A brand new lovely-looking ground awaits Kerala and Andhra in the Ranji Trophy Plate Group ‘B’ encounter, which opens on Tuesday. Though cricket was first played in this town over two centuries ago, this is the first major match being staged at the Thalassery Cricket Stadium.

And it is after a gap of 11 years that first class cricket is returning to Thalassery, famous for its love of the willow and the leather. The new ground, and the wicket in particular, will certainly be in focus over the next four days, but not more than a player - the Kerala skipper S. Sreesanth.

The new captain should not just be hoping for a fine show from his side, but from himself as well, as he tries to gain his place back in the Indian team. He would also be keen to put all the recent controversies behind him (he was warned by the BCCI and had reported late for the Ranji coaching camp here).

How much support he would get from the wicket remains to be seen, though. The Kerala coach, C.S. Suresh Kumar said he was not sure how the pitch would behave.

“I was hopeful of a track that would offer something for the pace bowlers, but the recent rains have dampened such hopes somewhat,” the former Tamil Nadu opener added on the eve of the match.

The host’s strength indeed lies in its pace bowlers, led by Sreesanth, who, in the words of his coach, is capable of turning this match single-handedly. And he has a perfect new-ball partner in Tinu Yohannan.

Another Kerala player is also likely to hog the limelight - Sachin Baby, who has been added to the original squad, following his double hundred in the under-22 match against Maharashtra. He is almost certain to make his Ranji debut and will bat at No. 3.

While Kerala banks on youth, Andhra relies on experience. With the return of prolific scorer Y. Venugopal Rao (after his stint with Maharashtra) and all-rounder K. Syed Sahabuddin (from ICL), the team has become even stronger, according to coach J. Krishna Rao.

“Ours is a balanced side, which can bat deep, but we know it is not going to be easy against Kerala at home,” he said.

The teams (from): Kerala: S. Sreesanth (captain), Rohan Prem, Sambasiva Sarma, V.A. Jagadeesh, Sachin Baby, Robert Fernandes, Sreekumar Nair, Raiphy Vincent Gomez, K.J. Rakesh, P. Prasanth, Vinan G. Nair (wk), Tinu Yohannan, Sony K. Cheruvathur, Sanju V. Samson, N. Niaz, K.R. Sreejith. Coach: C.S. Suresh Kumar

Andhra: B. Sumanth (captain), T.Achyut Rao, D. Kalyankrishna, G.V.S. Prasad, A. Rakesh, Prasad Reddy, Manoj Sai, Syed Sahabuddin, G. Shankar Rao, D. Swaroop Kumar, A.S.K.Varma, Venugopal Rao, P.Vijay Kumar and Hemal Watekar. Coach: J. Krishna Rao.

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