Ranji semis: Tough test ahead of Karnataka

Ranji semis: Tough test ahead of Karnataka

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT? Karnataka's opening batsmen R Samarth, D Nischal and Mayank Agarwal share a light moment during a practice session in Bengaluru on Wednesday. DH Photo/ Srikanta Sharma R

Karnataka and Saurashtra are two teams out to answer big questions. 

Karnataka, following their all-conquering run between 2013 and 15, have failed to lay their hands on the Ranji Trophy and they are eager to regain their past glory. After bagging their eighth title, in their next three attempts, the closest they came to the title was last year. However, a five-run defeat to Vidarbha in the semifinal left them heart-broken.

For Saurashtra, it is another test of their big-match temperament. Twice in the last six championships, they have faltered in the final. Spirited shows in the group stages notwithstanding, Saurashtra have flunked in important games. 

When the two teams face-off in the semifinal at the Chinnaswamy stadium from Thursday, a hard-fought battle of the equals is on the cards. Both the teams have travelled similar road to the last-four stage. They have had to play out of their skin to escape elimination. 

Apart from the opening pair, Karnataka shouldn't be concerned about their playing XI. The return of Test opener Mayank Agarwal means one from the current opening pair -- D Nischal or R Samarth -- will have to sit out. The scenes at the training session on the eve of the game here at the 'B' ground of the Chinnaswamy didn't offer a clear picture either.

Samarth and Agarwal were the first two to hit the 'nets'. Nischal too got substantial time to bat. During the fag end of the practice, KSCA secretary Sudhakar Rao was seen having a long chat with Samarth. It remains to be seen if Karnataka will prefer Nischal on the basis of form or take the tough call of retaining the off-colour Samarth thanks to his experience.  

Teams dread injuries ahead of major contests. There have been many unfortunate instances in the past where players have suffered blows on the eve of crucial matches. K Gowtham, one of the primary match-winners for Karnataka, was brought down to the turf after getting hit on his right wrist while batting. The off-spinning all-rounder was treated for more than half an hour by physio Jaba Prabhu. Gowtham grimaced in pain but Karnataka would be hoping that it isn't a major issue. 

Uncertainty over wicketkeeper's slot appears to have gone with B R Sharath, who was hit on his fingers during the quarterfinal against Rajasthan, seemingly fit during practice. He had been immediately substituted by Sharath Srinivas in the quarterfinal last week. 

Apart from the home advantage, Karnataka will bank on their in-form bowling attack. Manish Pandey, with one ton and two half-centuries, hasn't let his captaincy duties affect his batting. Agarwal's presence at the top will further boost the hosts' confidence. 

Saurashtra are a settled unit with batting being their strength. Harvik Desai (738 runs) Sheldon Jackson (692), Snell Patel (561) and Arpit Vasavada (455) have shown impressive consistency. Throw in danger man Cheteshwar Pujara into the line-up, the visitors' batting appears quite solid. 

Skipper Jaydev Unadkat will lead the pace attack while Dharmendrasinh Jadeja could be the X factor. The left-arm spinner, with 45 scalps, is in tremendous form and is also a handy lower-order batsman.