Bengaluru: All eyes will be on prolific India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara and Mayank Agarwal in opposite sides when domestic powerhouses Saurashtra and Karnataka take on each other in the five-day Ranji Trophy semifinal starting here from Thursday. Pujara has been in supreme touch as he became India’s highest run-getter with three centuries in their maiden Test series victory in Australia. Just after the Test series, Pujara played a crucial role in Saurashtra’s quarterfinal match against Uttar Pradesh. He cracked an unbeaten 67 in the second innings to help Saurashtra defeat Uttar Pradesh by six wickets. The visiting team also has the likes of Sheldon Jackson in the middle order to provide the much-needed stability. For Karnataka batsman Agarwal, a good knock in the Ranji semifinals will help him cement his place in the Indian team. He scored 195 runs in three innings he played in Test series in Australia.
The local lad had returned to India a few days before the start of ODI series against Australia after sustaining a thumb injury in the Test series. Subsequently, he missed the Ranji quarter-final match against Rajasthan. Apart from Agarwal, skipper Manish Pandey, who has been scoring runs, will be looking to continue his good form. Vinay Kumar, Karun Nair and Jaydev Unadkat are the other international players who would like to contribute for Karnataka. Unadkat, Vinay and Abhimanyu Mithun have been in good form with the ball, while Krishnappa Gowtham is an all-rounder on whom Karnataka can bank upon Meanwhile in other semi-final match, Kerala is in uncharted territory and will hope to turn the tables on the in-form defending champion Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy semifinal, beginning at the Krishnagiri stadium here Thursday.
Having lost to Vidarbha in the quarterfinal last year, the home team will want to exact revenge, having made history by reaching the last four. Medium-pacers Basil Thampi and Sandeep Warrier fashioned Kerala’s win over Gujarat and will be hoping for an encore. However, they will be up against a strong rival batting line-up, which includes the prolific veteran Wasim Jaffer, Akshay Wadkar, skipper Faiz Fazal and Sanjay Ramaswamy. Jaffer, with 969 runs, is second behind Sikkim’s Milind Kumar on the season’s run-scorers list and will be the key batsman for the reigning champions. His wicket will be one Kerala’s bowlers will be aiming to get at the earliest. Vidarbha had a comfortable outing in the quarterfinals with Umesh Yadav, back in the side after playing the Tests in Australia and Jaffer, leading the way.