Batsmen need to rise to the occasion

Karnataka face MP in last-eight clash

Notwithstanding some brilliant individual performances, there is little doubt that the first-innings batting has been Karnataka’s biggest concern this Ranji Trophy season. Given the format, where a first-innings show with the bat often determines the course of the match, Karnataka’s totals while batting first have been far from encouraging. Thrice this season they have been shot out for a sub-260 score, and that they have managed to come out unscathed in two of those matches is largely because of their bowlers.

Karnataka, having ensured their berth in the quarters, tried to address this issue in their last two matches against Baroda and Uttar Pradesh by allowing an extended run for their batsmen in the middle, but we will have to wait and see as to how much the move is going to bear fruit against Madhya Pradesh in their last-eight match beginning here at the Holkar Stadium on Friday.

The ‘luxury’ of finishing second in the last season for Karnataka is that they have drawn a team from Plate division in their quarterfinal match. Given their resources, the former multiple Ranji champions will be expected to put it past Madhya Pradesh who have made grade to the Super League after a gap of six years. The task, however, isn’t as simple as it appears. Madhya Pradesh has been one of the form teams in Plate. With three outright wins this year in a tougher group, they will be hoping to pull off an upset in familiar conditions.

Much like Karnataka, the hosts too have relied on their pacemen to get the job done for them. TP Sudhindra, Anand Rajan and Amit Sharma may not match the aura of R Vinay Kumar, A Mithun and S Arvind but the MP trio – with 59 scalps between it -- has handsomely complemented the batsmen’s efforts. On a pitch that is expected to keep the fast bowlers interested at least in the beginning, Karnataka batsmen have to bring in all their talent to the table if they get to bat first.

Robin Uthappa, back at the top of the tree, had a good outing against UP in the last match as did his partner KB Pawan while bringing up the team’s best opening stand of the season. Manish Pandey has been once again their best batsman with 556 runs, while left-handed Amit Verma, promoted to number three in the last league match, would look to add something substantial to his close-to 500 runs. Wicketkeeper-batsman CM Gautam too has been in fine fettle while Stuart Binny has made a big impact with two
centuries. Quite contrary to the bouncing track they will be playing on during the match, the visiting batsmen got slow and low pitches at practice on Thursday.

Whether that was by design or not, we will never know, Karnataka will do well to quickly banish those thoughts and concentrate on the job.  

Karnataka’s bowling will be further bolstered by the return of a fully-fit Mithun in place of off-spinner Udit Patel. The feared three-pronged pace attack and left-arm spinner Sunil Joshi will have some tough batsmen to knock over. In Mohnish Mishra (543), skipper Devendra Bundela (500) and Naman Ojha (545), MP have three batsmen in the 500-club.
Admittedly most of those runs have come against weaker sides like Jharkhand, Tripura and Goa but Karnataka can ill afford to take them lightly. For, to borrow a quote from England off-spinner Graeme Swann, ‘he who looks at the clouds takes his eye off the plough.’   

Teams (Likely XIs): Karnataka: R Vinay Kumar (capt), KB Pawan, Robin Uthappa, Ganesh Satish, Manish Pandey, Amit Verma, CM Gautam (wk), Stuart Binny, Sunil Joshi, A Mithun, S Arvind.

Madhya Pradesh: Devendra Bundela (capt), Mohnish Mishra, Naman Ojha, Abbas Ali, Jalaj Saxena, Murtaza Ali, Harpreet Singh, TP Sudhindra, Anand Rajan, Amit Sharma, Ankit Sharma.

Umpires: Amiesh Saheba (Gujarat), Tim Robinson (England); Match referee: Sanjay Patil (Mumbai).

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