Depleted Karnataka start title-defence
Bengaluru: Karnataka begin the defence of their Ranji Trophy title hosting Tamil Nadu in a four-day game, beginning here Sunday and would be looking to repeat their last seasonís performance that saw them win three of the four domestic tournaments besides seven wins in eight outings.
The Vinay Kumar-led Karnataka will be without star batsman Lokesh Rahul who is away in Australia on his maiden tour with the Indian Test team, but the hosts have enough firepower to cover his absence with the likes of Robin Uthappa, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey, Karun Nair and all-rounder Stuart Binny.
In sharp contrast, Tamil Nadu have been going through a lean patch, having finished seventh in their group in the previous two seasons and have never quite been the force they once were.
Their key player, Subramaniam Badrinath has left his home state for Vidarbha while opener Murali Vijay and Ravichandran Ashwin would once again be missing most of the season due to national duty.
The absence of the triumvirate who in the past have been the fulcrum on which Tamil Naduís hopes balance has created a vacuum that the likes of youngsters Abhinav Mukund and Baba Aparajith have been trying to fill, but the pair is still a work in progress.
In the event, Karnataka, whose pace attack is undoubtedly one of the best in the country and is expected to play a critical role, would be starting out as the favourites to win the seasonís opening game to give themselves an early momentum.