NAGPUR: 1016. That’s the number of days cricket fans have had to wait to see a Ranji Trophy encounter between Mumbai and Karnataka. The domestic heavyweights will clash in this season’s quarterfinals at VCA Stadium from Thursday. In their last face-off, the southern side had outsmarted the 41-time champions in the 2014-15 semifinal, before winning the trophy.
In the last five times the teams have met, Karnataka have had the upper hand, winning two and losing one. Going into the knockouts, R Vinay Kumar’s side seems to exude more confidence courtesy a superior record — four victories against Mumbai’s two — this season. They have largely retained the core of a successful squad, with the likes of Mayank Agarwal burning bright.
The pitch prepared under the supervision of neutral curator Samandar Singh is result-oriented. Seemingly excited at the sight of grass, Vinay Kumar said that his bowlers will be chosen accordingly. “It has a 4mm grass cover. If it remains the same (before the start), we will go with three seamers. It’s something that has always worked for us,” the former India pacer said on Wednesday.
Both teams will miss key players due to India commitments and injuries. Karnataka are without KL Rahul and Manish Pandey. Mumbai will miss Shreyas Iyer and pace spearhead Shardul Thakur, who has sustained a shoulder injury. Dhawal Kulkarni will lead an inexperienced pace attack, as opposed to Vinay Kumar, who has seasoned pros Abhimanyu Mithun and Sreenath Arvind at his disposal.
The captains’ thoughts on missing players summed up the mood in their teams. Vinay Kumar said he does not mind the absence of a few. “We will definitely miss them, but it’s a great opportunity for youngsters. I have always said that I don’t mind missing a few players because it creates chances for youngsters to show their talent.”
Asked about the impact of Thakur’s absence, Mumbai skipper Aditya Tare said, “Injuries and national selection are not in our control. Whoever is available will play. We’ll surely miss Shardul’s quality. But we have good young bowlers who can make a difference in a big game.”
Karnataka all-rounder Stuart Binny was getting ready to start his net session when he limped back to their physio, complaining of sudden pain in the ankle. After a while, he emerged with that part of his body strapped. The match will start at 9 am, half-an-hour before schedule. Visibility early in the evening seems to be the factor, sources in the know said.