Time for thrilling battle of equals

Time for thrilling battle of equals

In a happy coincidence for coach Surendra Bhave, Maharashtra have entered the final 21 years after he led the team into the title round where Punjab dashed their hopes of a second Ranji Trophy title.

The prolific right-hander understands the pain of that loss just as eight Karnataka players from the present squad do. The six-run defeat to Mumbai in Mysore still haunts most in the present Karnataka team and they know the only way to exorcise those ghosts is to win the coveted trophy that has eluded them for 15 years.

There is also certain desperation among Karnataka players and understandably so.

After all, how often does one get to play in a Ranji Trophy final? It has taken this team a semifinal loss and two quarterfinal exits to get another shot at the title and they realise the final against Maharashra, beginning here on Wednesday at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium, is the best chance to bring home the trophy.

Much as players would like everyone to believe that they would treat this as ‘just another game,’ there is going to be pressure on players from either sides and it’s those that hold their nerve well will stand a better chance of winning the match.

Having been involved in a tense final not too long ago and six wins to boot en route the final this season would, perhaps, place Karnataka slightly ahead in terms of fortitude but Maharashtra have every reason to feel equally confident after humbling Mumbai and Bengal in quarterfinal and semifinal respectively.

There is also a sort of similarity in their progress. While it took a while for Karnataka batsmen to come into their own, their bowlers, especially the pacemen, did all the early running. In case of Maharashtra, the bowlers have made a steady improvement through the season with the batsmen helping the team to stay afloat in the early stages.

There is little to separate between the two sides but given their make-up of the composition, it may just turn out to be Karnataka bowling versus Maharashtra batting. Karnataka will rue the absence of the injured HS Sharath but Ronit More and the experienced duo of Vinay and A Mithun, still form a potent pace group. If anything, they may miss a quality specialist spinner though leg-spinning all-rounder Shreyas Gopal (18 wickets in four matches) has done a good job. With the pitch likely to aid turn in due course, Karnataka may opt for either Abrar Kazi or KP Appanna and sacrifice a batsman.

The other option will be to drop More and bring in Srinath Arvind who can double up as spinner if the conditions demand. While admitting that spinners will have a big role to play, Vinay dropped hints of a couple of changes to the side that played the semifinal against Punjab. Boasting two top-scorers– Kedar Jadhav (1074) Harshad Khadiwale (980) – in the tournament, Maharashtra, however, will back their batting to come good against a formidable Karnataka attack. The inclusion of India under-19 skipper Vijay Zol adds more muscle to their middle-order and Karnataka bowling may just be facing their biggest test of the season.

Unlike Maharashtra batsmen, who faced some ‘weaker’ attacks in Group C, Karnataka batsmen have had to encounter some quality bowling in testing conditions that should keep them in better frame of mind. KL Rahul (873 runs) has been Karnataka’s stand out batsman but Karun Nair, who has scored three centuries in a row, has been easily the find of the season for the six-time champions. Robin Uthappa’s ability to switch gears, Manish Pandey’s effervescent presence, Amit Verma’s unbeaten century in the semifinal and CM Gautam’s return to form will pose a few headaches for Maharashtra bowlers who have largely been responsible for their wins against Mumbai and Bengal.        

The Teams (from): KARNATAKA: R Vinay Kumar ( Captain ), Robin Uthappa, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, Manish Pandey, Karun Nair, CM Gautham (vice-captain, wk), Shreyas Gopal, A Mithun, Ronit More, Abrar Kazi, KP Appanna, Ganesh Satish, Amit Verma, S Arvind.
MAHARASHTRA: Rohit Motwani (Captain, wk), Harshad Khadiwale, Vijay Zol, Chirag Khurana, Kedar Jadhav, Sangram Atitkar, Ankit Bawne, Anupam Sanklecha, Akshay Darekar, Pushkraj Chavan, Samad Fallah, Shrikant Mundhe, Domnic Muthuswamy, Nikhil Naik, Rahul Tripathi
Match officials: Umpires: C Shamshuddin (Hyderabad) and Anil K Chaudhary (Delhi). Match referee: Col Chinmay Sharma (Services).

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