Karnataka look for winning start against Jharkhand
Mysore: Hosts Karnataka will look to start their campaign on a winning note when they take on last year`s semi-finalists Jharkhand in a Group `A` Ranji Trophy match at Gangotri Glades, here from Thursday.
Karnataka, which lost to Saurashtra in the quater-finals last year, would be banking on K L Rahul and Mayank Agarwal to fix the puzzle of not finding a stable opening pair in recent times, especially in the absence of their batting star and India discard Robin Uthappa who is nursing a tender hamstring.
Rahul, who averaged 50 in five Ranji games last season, had performed excellently in India Under-23`s triumphant campaign in the ACC Emerging Teams Cup which they won by beating arch-rivals Pakistan in the final at Singapore.
Rahul stood out with three fifties and his most important knock came in the final as his unbeaten 93 helped India chase down a target of 160 with relative ease.
Captain Vinay Kumar would also be pinning his hopes on Agarwal, who is making his Ranji debut, to fill in Uthappa`s shoes. He has shown good form leading up to the Ranji season this year.
The RCB opener missed out on a well-deserved double hundred by just three runs in Safi Darashah four-day tournament in August but followed it up with consistent shows in Moin-ud-Dowla three-day format in September.
Ravikumar Samarth, on the other hand, would also hope to carry forward his fine form which he had showed in Safi Darashah tournament, scoring an unprecedented six hundreds.
He had also smacked a brilliant 175 for Karnataka against Andhra earlier this month in the Buchi Babu two-day cricket.
Also the presence of Manish Pandey and vice captain C M Gautam will bolster the middle-order. Gautam had finished as the third highest run-scorer last season with 943 runs.
In the bowling department, Karnataka expect a lot from left-arm pacer Srinath Arvind and last season`s debutant H S Sharath.
Spinner Kazi joins K P Appanna to complete the bowling line-up led by skipper Kumar. Kazi with a three-wicket haul, played a stellar role in Karnataka`s out-right win over Delhi in the under-25 CK Nayudu Trophy last week.
Jharkhand, which made into the elite group for the first time, hope to put their best foot forward, especially after their first game against Delhi was abondoned due to incessant rains in Jamshedpur.
Jharkhand will look to capitalise on comeback players Varun Aaron and Saurabh Tiwary. Both are making their return after a long injury lay-off.
While Tiwary had a shoulder operation in August, Aaron last played for India in 2011 after he was plagued with injuries.
Tiwary had amassed 602 runs in the previous season at an average of 46.30, including two hundreds and three fifties.
Jharkhand has a new think tank - coach Subroto Banerjee, Bhavin Thakkar and Bhavik Thaker, as the two other recruits.
In the bowling department, left-arm spinner and captain Shahbaz Nadeem will look to repeat the performance of 2012-13 season when he bagged 42 wickets from nine games.
He had also emerged as the highest wicket-taker for India `A` in South Africa.
The captain would also expect off-spinner Sunny Gupta, who took four wickets against North Zone in the recent Duleep Trophy semi-final, to come good against the visitors.
Nadeem would also expect his pacers Shankar Rao and Ajay Yadav to make early inroads into the opposition`s batting line-up.
Rao averaged 24.65 last season with 26 wickets and Yadav bagged 23 wickets in five matches, mainly through his haul of 11 wickets against Services and 10 against Tripura.
Karnataka squad: R Vinay Kumar (capt), Lokesh Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Kunal Kapoor, Manish Pandey, Stuart Binny, CM Gautham (vice-capt & wicketkeeper), Ganesh Sathish, Abhimanyu Mithun, H S Sharath, KP Appanna, S Arvind, Abrar Kazi, Karun Nair, R Samarth; Physio: Shravan; Trainer: Nagendra Prasad; Video Analyst: Santosh; Manager (Logistics): K Narayana.
Jharkhand squad: Shahbaz Nadeem (capt) Varun Aaron, Akash Verma, S P Gautam, Sunny Gupta, I R Jaggi, R K Nemat, S S Quadri, S S Rao, R Shukla, B D Thaker, B J Thakkar, Surabh Tiwary, M S Vardhan, A R Yadav.