Kerala take on Ashwin-less Tamil Nadu in Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy opener
While Kerala have drastically improved in first-class cricket under coach Dav Whatmore in the last two seasons, their limited-overs performances leave a lot to be desired. After another disappointing show in the Vijay Hazare Trophy one-day tournament in which they failed to go past the group stage, Kerala will now have an opportunity to correct their white-ball form as they play host to the Group B matches of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament beginning in Thiruvananthapuram from Friday.
Kerala will begin their campaign against Tamil Nadu, a team fresh from a strong show in the Vijay Hazare tournament in which they finished runners-up, at St Xavier’s College Ground, Thumba. "It's true that we have underperformed in one-dayers and T20s in the recent past. One of the reasons for that is we start getting into our strides slowly in these limited-overs tournaments. We should ideally be looking to start with a few wins in this tournament," said Whatmore.
Kerala will be minus their star player Sanju Samson who is on India duty. Rohan Kunnummal, the 21-year-old attacking batsman, or Rahul P, an experienced left-hander, is likely to come in for him at No. 3. Tamil Nadu will be missing the services of allrounder Washington Sundar who is also with the Indian T20 squad. It is learnt that Ravichandran Ashwin has decided to skip this tournament as he gets ready for India's Test series against Bangladesh beginning next week.
Meanwhile, Kerala captain Robin Uthappa, who had a forgettable one-day tournament managing 112 runs from eight innings, took responsibility of his team's poor show and expressed hope of turning it around in T20s. "If I had played well in a couple of innings, we would have won those games and qualified. I should have performed well. I believe I am in a much better place to perform now," Uthappa, who is expected to open the batting with the in-form Vishnu Vinod, told media during a practice session on Wednesday.
The Thumba surface has traditionally given plenty of assistance for the spinners in four-day games and with Jalaj Saxena, fresh from his record-breaking seven-wicket haul in the Deodhar Trophy, in their ranks and Ashwin and Washington missing from the opposite camp, Kerala may have a slight edge in the spin department.
"Ashwin is not with the team but we have a good bowling attack and I hope others can step up. Even in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the other bowlers did well in his absence to help us reach the final. Everyone is fit and ready to go. It will be a good contest. Based on the wickets practised, there will be plenty of runs in this game," said Tamil Nadu's fielding coach Ramaswamy Prasanna.
Kerala will also have to find a way to dismiss Tamil Nadu skipper Dinesh Karthik, hungry for runs and to reclaim his spot in the Indian team. Karthik had a fruitful Vijay Hazare Trophy with 418 runs at an average of 60. Murali Vijay and Vijay Shankar are the other international stars in the Tamil Nadu team.
With the T20 World Cup next year and the IPL auction after this tournament, the players will be looking to make an impression. Whatmore, however, insists that would be the last thing he would want his players to be thinking about. "I hope they are not thinking about the IPL auction. They are playing for Kerala and that is all that matters," he said.
In the other matches on the opening day, Tripura take on Vidarbha and Manipur play Rajasthan at the Sports Hub. Uttar Pradesh is the seventh team in the group. The top two teams at the end of the round-robin group stage will qualify for the 10-team Super League phase.
Kerala: Robin Uthappa (C), Vishnu Vinod, Rohan Kunnummal, Sachin Baby, Jalaj Saxena, Akshay Chandran, Mohammed Azharuddeen (WK), Rahul P, Basil Thampi, Asif KM, Nidheesh M D, Sandeep Warrier, Midhun S, Vinoop Manoharan, Akshay KC.
Tamil Nadu: Dinesh Karthik (C & WK), Vijay Shankar, Murali Vijay, N Jagadeesan, Hari Nishaanth, B Aparajith, Shahrukh Khan, M Ashwin, Sai Kishore, T Natarajan, Periyaswamy, Vignesh, M Mohammad, J Kousik.
Group B fixtures:
Nov 8: Kerala vs Tamil Nadu (St Xavier's), Tripura vs Vidarbha, Manipur vs Rajasthan (Sports Hub)
Nov 9: Tamil Nadu vs Rajasthan (St Xavier's), Manipur vs Tripura, UP vs Vidarbha (Sports Hub)
Nov 11: Manipur vs Vidarbha (St Xavier's), Tamil Nadu vs UP, Kerala vs Tripura (Sports Hub)
Nov 12: Tripura vs UP (St Xavier's), Kerala vs Manipur, Rajasthan vs Vidarbha (Sports Hub)
Nov 14: Kerala vs Vidarbha (St Xavier's), Rajasthan vs UP, Manipur vs Tamil Nadu (Sports Hub)
Nov 15: Manipur vs UP (St Xavier's ), Kerala vs Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu vs Tripura (Sports Hub)
Nov 17: Rajasthan vs Tripura (St Xavier's), Tamil Nadu vs Vidarbha, Kerala vs Uttar Pradesh (Sports Hub).