Missing four of their star players, including one who was the chief architect of their last two wins in different formats, a high-flying Karnataka will be hoping the backups — although some of them have reasonable experience — fire with the same intensity as they host Uttar Pradesh in their second Ranji Trophy Pool B encounter here from Tuesday.
In-form batsmen Mayank Agarwal and K L Rahul and first-choice skipper Manish Pandey are all away on India duty while K Gowtham, whose all-round brilliance and last-over heroics saw Karnataka successfully retain the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy and beat Tamil Nadu in another classic in their Ranji Trophy lung-opener last week in Dindigul, was ruled out with a right toe fracture that has severely weakened the side for clash here in KSCA Rajnagar Stadium.
Karnataka are no strangers to seasoned personnel being summoned for national duties over the last few years and vice-captain Shreyas Gopal felt this another great chance for the bench strength to put their hands up and make a case for themselves.
“We have a couple of new guys coming into the squad,” said Shreyas. “They have done really well in white ball cricket. It’s important they carry the same kind of mindset. Yes, the format is different, the application, the temperament has to be different but they’ve done it in the past few years. It’s obviously going to be difficult without him (Gowtham). I think the guys coming in, (Pravin) Dubey is in, (J) Suchith didn’t play the last game, it gives them the opportunity to come out there and prove to everyone (they are good). I believe they’ll help us maintain the winning track. It just gives a chance for another person to be a hero.”
While Shreyas is confident of the bench strength coming good against a team that is facing its own struggles, Karnataka have some serious issues to address. First on the list would be the poor form of skipper Karun Nair. The right-hander scored just 66 runs in 6 innings in Vijay Hazare Trophy and 203 runs in 12 outings in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Speaking just days before the Ranji Trophy could kick off, Nair said he’s happy with his batting but the 28-year-old managed scores of 8 and 5 against Tamil Nadu. With Karnataka shorn of first-class experience on the batting front, it’s time Nair regained his touch and led from the front.
Another senior player who has been woefully out of form is R Samarth. Although there’s a strong possibility the in-form Rohan Kadam may get the nod and a Ranji Trophy debut, if Samarth is handed a place in the playing XI, he would be keen to stop the wretched run he is in.
On the bowling front, in the absence of Gowtham, leggie Shreyas will once again shoulder the spin bowling duties with Suchith likely to partner him. Ace pacer Abhimanyu Mithun returns from injury and in all probability, David Mathias and Ronit More will link up with him.
Uttar Pradesh, meanwhile, have issues with their batting too and they’ll be looking to address that after having gained just one point from their opening match against Railways.