Jaipur: Bolstered by the return of inform Cheteshwar Pujara and old war horse Siddharth Trivedi, Saurashtra will start as favorites against defending champions Rajasthan in a four-day Ranji Trophy Group A match starting at the K L Saini stadium at Mansarovar Saturday. The visitors are eyeing a huge victory against Rajasthan, who looked jaded and are languishing at the bottom of the group with five points from six outings.
Saurashtra, on the other hand, has 16 points from six matches and are very much in the running for a place in the knock-out stage of the tournament. They need a win in their remaining two matches to stay in the hunt for a place in the quarterfinals. Title holders Rajasthan, who surprised the cricketing world by winning the coveted Ranji Trophy for the last two consecutive years, were dented heavily by the absence of Akash Chopra, who opted to play for Himachal Pradesh this season.
Sans Chopra, Rajasthan's batting has never looked solid in the tournament so far and injuries here and there have added to their woes. The likes of Robin Bisht and Vineet Saxena, who were in tremendous form last year, are not in the best of touch and veteran Rashmi Ranjan Parida too has not been consistent enough. Despite battling his old injuries, skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar has been among runs and has piled up 332 runs from three matches. He has two hundreds and a fifty under his belt.
Former under-19 India captain Ashok Meenaria has been a big disappointment this season and has managed just 204 runs from six matches with only one half century under his name. Rajasthan's bowling too has lacked teeth despite the fact that Pankaj Singh has grabbed 21 wickets from five matches with 5 for 25 being his best spell. Rajasthan's South African coach Mervick Pringle has failed to extract best from youngsters like Rituraj Singh, Aniket Choudhary and Deepak Chahar.
Saurashtra, on the other hand, looked a balanced unit despite the absence of Ravindra Jadeja, who is on national duty. But the return of Cheteshwar Pujara, who hit an impressive double century and a hundred in successive Tests against England, has given the visitors tremendous boost. The presence of other batsmen like Sagar Jogiyani, who has garnered 503 runs so far, and Sheldon Jackson and Sithanshu Kotak give Saurashtra a solid look.
Saurashtra's bowling department too looks balanced with likes of experienced Siddharth Trivedi, K R Makwana and Nayan up its rank. The wicket at the K L Saini stadium is good for batting and is also expected to provide a bit of assistance to the pacers in the morning. But the hosts will have to rise from the ashes and raise their level if they want to restore pride at their own back yard.