Struggling Karnataka look to raise the bar

Struggling Karnataka look to raise the bar

It is a clash of current and former champions. Of Karnataka, who have ruled the domestic circuit for the last two seasons and Rajasthan, who won the Ranji Trophy title twice in 2010-11 and 2011-2012.

If Rajasthan are still recovering from the pitfalls of administrative mess, Karnataka have created a cricket model worth emulation. The differences notwithstanding, the two teams would find themselves driven by a common quest to regain the lost ground ahead of their Group A encounter, beginning on Friday at the Sawai Mansingh Stadium.

The defending champions have conjured only draws in their four outings. With another four matches remaining in the league phase, the countdown for the knockouts has already begun. Karnataka are not unmindful of it. If at all, they are eager to rack up couple of outright wins to clear their way to the top of the table.

With their two upcoming matches to be held at home, the R Vinay Kumar-led side would like to gain some momentum by rustling up their much awaited first win of the season here. They are currently placed sixth with eight points. Rajasthan, on the other hand, is languishing at the penultimate place on the table with three points from four matches.

It is rare to see Karnataka struggling on the domestic circuit. They have uncharacteristically conceded the first innings lead twice this year — against Assam and Haryana, who they played in their previous outing. To rub salt to their injury, the contest was completely hijacked by the sentimental favourite and the just-retired Virender Sehwag with Mysuru crowd heckling the home side.

All this Karnataka would like to put behind as they search for balance in their injury-ridden unit. The team would also have to deal with the absence of their two key players K L Rahul and Karun Nair, who are in the Board President’s XI against South Africa. In total, Karnataka had to make six changes in their squad ahead of this contest. The return of national players S Arvind and Stuart Binny, however, would bring some respite to their weakened squad.
It is likely that Mayank Agarwal could open the innings with Robin Uthappa with in-form R Samarth coming at No 4. The bowling has been the strength of Karnataka but has appeared jaded this season. With the tournament being held a month in advance, Vinay felt apart from injury issues, the bowlers have not been able to cash in on the conditions.

“Our bowlers have been performing well but we are not getting extra zip from the wickets. There has been rain here, so we hope to exploit the morning conditions. So far the pitches everywhere have lacked bite, been a bit two-paced which has been easy for the batsmen to adjust. Now the wickets being a month old, I hope bowlers would get some help,” Vinay said.
Rajasthan would be eager to cash in on the home advantage. Like Karnataka, the hosts too are missing out on their key bowler Pankaj Singh and young Nathu Singh, who was selected for the Board President’s XI. He would be replaced by left-arm pacer Tanveer-Ul Haq as the only change in the squad. In their absence, Aniket Choudhary and Deepak Chahar are the strike bowlers. However, the team is benefiting from its maturing captain Ashok Menaria who is fresh from a good batting performance against Maharashtra at home which included a second innings 150 not out. The presence of ever reliable former Delhi all-rounder Rajat Bhatia has added stability to their batting.

Undoubtedly, Rajasthan on their home turf would pose stiff resistance but Karnataka would come all guns blazing for their first outright win.
 
Fixtures: Group A: Haryana vs Bengal; Odisha vs Delhi; Rajasthan v Karnataka; Vidarbha v Maharashtra.

Group B: Baroda vs Madhya Pradesh; Gujarat vs Uttar Pradesh; Punjab vs Andhra Pradesh; Railways vs Tamil Nadu.

Group C: Himachal Pradesh vs Tripura; Hyderabad vs Jammu & Kashmir; Jharkhand vs Goa; Services vs Saurashtra.

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