relationship with the Gangotri Glades, now rechristened as the Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar stadium.

In the nine matches they have played here, Karnataka have won two, drawn six with first innings leads and lost once to Mumbai in the Ranji Trophy final. Notwithstanding that heartbreak in the 2009-10 season, it is an enviable record to have at any ground.

While their near invincibility at this venue is indeed comforting, Karnataka would have much more to bank on when they face Baroda in a Group ‘A’ tie here from Wednesday. The most important among a host of strong points is the growing stability of their top-order.

Despite blazing through the early rounds, Karnataka’s performances wore an incomplete look with their much-vaunted batting line-up failing to produce big scores. C M Gautam and Robin Uthappa had made fifties but couldn’t convert them into more substantial knocks as Karnataka relied heavily on their potent pace battery to notch up wins on bowler-friendly tracks.

The trend seems to be undergoing a shift. At Hubballi, Uthappa made a hundred against Jammu and Kashmir, while Manish Pandey made a big ton against Madhya Pradesh at Indore.

Now, the Karnataka team management wants to exploit that good streak before the knockout phase. J Arun Kumar, the Karnataka batting coach, hinted as much. “We have been playing on bowler-friendly pitches so far, and now I want some of our top order batsmen get into the groove as we are now almost assured of a berth in the quarterfinals. So, we may see a 60-40 wicket for the match against Baroda, 60 for batsmen and rest for the bowlers,” said Arun.

The return of K L Rahul, who was with the Indian Test squad in Australia, too has given a fillip to Karnataka’s batting. Rahul, who had a sub-par debut at Melbourne, gave full expression to his talent with a hundred at Sydney. Karnataka were happy to welcome back an in-form and confident Rahul. “We are relieved that Rahul is back with us again. He is one of those batsmen who don’t get out unless it is a really good ball. He will add strength to the batting line-up,” said Arun on the eve of the match.

Arun also stressed on the possibility of giving some much needed rest to the bowlers after a heavy workload. Skipper R Vinay Kumar or Abhimanyu Mithun might sit out, but a final call will be taken only on the match morning.

With 15 points from five matches and stuck in the crowded middle table, Baroda might not present as rosy a picture as Karnataka. But they are not a team to be taken lightly either. The visitors have a set of players who can rattle any opposition, such as Irfan Pathan, who has been impressive after his return to competitive cricket after an injury, his elder sibling Yusuf, skipper Aditya Waghmode and the hard-hitting Kedar Devdhar.

The only blip in their camp is the absence of veteran medium pacer Munaf Patel. Munaf is busy with the preparations of the marriage of his sister, but they still have some good bowlers to make it count for the team.

Waghmode expressed a similar hope. “We really don’t look at the opposition. We need to focus on our game and play simple cricket. We cannot afford to have too many complications against a settled team like Karnataka. Hopefully, we will come good,” said Waghmode. But Baroda will require more than just optimism to stop Karnataka in their tracks.The match starts at 9.30 am.

UP play Bengal

Uttar Pradesh will host Bengal in a battle of struggling teams in Ghaziabad, adds PTI.
Though both teams would have wanted to be placed higher after five matches, Bengal have a better chance of making the quarterfinals.

The visitors have 10 points from a loss and four draws while the Piyush Chawla-led Uttar Pradesh have seven points from three losses, a win and a draw.

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