Kolkata, Dec 16: Eight-time champions Karnataka will be hot favourites against Vidarbha who are still not sure of the services of India speedster Umesh Yadav when the two sides clash in the semifinal of the Ranji Trophy at the Eden Gardens on Sunday.
Karnataka, playing a semi tie after a gap of two seasons, have been the in-form team with captain R Vinay Kumar leading from the front.
The way they pummelled Mumbai, who suffered only their fifth innings defeat ever in the tournament, underlined their aura of invincibility ahead of their last-four match.
Starting their season with three successive outright wins, Karnataka edged out Delhi to finish top of Group A.
At the heart of their good show has been Mayank Agarwal — this season’s highest run-scorer (1,142 runs) — and R Samarth (643 runs).
Together, they are already the third most prolific opening combination after after Mumbai’s Wasim Jaffer and Ajinkya Rahane, and Gujarat’s Priyank Panchal and Samit Gohel, in a single Ranji season in the last 12 years.
In the bowling department, offspinning all-rounder K. Gowtham has been lethal taking 34 wickets in seven games while leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal has come good too towards the business end of the season.
Vinay Kumar’s hat-trick against Mumbai should give the vereran pacer a lot of confidence going into the semifinal.
“We are a good bowling side. The wicket looks green. They will cut the grass before the game. Normally Kolkata wicket is helpful for the fast bowlers. I always enjoy bowling here,” Vinay Kumar told reporters on the eve of the match.
The Eden wicket is likely to be similar to the first Test between India and Sri Lanka with a greenish tinge on it.
Vidarbha on the other hand, are playing in the semi-finals for the first time. But they are not sure of Umesh’s availability on this momentous occasion as the fast bowler is reportedly still in doubt.
Umesh is currently going through physiotherapy sessions at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru ahead of India’s tour of South Africa.
The decision to let him play the Ranji Trophy semis will be taken by the Indian team management, according to sources. Vidarbha team officials though, are confident that Umesh will play.
Umesh played two Ranji Trophy matches against Chhattisgarh and Services and claimed nine wickets.
Vidarbha will also be without strike bowler Lalit Yadav who is out due to a hamstring injury. They will have to depend on have Rajneesh Gurbani, who has played just 8 matches, and Siddhesh Neral, who made his First-Class debut this season and has played only three matches.
Lalit played crucial roles in Vidarbha’s bonus point victories over Punjab and Bengal.