An upbeat host pitted against an opponent battling injury-woes will be the overwhelming backdrop when Karnataka clashes with Punjab in the Ranji Trophy Elite Group A match that will commence at the Chinnaswamy Stadium here on Tuesday. Karnataka, sitting atop the group with 20 points, is assured of a berth in the knock-out phase, while Punjab (12) needs to punch above its weight to stay afloat.

Strangely, the match's eve was all about hope and fragility. Karnataka will miss the services of seamer S.L. Akshay, who is nursing an injured hamstring. Akshay's loss is N.C. Aiyappa's gain and the speedster gets another chance to secure his spot.

Punjab, meanwhile, resembled the walking wounded as Manpreet Singh Gony has been ruled out with a side-strain, while batsmen Mandeep Singh (twisted ankle), Bipul Sharma (fever) and left-arm seamer Brainder Saran (dislocated finger), are all racing against the clock.

In a campaign of middling returns, Punjab soared with a victory over Orissa, slumped to a loss against Saurashtra and revealed its latent batting might in its drawn game against Rajasthan, during which, Inder Singh, Karan Goel, Mayank Sidana and Amitoze Singh scored hundreds.

However Uday Kaul's men need to do more against Karnataka, which has found adequate replacements when either an India-call (R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun) or injury (Manish Pandey), forced coach K. Jeshwanth to change his playing eleven.

Feel good factors

Supreme triumphs against the Railways and Odisha, a batting that has largely clicked though skipper Ganesh Satish is yet to capitalise on his starts, bowlers clicking as a unit and the fiery return of all-rounder Stuart Binny are all feel-good factors for Karnataka. Jeshwanth said that the team's poor catching too is on the wane thanks to tips gleaned from Rahul Dravid.

While Karnataka seems to have ironed out its chinks, Punjab is hoping that Rahul Sharma, fresh from his debut for India, will mask the inadequacies in a bowling line-up that has been set back further by the sight of Gony administering ice-packs to his sore frame.

The pitch, sporting a dry veneer, forced Punjab coach Vikram Rathour to say: “We will bat first if we win the toss and then Rahul Sharma can pose some problems.”

Karnataka too has the spin-angle covered thanks to the presence of K.P. Appanna and aims to reiterate its dominant streak.

The teams: Karnataka: Ganesh Satish (captain), Robin Uthappa, K.B. Pawan, Bharath Chipli, Amit Verma, Stuart Binny, C.M. Gautam (wicket-keeper), Sunil Raju, S. Arvind, K.P. Appanna, N.C. Aiyappa, Adithya Sagar, S.K. Moinuddin, K.L. Gautham and Karun Nair. Coach: K. Jeshwanth.

Punjab: Uday Kaul (captain & wicket-keeper), Ravi Inder Singh, Karan Goel, Sarul Kanwar, Mandeep Singh, Mayank Sidana, Amitoze Singh, Bipul Sharma, Rahul Sharma, Rajvinder Singh, Baltej Singh, Harmeet Singh, Brainder Singh Saran, Vishwas Bhalla, Gitansh Kheera and Rahul Singla. Coach: Vikram Rathour.

Umpires: Sanjeev Dua and Nikhil Patwardhan. Match referee: Raju Mukherji.

Match starts at 9.30 a.m.

Keywords: Ranji Trophy

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