Rampant Karnataka thirst for more glory
March 17-21, 2015
Start time 0930 IST
The Irani Cup at the end of the season resembles a hurriedly assembled reception after an exhausting wedding. It is a tough ask for any team nursing the hangover of a victorious Ranji campaign, to reset the clock for another championship match.
However, the advantage for defending champions Karnataka could well be the knowhow, having done it once last season during the course of their historic treble - they registered a massive innings win over Rest of India at the same venue - and the relentless quest to perpetuate their legacy.
As Karnataka's captain Vinay Kumar said in the pre-match press conference, Karnataka "want to win every game, and don't really think about the tournaments." One of their biggest strengths is the presence of a young, united bunch that has shared the same dressing room for a few years now. Robin Uthappa gave a glimpse of the mindset when he said: "You will have 16-17 guys after your life if you say one thing to us."
At the other end of the spectrum are the Rest of India side, usually an ensemble of the best players in the country. There are a few questionable inclusions in the team, though. Both Jiwanjot Singh and B Aparajith, tallying 553 at 29.10, didn't have a great Ranji season. Neither did their captain, Manoj Tiwary, but in his defence he led from the front with two match-winning performances, as East Zone lifted the Deodhar Trophy title.
Tiwary, while acknowledging there was "very little time to gel together", said he personally knew most of the players, and was confident they knew what was expected of them.
Pitch and conditions
The wicket has a good coverage of grass, and the bounce and carry will help the seamers. There is also likely to be some assistance for the spinners by the end of the second day as the pitch dries up.
In the spotlight
Even as Karnataka's top-order batsmen were busy tending to 50-plus averages, Manish Pandey had a middling run in the Ranji Trophy, scoring only a hundred and a fifty at 35.62. With home advantage on his side, the Karnataka vice-captain would be keen to make amends.
Jiwanjot Singh remained unaffected by the 'second-season curse' after topping the run-charts in his debut season. But he had a below-par outing this season, managing only 386 runs at 23.73. He would look to correct the anomaly against a first-rate bowling attack.
Karnataka: Vinay Kumar(capt), Manish Pandey (vice-capt), Robin Uthappa, R Samarth, Karun Nair, Shreyas Gopal, Kunal Kapoor, Udit Patel, A Mithun, S Aravind, HS Sharath, J Suchith, KC Avinash, Abhishek Reddy, Mayank Agarwal
Rest of India: Manoj Tiwary (capt), Unmukt Chand, Jiwanjot Singh, Paras Dogra, Kedar Jadhav, Naman Ojha, Rishi Dhawan, Jayant Yadav, Pragyan Ojha, Shardul Thakur, Varun Aaron, Rush Kalaria, Baba Aparajith, Jalaj Saxena, Vijay Shankar
Vinay confirmed that KL Rahul and CM Gautam have both been ruled out with hamstring injuries. Robin Uthappa will keep wickets and likely open the batting with R Samarth, who batted at the same position in the Ranji Trophy final against Tamil Nadu. Abishek Reddy is likely to make his debut.
Tiwary said Rest of India were likely to field an attack comprising three seamers and a spinner. Pragyan Ojha will play as the lead spinner.
Stats and trivia
- Vinay Kumar will be playing his 100th first-class match.
- If Karnataka beat Rest of India, they will be only the second State team to win the Irani Cup two years in succession since its inception in 1959-60. Mumbai have bagged the title twice in succession on four occasions.
- Robin Uthappa is 88 short of scoring 1000 runs in the season. No other batsman has managed the feat in 2014-15.
"In the domestic circuit, now Karnataka stand one step ahead of other teams. With the kind of players we have, yes, the opposition looks at us differently. This game will be big for all the players, as the selectors will be watching this game. So, we won't take any team or match lightly."
Vinay Kumar, the Karnataka captain, signals the war cry
"The important thing in their side in the balance. They have a lot of variations. I have been following their matches on the television. I have identified areas where to attack them and make strategies. We have to now execute that on the field."
Rest of India captain Manoj Tiwary is fully aware of the challenge facing his team
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo