The two-time Karnataka champion is expected to assert his superiority over the reigning Ranji Trophy Saurashtra champion for a place in the quarter-finals of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (T20) at Arun Jaitley Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
The other two quarter-finals will be decided after Kerala faces underdog Himachal Pradesh at the Air Force stadium and a confident Maharashtra will play an almost untested Vidarbha in the morning at Kotla.
Under skipper Manish Pandey, Karnataka has the resources to go all the way. Mayank Agarwal, Devdutt Padikkal, Prasidh Krishna, Karun Nair and Shreyas Gopal are among the best known names.
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For the record, Karnataka started by beating Mumbai and followed with wins over Chattisgarh, Services and Baroda before losing to Bengal and finishing second in Group B.
Karnataka’s beat could be put to the test by the rhythm duo of Jaydev Unadkat and Chetan Sakariya on a placid Kotla pitch in a match that starts at noon. Saurashtra impressed with the way she recovered after losing her first match against Hyderabad in Group E. Triumphing over Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chandigarh kept her chances alive before overtaking Delhi.
The Saurashtra lineup has Sheldon Jackson whose flamboyant style and range of shots had kept him in the mix before national selectors. Overall, Saurashtra will have to hit far above its weight to hurt Karnataka.
An unpredictable Kerala, which relies on opener Robin Uthappa, skipper Sanju Samson and Sachin Baby to get the job done, will have the advantage of having played at the Air Force stadium in the league.
Kerala has shown great character in recovering from a point of serious trouble. He has lost two of his first three games against Group D Gujarat and unexpectedly against Railways. Wins over Bihar and Assam kept Kerala in contention and he qualified after a second eight-wicket win in the following days to take out Madhya Pradesh.
Himachal also advanced to the knockout despite losing twice – to Haryana and Rajasthan – in the first three games. But the win against Jharkhand and those against Jammu & Kashmir and Andhra in the last two games ensured Himachal’s survival.
Runner-up in the 2018-19 season, Maharashtra had the false start. Having narrowly lost the opening to Group A Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra overtook Punjab, Odisha, Pondicherry and Goa.
For the Plate Vidarbha group topper, Maharashtra will be its first serious test. Vidarbha understands that those resounding victories over Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Manipur and Sikkim don’t count for much.