Ranji Trophy 2014-15, 7th round January 20, 2015

KL Rahul returns to buoyant Karnataka

J Arunkumar - "Rahul said it was a relief playing for the country. I say it's a relief to have him back" © Getty Images

"KL!"

The Karnataka slip cordon had assembled for a drill. J Arunkumar, the batting coach, deflected the ball and it looped over KL Rahul's head before he could do much. The exclamation was almost immediate. Not one of admonishment, but expectation. Laughter rang soon after and the session continued.

On a pleasant day, with the lush green Mysore outfield, the scene might have been mistaken for an office picnic. Karnataka are top, 12 points clear of their nearest rival. They are undefeated this season. They are playing at home and a quarter-final spot appears only a matter of time. It probably is an office picnic. And a memo was sent to help the batsmen have a little more fun.

"Now that we have almost qualified, we have asked for a little batting-friendly wicket," Arunkumar said "We have played on very bowler-friendly tracks so far and I want some of the batsmen to get into the groove."

That also gives reason to rotate Karnataka's bowlers. Vinay Kumar said either he or Abhimanyu Mithun would sit out a game over the course of the next three rounds.

Meanwhile, Baroda barely made a blip on the radar while going about their training. His sister's wedding ruled Munaf Patel out of the match. The Pathan brothers had had a hit the previous evening and were resting on Tuesday. Come the press conference, though, only two words were needed to sum up the team's mindset. And the manager barely waited for the question to finish.

"Hundred percent positive," he said, and their captain Aditya Waghmode echoed the same.

Their recent results back that up. Baroda began the season at home and conceded two first-innings leads, but made up by forcing Madhya Pradesh to follow-on and nearly toppled them. They dismantled Uttar Pradesh with a bonus point and came away with greater profit from a draw with Railways. Those last three results happened on the road.

"From last three games, we have gained momentum and I think that we will continue in the same positive frame of mind," Waghmode said, "And our last two games are at home, so we can take advantage of that. We have some young guns and might play with three seamers, one spinner and two allrounders"

Saurabh Wakaskar and Kedar Devdhar have made more than 400 runs so far, helpful assets at the top of the order. Left-arm spinner Swapnil Singh took three of his four five-fors over last the five matches, and he has been preferred over Bhargav Bhatt. Sagar Mangalorkar began his first-class career with a six-for against Jammu & Kashmir and sports a bowling average under 20, as does Gagandeep Singh for this season.

The locals, though, seemed to have eyes only on Karnataka's players. Rahul was the main attraction, waving and smiling and taking pictures with fans calling out his name. He is expected to play his first Ranji game of the season tomorrow and would hope to stamp out a recurring trend of top-order wobbles this season.

"He said it was a relief playing for the country," Arunkumar said "I say it's a relief to have him back."

Alagappan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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