Ranji Trophy 2013-14: Kerala’s charge for a knockout berth on course

Author : Sharhad Haneef

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Sanju Samson has been in good form for Kerala

Kerala’s knockout pursuit on course

In the pursuit of a Ranji Trophy knockout berth, which they fell agonisingly close of last year, Kerala has begun the season on an impressive note, bagging 6 points from the first two matches.

With Sanju Samson and the spin duo of CP Shahid and Vinoop Manoharan in form, Kerala’s prospects look bright. But all is not well for them as they head into the third match in Group C against Tripura at the Conor Vayal Stadium in Thalassery on Thursday, and skipper Sachin Baby and the think-tank has plenty to ponder upon.

Jagadeesh’s form a concern

VA Jagadeesh was in prolific form last season and was the highest run-getter in the domestic season. Twenty nine year-old from Kottarakara registered scores of 91 and 86 for India A against New Zealand and West Indies respectively earlier this year.

But his form has now seemingly taken a dip. He got out early in the opening two matches and his glitch is a definite worry for the team management especially with the Kerala middle-order showing a mercurial tendency, as against Assam in the opening match.

With the middle-order having shown some resurgence in the last match against Andhra, with batsmen including Baby and Robert Fernandez hitting form, team management can breath easy for the time being.

Nikhilesh, Sanju going good

Wicket-keeper batsman Nikilesh Surendran, who debuted against Assam, has made a good start to his first-class career, scoring 124 runs at an average of 41.33 from two matches.

He, along with IPL-star Sanju Samson, has been giving Kerala solid starts despite Jagadeesh’s early falls. Kerala will also be confident that Sanju is continuing on his purple patch and has already notched up a double-century and a century, just two games into the tournament.

Warrier gone flat

Sandeep Warrier, who burst onto the scene last season with a bang, has seemingly gone flat and has taken only a solitary wicket thus far in the season at a disappointing average of 240.00.

He showed a lot of potential last season and was dubbed an Indian prospect. But he hasn’t lived up to the high standards he had set for himself in the last season thus far. Warrier has to deliver those early breakthroughs with the new ball if Kerala are to get any opposition out twice within four days to win the match.

To be fair to him, the wicket used for the Andhra match was low and slow, with the balls going through to the keeper at knee-height, and pace bowlers from either side failed to make any impression. But he being Kerala’s ace bowler, his team’s chances of making it into the knockout phase depends highly on his form.

Too many extras

The number of extras that the Kerala bowlers have gifting the opposition, especially in the second match, poses another headache for captain and team management. The team has to put a lid on the number of extras they bowl if they are to beat a quality first-class side.

Spinners make merry; Vinoop impressive

Meanwhile, Kerala spinners are making the most of spin-friendly tracks and as expected are taking majority of the wickets. Shahid is continuing on his good work from the previous season, and the inclusion of right-arm off-spinner Vinoop Manoharan has strengthen the spin bowling department. Vinoop has scalped 10 wickets already at an impressive average of 19.70 and is bowling well in tandem with Shahid.

Tripuira has made a torrid start to the tournament, having lost both their opening encounters and are the wooden-spooners currently in Group C.

Even though cricket is an unpredictable game, Kerala seems to be the heavyweight favourite at this stage. With a tight away game against an in form Himachal Pradesh next in line the Kerala team would use this opportunity to rectify their shortcomings and moreover to give their knockout pursuit some impetus by bagging all the six points.

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