Karnataka's dominance has been surprising in many ways. The team roster has a few talented youngsters but not many expected them to be sitting so firmly ensconced at the top with four victories that includes two bonus points. Rahul Dravid has just played two games and Robin Uthappa, their saviour last season, hasn't had a great time of it with the bat this year, but the younger players have struck a purple patch. G Sathish, Manish Pandey, Amit Verma, KB Pawan have all hit two hundreds apiece and played a valuable part in the turnaround.
The bowling revolved around Vinay Kumar and Sunil Joshi last year and while Vinay has been as effective as ever, Joshi has been hardly called upon because Abhimanyu Mithun, the seamer, has stepped up in style. Vinay and Mithun have taken 33 and 31 wickets respectively and the seam attack has been further bolstered by S Aravind, who has grabbed 21 wickets.
Punjab have a similar story but only in their bowling department which, like Karnataka's, has been dominated by the seamers. Love Ablish and Manpreet Gony have taken 33 and 30 wickets respectively. Where the teams differ is the batting, especially now more so with the presence of Dravid in the line-up for Karnataka. Pankaj Dharmani, Punjab's captain, was more than willing to give the advantage to Karnataka "because of their batting".
(last five completed matches, most recent first)
Karnataka - WWWDD Punjab - DLWWL
Watch out for...
Rahul Dravid: What's there to write about him that hasn't been written before? Sufficed to say that he collected 231 runs in two Ranji games, with a highest of 97, and carried on his domestic form to the Test series against Sri Lanka.
Abhimanyu Mithun: Last year, Ray Jennings, Royal Challengers Bangalore's coach, was raving about him. And he had not played a season yet. This season, Mithun has shown why the people in the know rate him so highly. He is supposed to possess decent pace but more importantly, has already impressed people with the bounce he extracts.
Love Ablish and Manpreet Gony: The seamers have sparkled and have shared 63 wickets among themselves. Both made their names in the Twenty20 leagues with Ablish back from a stint with the ICL while Gony had a good first year with the IPL. These two bowlers have almost done as well as the Karnataka duo of Vinay and Mithun and it should be an interesting battle between the two pairs.
Karnataka: 1 Rahul Dravid (capt), 2 Robin Uthappa, 3 KB Pawan, 4 Amit Verma, 5 Manish Pandey, 6 CM Gautam (wk), 7 Ganesh Satish, 8 Sunil Joshi, 9 R Vinay Kumar, 10 Abhimanyu Mithun, 11 S Arvind,
The pitch is expected to offer bounce and Dravid reckoned, weather permitting, that it will turn out to be a good sporting track with bounce and some help to the spinners later on. He said he was looking at going with three seamers and one spinner.
"The youngsters have been come into the Ranji scene and have straightway delivered. Be it Mithun, Manish Pandey, Ganesh Satish or Amit Verma they have all put in big performance. Also we have played in good wickets. Our fast bowling attack has been exceptional this year."
Dravid explains why Karnataka have been so dominant
"The pitch resembles Mohali track but Karnataka have upper hand because of their batting."
Dharmani states the obvious.