Ranji Trophy, Indian domestic season, 2008-09

An eye on Ranji - 3

Cricinfo staff
In a five-part preview series, Cricinfo profiles the Super League teams

In a five-part preview series, Cricinfo profiles the Super League teams for the 75th Ranji Trophy


Karnataka will look to their new captain Robin Uthappa to provide the bulk of the runs © Cricinfo Ltd.
 

Karnataka

It was a pretty average last season for Karnataka. They finished seventh on the points table in the 15-team Super League competition. They had a new coach in Vijay Bharadwaj, who took over the reins just ten days before the competition.

This year Karnataka have the advantage of playing all their games at home - Bangalore and Mysore - and Bharadwaj has had more time to spend with the team. They started the preparation in July and concentrated on playing matches - they played five tournaments - instead of spending too much time in camps. Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid will be available for a few games in the middle of the season.

They have a new captain in Robin Uthappa. The official announcement came on October 29 but Uthappa was sounded out pretty early in the season and has been working with the coach.

"Robin [Uthappa] and I have sat together and given each member in the team a role to play," Bharadwaj said. "Last season I took over just ten days just before the tournament. Obviously I didn't have great interaction with the team and didn't want to fiddle around too much in the middle of the games. Now, I know them in and out and I have been part of the side, which won six national titles. So I know what it takes to win. This is the process of building a side and we won't be putting major pressure on the youngsters."

What they did last season

They had two wins, two losses and drew the rest. The batting led them down - only twice did they cross 400 in an innings and incidentally, they won both games. Only one batsman, KB Pawan, aggregated more than 400 runs. The bowling was much better. The seamer Vinay Kumar, with 40 wickets, was the highest wicket-taker of the competition at the end of the league stage. Sunil Joshi took 34 but KP Appanna, the other left-arm spinner, succumbed to the season-two blues, picking only five wickets from four games.

Men to watch

Robin Uthappa, the new captain. He was the man of the series in the recently concluded Challenger series and should lead Karnataka's batting. Having been out of the Indian team, he has obvious reasons to prove himself. Sunil Joshi, the veteran, will still lead the spin attack. Ganesh Satish is the dark horse; he has been named in the squad after scoring five centuries on the trot in the Under-22 competition.

Baroda

If you measure a team's success in terms of consistency Baroda will pip many heavyweights as they've made to the semi-finals for the last three seasons. Despite the absence of the likes of Irfan Pathan, Baroda still managed to run Delhi close last year before Gautam Gambhir's match-winning century robbed them of a berth in the finals.

The lack of a good paceman proved a deterrent but the spin duo of Yusuf Pathan and Rajesh Pawar led the bowling admirably. But with the inclusion of Munaf Patel, who quit Maharashtra to return to his home state, and Sri Lanka's Dilhara Fernando, Baroda's bowling line-up will be bolstered. Also, Irfan is likely to play more games than last season if he doesn't feature in the Test series against England.

If the batsmen can stand up to the occasion in the fashion they did last season, Baroda stand a healthy chance of making it at least to the knockout stage for the fourth straight year.

What they did last season

Two outright wins in the first three games declared their positive intent. This included a closely-fought away contest against Uttar Pradesh. Chasing a tempting 274, UP failed on a turning track where Yusuf and Pawar picked four and three wickets respectively to win the contest. After taking first-innings lead against Punjab, they lost their way following on against Andhra Pradesh. Next, against Orissa, once again Baroda they lost the initiative conceding the first-innings lead but owing to their clean sheet made it to the last four.

Baroda's progress into the knockouts was due to these four batsmen: Rakesh Solanki (645 at 64), Connor Williams (547 at 54), Yusuf (441 at 44) and Pinal Shah (437 at 48). Yusuf proved he was an allrounder with a tally of 26 victims with his off spin that came at 29. Pawar was the second highest wicket-taker with a tally of 22 at 36.

Men to watch
Yusuf remains the key with both the bat and ball. He proved he can be a quick learner by playing a significant role during the IPL where Shane Warne's leadership inspired him at Rajasthan Royals.

Hyderabad

Last season Hyderabad were wiped out by the exodus to IPL. They had to play with an almost new team, full of youngsters, and finished 12th on the points table. It was treated as a platform to build new talent and gauge their potential. A few positives came out in the form of the aggressive opener Ravi Teja and emergence of the teenaged left-arm spinner Lalith Mohan, who played three games. Pragyan Ojha took 24 wickets and Ashwin Yadav and SM Shoaib showed some promise with their mediumpace bowling. Kanwaljeet Singh, the head coach this year, is pleased with the improvements in the batting in the pre-season tournaments. Abhinav Kumar has been among runs and a new talent in the 17-year old Akshath Reddy, an opening batsman, has been unearthed. "The batting was a worry last season but they have done well so far consistently getting 300-plus in the pre-season games," Kanwaljeet said.

What they did last season

Only once did Hyderabad cross 350. They hung in on the edge to draw the initial games against Bengal and Baroda but collapsed in the second innings against Debasis Mohanty to lose the game on the final day against Orissa. A first-innings collapse against the spinners Piyush Chawla and Praveen Gupta lost them the game against Uttar Pradesh. But considering the state of disarray that IPL had left them, one win and three draws was not a bad result.

Men to watch
Ravi Teja, an aggressive opening batsman, who top scored for Hyderabad with 653 runs at 59.36. His duel with Irfan Pathan in the game against Baroda last season was entertaining to watch. He drove, cut, and pulled Pathan well. Pragyan Ojha, the left-arm spinner, who got dropped from the Test squad without getting a chance, will be the man with lots to prove to the selectors.

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