Karnataka players donned a cloak of confidence coming into this edition of the Ranji Trophy, but two games in, and you can already see it fading.
Himachal Pradesh, fresh from their upset win over Tamil Nadu, will want to consistently poke at hosts’ vulnerabilities and eventually attempt to pry them open as they run into Karun Nair’s men in a third-round Group B clash at the SDNR Wadiyar Stadium in Mysuru from Wednesday.
Sure, the hosts are bolstered by the return of a run-hungry Mayank Agarwal, the potential for big innings from an in-form Devdutt Padikkal and D Nischal’s calm against the new ball.
But even these few comforts don’t alleviate the problem that is the soft middle-order. As it was witnessed in the previous contest against Uttar Pradesh, they needed Shreyas Gopal to fetch them the innings lead. With four first-class centuries in 58 games, Shreyas is no dud with the bat but his role in the team is of the lead spinner, and he can’t be expected to deliver all the time. With Manish Pandey out on India duty and Karun Nair, the stand-in skipper, unable to give his willow wear, the problem of the fragile middle-order continues. R Samarth’s form, or the lack of it, has been a contributing factor to this chink.
Karnataka management have shown faith in his ability since his return to the side after a side strain, and in his defence, he did look good in the ‘nets’ on Tuesday, but one can only wonder how long the rope will stretch.
It will help them all in that the pitch doesn’t have much grass on it and should only threaten with movement the first hour. Given the harshness of the sun here, it also gives Shreyas and J Suchith a chance at long spells.
That the spinners will be a factor from late Day Two is chronicled, but how the Karnataka pacers synchronise to lap up the early juice is the big question. With Ronit More added to an injury list which includes Prasiddh Krishna, Karnataka come into this contest with four names - A Mithun, V Koushik, KS Devaiah and Prateek Jain - on the pace roster.
With Mithun and Koushik guaranteed a spot, one place is up for grabs, and if the pre-match ‘nets’ is anything to go by, Jain could be returning to the side after over a year out of the side since his debut game.
On the other end of the spectrum, HP aren’t as reliant on their batting (with no score over 200 in four innings, how could they be?!), but they have shown brilliant credentials in the bowling department with the likes of medium-pacer Vaibhav Arora and left-arm spinner Akash Vashist leading the way.
Arora’s nine wickets in his debut game against Saurashtra did not win his side the game, but Vashisht’s nine on debut against Tamil Nadu did. And surely, that performance is reason enough to believe that this Goliath can be toppled too.
Karnataka: Karun Nair (capt), Roham Kadam, Devdutt Padikkal, D Nischal, R Samarth, Mayank Agarwal, Pravin Dubey, Shreyas Gopal (vice-capt), J Suchith, Sharath BR (wk), Sharath Srinivas (wk), Prateek Jain, Devaiah KS, V Koushik, A Mithun.
Himachal Pradesh: Ankit Kalsi (capt), Ankush Bains, Prashant Chopra, Ekant Sen, Nikil Gangta, Akash Vasisth, Sumeet Verma, Ankush Bedi, Mayank Dagar, Kanwar Abhinay, Rishi Dhawan, Priyanshu Khanduri, Pankaj Jaswal, Vaibhav Arora, Praveen Thakur.