Favourites Karnataka need to avoid complacency
February 16-20, 2015
Start time 0930 IST
If there is a David vs Goliath battle in the quarter-finals, it is this one - the defending champions Karnataka versus Group C toppers Assam. Karnataka, however, will be aware of what happened last year when, at the same stage, last season's Group C toppers Maharashtra ousted defending champions Mumbai in the round of eight. Naturally, there will be no room for complacency for Karnataka.
Karnataka have lived up to their billing by topping Group A. Vinay Kumar's boys, however, had a little slip-up towards the end of the league stage once their qualification was assured. They nearly lost to Baroda and then conceded the first-innings lead to Mumbai in their last league game.
Resting KL Rahul and Karun Nair against Mumbai has also created a sweet selection dilemma for them, with R Samarth and Shishir Bhavane grabbing the opportunity at Wankhede Stadium. Despite the recent hiccups, Karnataka look all set to cruise into the semis.
If Vinay Kumar and Co's juggernaut has to be halted, then Assam will need captain Dheeraj Jadhav to get back to scoring big runs. The left-hander has dropped himself down the order, letting the new import KB Arun Karthik open the innings, but hasn't scored a hundred so far. Still, Jadhav has lead the Assam side well by helping them return to the top tier after a five-year struggle in the Plate group.
The only eastern outfit to have made it to the knockouts, Assam have been as consistent in the lowest rung as Karnataka were in Group A. In fact, they tallied the most number of points across all three groups in the league stage. It may still not be enough to keep their campaign alive after this weekend.
In the spotlight
Assam's Swarupam Purkayastha had a forgettable first stint when he was dropped five years ago after his action was questioned. The offspinner made a strong comeback this year. He took five consecutive five-wicket hauls and followed that up with a hundred against Andhra.
Karnataka captain Vinay Kumar reiterated in Mumbai last week that Shreyas Gopal was picked primarily for his leg-break bowling. But the legspinner surprised everyone by amassing 574 runs with the bat, second only to Robin Uthappa's run tally in the Karnataka squad. In eight games, he has taken 18 wickets at an average of 31.44. As happy as they are with his batting exploits, Karnataka will be hoping Gopal can strike more with the ball now.
Karnataka: Vinay Kumar R (capt), CM Gautam (vice-capt, wk), Robin Uthappa, R Samarth, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Karun Nair, Shreyas Gopal, Udit Patel, A Mithun, S Aravind, HS Sharath, J Suchith, Shishir Bhavane, Kunal Kapoor.
Assam: Dheeraj Jadhav (capt), Abu Nechim, Arup Das, Gokul Sharma, KB Arun Karthik, Krishna Das, Pallavkumar Das, Sibsankar Roy, Swarupam Purkayastha, J Syed Mohammed, Tarjinder Singh, Arlen Konwar, Dhiraj Goswami, Kunal Saikia, Pritam Das.
Stats and Trivia
- Swarupam Purkayastha is third in the list of highest wicket-takers of the season, with 36 dismissals so far. Rishi Dhawan (40) and Basant Mohanty (37) lead the list.
- Karnataka have been unbeaten in the Ranji Trophy for 24 games now. Their last loss was well over two years ago, when they lost to Odisha by 65 runs in November 2012.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo