Familiar foes in big clash

Familiar foes in big clash

Familiar foes in big clash

Returning to a venue that left them totally heart-broken two years ago, Karnataka will not only be looking for retribution but strive to remain in pole position as the Ranji Trophy group stage hits the midway path.

In December 2015, Karnataka took on Maharashtra at the MCA Stadium needing a win to keep alive their hopes of retaining the Ranji Trophy. They endured a faltering start but picked up pace as the season progressed and arrived here with genuine belief of sealing their ticket to the knock-outs. But in a span of four days they were left battered and bruised, their all-conquering run - Karnataka had won the Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy and Irani Cup the previous two editions - coming to a shuddering halt.

They were bowled out for a paltry 180 in the first innings and while chasing 293 for a win, they collapsed to 239 all out. Eight-time champions Karnataka did exact revenge for that painful defeat by hammering Maharashtra by 10 wickets in a group stage clash last year at Mohali but that defeat will rank as one of their bitterest.

Karnataka, struggling to cope with transition over the last two years following the exodus of key batsmen to the national side, however have made a brilliant start this season, garnering 13 points in their two Group A games. They pummelled Assam by an innings and 121 runs in the opener in  Mysuru and survived some anxious moments in Shivamogga before riding on some luck and grit to edge a fighting Hyderabad.

Finding the heat and humidity of Shivamogga hard to cope up with, Karnataka fielded poorly and dropped a few crucial catches but somehow managed to hold their nerve to script a tense 59-run win. Sometimes it's these sort of scrappy wins that install confidence and belief  that they can pull off the job no matter what.

Karnataka will be forced to make two changes after K L Rahul was drafted back to the Indian team and pacer S Arvind chose to rest himself. Ronit More will be taking Arvind's place while budding 23-year-old D Nischal, fresh from a 243 against Railways in the Col C K Nayudu Trophy, is expected to be handed a Ranji Trophy debut. The rest of the team  should remain the same.

Maharashtra, who have lost four out of their last five games against Karnataka including the 2013-14 final in Hyderabad, will be determined to stop that wretched run as a win is vital for them. They couldn't bowl a single ball in their opener against Hyderabad but hit back strongly to seal a 31-run win over Uttar Pradesh.

The pitch here, which always ends up making news someway or the other, sported a green look on match eve and the feeling is it will aid the pacers. Seasoned practitioners R Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun should be licking their lips while in-form spinners K Gowtham and Shreyas Gopal will have to come up with some fresh tricks to keep their good run going.