First-time entrants Kerala will look to seal a historic semifinal spot when they take on Vidarbha in the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy cricket tournament at the Lalabhai Contractor Stadium in Surat on Thursday.
It took them over 40 years to book their first-ever knockout berth after producing a spirited performance against Saurashtra and Haryana in their last two games in the group stage.
It was Sanju Samson’s blistering 180-ball 175-run innings and some spectacular bowling by Jalaj S Saxena and S Joseph, which helped them outclass Saurashtra.
In the final match, Kerala notched up an innings and eight-run win over Haryana, riding on allrounder Jalaj’s four wickets and 91-run knock.
With 38 wickets in six matches and 482 runs in 11 innings, Jalaj has emerged as the most effective player for Kerala and skipper Sachin Baby would expect another good performance from the offspinning allrounder.
Vidarbha, on the other hand, have made the knockouts thrice, including two successive quarter-final appearances in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
However, the only time they reached the semifinals was in 2011-12 and Faiz Fazal’s men will look to put the best foot forward against Kerala to enter the last-four once again.
Vidarbha have relied on their batting might to bury their opponents. They have racked up 400-plus runs five times this season, riding on the performances of their top-order batsmen — Fazal, Sanjay Ramaswamy, Ganesh Satish and Wasim Jaffer.
In bowling, the return of leg-spinner Karn Sharma will provide a boost to Vidarbha’s spin department, which has been served by the trioka of Akshay Wakhare (27 wickets), Aditya Sarwate (18) and Akshay Karnewar (16).
Kerala too have depended on their spinners with two new left-arm tweakers KC Akshay (13 wickets in 2 matches) and Sijomon Joseph (19 in four matches) making a big impact.
Vidardha: Faiz Fazal (capt), Ganesh Satish, Sanjay Ramaswamy, Wasim Jaffer, Karn Sharma, Shalabh Shrivastava, Apurva Wankhede, Akshay Wadkar (wk), Akshay Wakhare, Akshay Karnewar, Siddhesh Wath, Aditya Sarwate, Rajneesh Gurbani, Lalit Yadav, Siddhesh Neral, Shubham Kapare, Suniket Bingewar.
Kerela: Arun Karthik, KM Asif, M Nidheesh, Rohan Prem, Sachin Baby (capt), Sanju Samson (wk), Mohammad Azharuddeen, Jalaj Saxena, Sijomon Joseph, Fabid Farooq, Vishnu Vinod, Sandeep Warrier, Vinod Kumar, Rakesh Menon, Mazar Moidu, KC Akshay.