'Confidence is the key'

'Confidence is the key'

Till the last couple of overs of their final league encounter, Karnataka weren’t assured of a knockout berth the previous season. In stark contrast, the six-time champions have been the most dominating team en route their entry into the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy this season.

With five wins and 38 points, the most across all three groups on both counts, Karnataka have emerged as the top contenders for the coveted title but the former champions know their task is far from finished as they take on a dangerous Uttar Pradesh in their last-eight tie here from Wednesday. 

While the team always brimmed with exceptional talent, batting coach J Arunkumar and bowling coach Mansoor Ali Khan have played a key role in extracting the maximum out of players, though it’s not been an easy journey for the former Karnataka team-mates. Appointed in their respective positions during the Anil Kumble-led regime, there weren’t many that backed the experiment which was applied across all age-group teams in the state. The first season didn’t pan out to their expectations but wiser by the experience, the two have shaped the Vinay Kumar-led team into a formidable outfit, even by its own high standards.

“It’s been a long journey from the last year,” said Arun looking ahead to UP clash. “... It’s not been an easy one though. We brought in a few changes, some of them worked and some didn’t. Everything appears to be falling in place but we still have three more matches to win before we can say it’s a job well done. There’s a quiet confidence in the side which is important,” he remarked.

The positive vibe, Arun pointed out, in the squad has had a big role in Karnataka’s dominant show. “Basically, it’s the same lot that has played a lot of junior cricket together for a few years. (KL) Rahul, Mayank (Agarwal), Karun (Nair), R Samarth and other juniors get along really well and also, we had some of these cricketers in the squad with us so that they get the feel of things at this level and develop a rapport with other senior cricketers. It’s all paying off now. If you see the performances of debutants -- Samarth, Shreyas Gopal, Karun -- this season, they looked like they belonged at this level for a long time,” he explained.

The complementing nature of batting and bowling departments has been the stand-out feature of Karnataka this season. “Complementing isn’t only about doing well in both departments. It’s also about making up for the slip-up in one department. If batting flops, bowlers have to stand-up and similarly batsmen have to deliver if bowlers struggle. I think that’s what made the difference this season,” felt Mansoor, who has struck a perfect chord with Arun.

“MAK (Mansoor) and I go a long way back... we have been team-mates, room-mates and now coaches of the same team. Our roles are clearly bifurcated and neither of us intrudes into other’s space. Yes, we do share our points of views but it’s never imposed,” Arun observed which was echoed by Mansoor.

The absence of insecurity among players is another reason for some batsmen playing their natural game and finding great success. “If you look at someone like Manish (Pandey), he wasn’t playing the game the last season that is natural to him. On many occasions, he was holding himself back when he should have been expressing himself freely. It took us some time to realise what he was going through but he has come out of that mindset. He has freed himself up and that’s working for him.” he explained.

Lower-order contribution is another area both Arun and Mansoor have given a lot of importance. “The contribution from lower-order is crucial these days. Vinay scored his maiden first-class ton that made huge difference against Punjab. It’s one area we have been stressing upon. An extra 80-100 runs from bowlers can make a big difference,” noted Mansoor.
    

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