Ranji Trophy: Kerala looks for an encore against Delhi in the season opener

As Ranji Trophy gets underway from December 9, many big names are expected to be available for the better part of the season with India playing no Test matches in the months of December and January. Ajinkya Rahane for Mumbai, Cheteshwar Pujara for Saurashtra and Mayank Agarwal for Karnataka are some of the big names playing in the first two rounds of India’s premier domestic tournament.

The 38 teams in the fray will be divided into four groups similar to last season with Elite Group A and B consisting of 18 teams, and Elite Group C and Plate group with 10 teams each.

Kerala is placed in the Elite Group A and B alongside Delhi, Bengal, Gujarat, Hyderabad, Punjab, Rajasthan, Andrha, and defending champions Vidarbha. They will start the season against Delhi on Monday at St Xavier’s ground, Thumba.

Kerala

Dav Whatmore and boys will be happy to move on from their underwhelming limited-overs season to the longer format after doing well in recent times. They made it to the quarter-final in 2017-18 and semi-final in 2018-19 and, will be looking to go one step closer to the title this time around. But it is easier said than done as there are drawn in a formidable group.

Sachin Baby returns as captain after a poor showing under Robin Uthappa in the limited-overs. Sanju Samson will be unavailable for the match as he is on national duty for the T20 series against West Indies. The team will depend on the experience of all-rounder Jalaj Saxena and Robin Uthappa apart from Baby and, they are hopeful of batting mainstay Rohan Prem passing the fitness test before the match.

Kerala has a decent pace attack in the longer format with Sandeep Warrier, Basil Thampi and MD Nidheesh doing well as a combination in the last two seasons. The trio combined  to scalp 96 wickets in the last season to lead Kerala to their first-ever semi-final in Ranji Trophy history.

Delhi

After the retirement of Gautham Gambhir last year, Delhi is in a transition phase. The young Dhruv Shorey will continue to lead in the longer format with Nitish Rana as his deputy.

They will bank on the experienced Navdeep Saini to lead the bowling attack as he looks to make his way back into the national side after getting injured. But Delhi will miss the experience of Ishant Sharma as he has made himself unavailable for the first 2 matches to cut down his workload. Sharma bowled 136 overs in tests and 46 overs in IPL in 2019. Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, and Rishabh Pant were included in the probable list but will miss out as they will be away on national duty. Delhi will be hoping for their youngsters to come good.

Head to Head

Delhi and Kerala have come head to head twice in Ranji Trophy with Kerala enjoying a 1-0 advantage in their favour. The last encounter between the two sides took place in the 2018-19 season when Kerala beat Delhi by innings & 27 runs on the same venue.

Pitch Report: Thumba is likely to initially assist the fast-bowlers with spinners coming into play on the 3rd and 4th days. Jalaj Saxena has enjoyed bowling here—he had picked 9 wickets against Delhi including a six-wicket haul last season.

Squads

Kerala: Sachin Baby (captain), P Rahul, Jalaj Saxena, Robin Uthappa, Vishnu Vinod, Rohan Prem, Salman Nizar, Mohammed Azharudeen, Akshay Chandran, Sijomon Joseph, Sandeep Warrier, K M Asif, Basil Thampi, M D Nidheesh, Rohan Kunnunmel, S Midhun.

Delhi: Dhruv Shorey (captain), Nitish Rana, Kunal Chandela, Anuj Rawat, Jonty Sidhu, Lalit Yadav, Shivam Sharma, Vikas Mishra, Tejas Baroka, Pradeep Sangwan, Navdeep Saini, Pawan Suyal, Kunwar Bidhuri, Hiten Dalal, Shivank Vashisht.

Key Players

Rohan Prem: Kerala’s only home-grown batsman to possess a First-Class average of 40 plus, Rohan Prem will be itching to play and put a couple of controversies behind him after missing out in the 2018-19 season. Prem at Number 4 will be vital to Kerala’s batting fortunes, especially in Sanju Samson’s and the retired V A Jagadeesh’s absence.

Jonty Sindhu: The Delhi player to watch out will be Delhi U-23 skipper, Jonty Sindhu. He has been scoring runs at the U-23 level and will be looking to continue his good performance in the senior Delhi side.

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