Karnataka v Punjab, Ranji Trophy, Group A, Hubli December 13, 2013

Karnataka, Punjab in tussle for second place

The Preview by Karthik Krishnaswamy

On December 23, 2012, Sachin Tendulkar announced his ODI retirement. On the same day, in a Ranji Trophy match in Hubli, Amit Mishra and Jayant Yadav scored double centuries in a 392-run eighth-wicket partnership against Karnataka.

On October 11, 2013, a day after Tendulkar announced that he would soon leave Test cricket as well, Cheteshwar Pujara scored his third first-class triple-century, for India A against West Indies A in Hubli.

Two matches into its life as a first-class venue, the KSCA Cricket Ground has already gained a reputation for gargantuan batting feats. Both matches, however, began with a flurry of wickets falling to seam bowling.

When Yadav joined Mishra at the crease, Haryana were seven down for 168 on the first day; six of the seven wickets had fallen to Karnataka's quicker bowlers. Before Pujara took over for India A, their seamers had taken nine out of 10 wickets in bowling West Indies A out for 268.

According to Karnataka batting coach, J Arunkumar, conditions here for his side's clash against Punjab might well follow the same pattern. "It looks like a 50-50 wicket," he said.

Over the rest of his conversation with the press, Arunkumar broke that ratio down further. This, he said, was "a good batting wicket; you can get a few runs here if you get through the initial phase." How much of a role would the spinners play? "Maybe not much. On the first couple of days it will assist the medium-pacers and then the spinners could come in."

Punjab captain, Mandeep Singh, meanwhile, saw the seamers prospering early on as well. "It looks like a fast bowlers' kind of a wicket. Doesn't swing much, but has good bounce."

Karnataka and Punjab sit second and third on the Group A table, separated by just two points. Both teams will enjoy themselves if the pitch behaves as predicted. Seamers have dominated both teams' wicket tallies.

Punjab's fast men have taken 54 wickets at an average of 24.39, with Sandeep Sharma and VRV Singh being particularly productive. Their spinners have taken 25 wickets at a slightly better average of 24.32, but Harbhajan Singh - who has 18 wickets from three matches - is still recovering from a shoulder injury and won't feature in the match.

For Karnataka, the seamers, led by Abhimanyu Mithun - who has 22 wickets from five matches - have grabbed 56 wickets at 26.82. Their two main spinners, left-armers KP Appanna and Abrar Kazi, have between them taken 12 wickets at 47.00. "That's because the wickets have not been conducive," said Arunkumar. "It's also because of the time of the year; it swings more and there's more grass on the wicket. But the spinners have been very disciplined, keeping it tight. It puts pressure on the opponent while the seamers attack at the other end."

Arunkumar said the team management would have a tough call to make between the two left-arm spinners, and a tougher one between quick bowlers HS Sharath and Ronit More. In Karnataka's last two matches, they have each taken a five-wicket haul. But Vinay Kumar, who missed Karnataka's last three games thanks to international commitments and his wedding, is back to lead the side, with one of the two likely having to make way.

Karnataka have dropped Kunal Kapooor, who made centuries in both innings here last season, but has a top score of 25 in his last five innings, and are likely to hand a first-class debut to Karun Nair. Their batting, overall, has been inconsistent, with only two of their frontline batsmen, KL Rahul and Manish Pandey, averaging more than 40.

It's been much the same for Punjab,with four of their batsmen having scored a century, but only one, Jiwanjot Singh, has a 40-plus average. Both teams, therefore, will want their batsmen to do well collectively, in a game that could prove decisive on the road to the quarterfinals.

Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo