The green piece of cricket field is such a contrast from the grime and dust one encounters in this bustling town.

The setting at the Bhamashah Stadium, part of the sprawling Victoria Park, is serene and inviting as Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka prepare for their Ranji Trophy outing from Saturday. The pitch, we are told, is expected to produce competitive cricket.

At the centre of Uttar Pradesh’s improved cricket culture this season is Venkatesh Prasad, a former India and Karnataka seamer. “He has brought a refreshing new outlook to our team,” confessed skipper Suresh Raina. Uttar Pradesh began with an assuring victory against Delhi followed by a draw against Maharashtra.

The ‘nets’ sessions have assumed enormous significance since Prasad took over. He directs the operations with experience befitting a sound professional.

“We have done really well in the last two matches and it has done a world of good to our confidence. Our bowlers were spot on against Delhi in the first match. The batsmen came up with crucial contributions against Maharashtra,” said Prasad.

Karnataka would be without R. Vinay Kumar and A. Mithun, out with injuries. Uttar Pradesh too would miss Praveen Kumar and R. P. Singh. Both the camps have suffered on this count but nothing dents their confidence and motivation.

Karnataka would look to place faith in one of the young seamers. “We have the talent. We will miss Vinay and Mithun but I expect the youngsters to grab the opportunity. This is the stage,” noted Karnataka coach Fazal Khaleel.

The onus obviously would be on the bowlers to excel. Uttar Pradesh takes pride in its bowling strength with Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Imitiaz Ahmed leading the attack. The possibility of the promising Ankit Rajput making a debut cannot be ruled out depending on the playing surface. Rajput is rated high by the team management.

Karnataka has groomed its young players well. Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, Ganesh Satish will carry the responsibility of run-making apart from skipper Stuart Binny.

A good contribution from Amit Verma would count a lot for Karnataka even as Uttar Pradesh looks up to Raina and Mohammad Kaif to show the way for youngsters like Mukul Dagar, who has emerged a strong cricketer with back-to-back centuries against Delhi and Maharashtra.

Dagar’s performance is an indication of a youngster dreaming to make it big in conditions ideal.

The Victoria Park promises some intense cricket with a positive change from most first-class venues. “There will be a large presence of spectators,” promised organising secretary Yudhvir Singh. Being presented a media ticket for the match confirmed the popularity of a first-class fixture in a small town.

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