Palakkad: Host Kerala hopes to start the new season on a bright note against Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy Plate League Group `A' match, which begins at the Fort Maidan here on Thursday.
With the inclusion of quite a few youngsters, the team looks much more balanced. "It's true, but Vidarbha is an equally young side. I have literally seen most of the boys grow up before me. So, I believe it's going to be an open game. Only the team that plays to its full potential will eat the cake," said Kerala coach Parthasarathi Sharma.
However, he was a bit disappointed that the boys did not get enough practice sessions. "With the Pooja Trophy and the KCA Trophy tournaments falling our way, the boys hardly got to play at the nets. Otherwise, everything is in place."
Sharma expects his pacemen to do the job for the team. "The pitch might favour the fast bowlers. We have at least five of them and I hope they make the best use of it."
The good news for Kerala is that guest star Sadagopan Ramesh is back in the squad. "He has been declared fit and will play in the opener," T.C. Mathew, Secretary, KCA, said.
The last time Kerala played Vidarbha was at Nagpur in 2002, where it outplayed its opponent in all departments.
"This year it's going to be a different story," said Vidarbha coach Hinganikar. "Last year, we included several youngsters. They did a fairly good job. Sadly, despite three outright wins, we failed to make it to the knock-out stage. So, I would say, this season we are sort of hungry and raring to go."
Vidarbha will miss the services of its experienced skipper Preetam Gandhe, who suffered an injury recently. "He is a great off-spinner and there's going to be a gaping hole, but we expect off-spinner Akshay Wakhare (who will be making his debut) to reduce it to a certain extent.
The teams: Kerala (from): Sreekumar Nair (captain), Sebastian Antony, Sadagopan Ramesh, S. Suresh, Tinu Yohanan, Vipin Lal, Sony Cheruvathur, V.A. Jagadeesh, K. Anil Kumar, Raiphy Vincent Gomez, C.M. Deepak, S. Aneesh, Robert Fernandez, Vinan G. Nair, Prasanth Chandran. Coach: Parthasarathi Sharma. Physio: Dr. Muthukumar. Trainer: Vijayan.
Vidarbha (from): Harshal Shitoot (captain), Amit Deshpande, Faiz Fazal, Alind Naidu, Ranjit Paradkar, Shalab Shrivastava, Samir Khare, Chandrashekar Atram, Madhusudan Acharya, Akshay Wakhere, Sandeep Singh, Owamir Afzal, Sanjog Binkar, Mohammed Hashim, Amit Date, Preetam Gandhe. Coach: Pravin Hinganikar. Manager: Viraj Markand.