Karnataka start firm favourites against Punjab

Cricket: Ranji Trophy: Rahul Dravids return to lend solidity and experience to hosts batting

Karnataka start firm favourites against Punjab

 
Watchful: Rahul Dravid inspects the Gangotri Glades pitch ahead of the Ranji Trophy quarterfinal tie against Punjab. DH PhotoFor a decade now, Karnataka have struggled to consistently push the big boys in domestic cricket, making the knockout phase but seldom finding themselves doing battle at the business end of the competition.

Fellow former champions Punjab have fared even worse in the last four years, not progressing beyond the Super League phase and occasionally fighting to stave off relegation, their cause not helped by more than a dozen defections to the Indian Cricket League.

Things seem to have fallen in place for both erstwhile giants this season. With the astute Rahul Dravid --  remarkably determined to pull his weight for his State -- marshalling their fortunes, Karnataka have been a gathering storm, sweeping all before them in the Super League on the back of a youthful but desperately hungry batting line-up and an exceptional pace bowling attack.

Punjab, welcoming prodigal son Love Ablish back from the ICL, haven’t quite been as impressive, but they have at least broken the knockout drought. Not unlike Karnataka, their principal strength has been their pace bowling department spearheaded by Ablish (33 wickets) and Manpreet Singh Gony (30), who between them have accounted for 63 wickets this season.

Considering Karnataka have an equally potent quick bowling combine in R Vinay Kumar (33 scalps) and A Mithun (31), it would appear to be a battle among equals when the teams square off in the four-day last-eight showdown at the Gangotri Glades on Thursday. That will, of course, be taking the simplistic approach.

Young blood

There is something about this Karnataka side that triggers the not unfounded hope that, for the first time since 1999, it could go all the way in the tournament. The infusion of young blood in the batting line-up has worked wonders, the likes of Manish Pandey, Ganesh Satish and Amit Verma finding their feet on the big stage almost instantaneously in their second coming, while the meteoric rise of Mithun has lent the cutting edge Karnataka have so sorely lacked in recent times when Vinay has largely had to plough a lone furrow.

On tracks benign and with life in them, in pressure-cooker situations and in situations where they have had the luxury of doing their bidding, Karnataka have always found a man for the occasion. Happily for them, five of their top seven have made centuries, and four of them have multiple hundreds to their name.

Only Dravid and Robin Uthappa are yet to touch three-figures, an anomaly bound to be corrected sooner rather than later. Vinay and first-season tyro Mithun have been admirably complemented by left-arm paceman S Aravind (21 wickets), the trio ensuring that the seasoned Sunil Joshi hasn’t had to shoulder heavy workload.
Consequently, the hosts enjoy a distinct edge against a batting line-up yet to impose itself on the competition on a surface that holds the promise of reasonable bounce and early assistance to the quicks. Punjab might like to believe pitch conditions aren’t too dissimilar from those back home in Mohali, but thus far this season, they are yet to encounter an attack as versatile and a batting line-up as accomplished as Karnataka’s in the same match. Skipper Pankaj Dharmani will have to lead from the front, though in that category too, Karnataka are better off! By miles!!

Teams (from): Karnataka: Rahul Dravid (capt), Robin Uthappa, KB Pawan, Ganesh  Satish, Amit Verma, Manish Pandey, CM Gautam, R Vinay Kumar, Sunil Joshi, A Mithun, S Aravind, Stuart Binny, KP Appanna, Udit Patel, Aditya Sagar.

Punjab: Pankaj Dharmani (capt), Sunny Sohal, Ravi Inder Singh, Uday Kaul, Taruwar Kohli, Mayank Sidana, Vishwas Bhalla, Harmeet Singh, Manpreet Singh Gony, Love Ablish, Rahul Sharma, Chandan Madan, Gagandeep Singh, Rajwinder Golu, Sarabjeet Ladda.

Umpires: Suresh Shastri and Rajesh Deshpande. Match referee: Raju Mukherjee.
Hours of play: 0930-1200 hours, 1240-1440 hours and 1500-close of play.

Highlights

* First Match: Bangalore on Feb 25, 1982. Karnataka won by an innings and 167 runs.

* Last Match: Amritsar on Apr 9, 1999. Karnataka won by 7 wickets.

* Playing Record: Played: 4. Karnataka: 3. Punjab: 0. Drawn: 1

* Highest Total: For Karnataka: 477, Bangalore, 1981-82. For Punjab: 332, Mohali, 1994-95.

* Lowest total: For Karnataka: 171, Mohali, 1994-95. For Punjab: 90, Amritsar, 1998-99.

* Highest individual score: For Karnataka: 125 by VS Thilak Naidu at Amritsar, Feb 1999. For Punjab: 98 by Krishna Mohan at Mohali, Feb 1995.

* Best bowling in an innings: For Karnataka: 6/37 by D Ganesh at Amritsar, Feb 1999. For Punjab: 4-31 by Arun Bedi at Mohali, Feb-1995.

* Highest Total (this season): Karnataka: 553-4decl vs Maharashtra at Pune. Punjab: 444 vs Gujarat at Mohali.

* Highest individual score: Karnataka: 194 by Manish Pandey vs UP at Meerut. Punjab: 123 by U Kaul vs Railways at Delhi.

* Most Runs: Karnataka: 553 by M Pandey in 6 matches. Punjab: 408 by U Kaul in 7 matches.
nBest bowling in an innings: For Karnataka: 8/32 by Vinay Kumar vs Delhi at Delhi.

For Punjab: 6/79 by L Ablish vs Gujarat at Mohali.

K R Gururaja Rao

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