Karnataka target strong start

Confident defending champions clash with Tamil Nadu in season-opener

Karnataka target strong start

Living up to a legacy can be an arduous task -- in sports and in life. Now, that hard job beckons Karnataka when they start their campaign in the 2014-15 edition of the Ranji Trophy as the defending champions.

Last season, Karnataka resembled a train -- a nuclear-powered one -- brushing aside opponents with ease and grace, a bull run that culminated in them winning their seventh Ranji title after a gap of 15 years. The fibre of that fine team remains unchanged when they take on Tamil Nadu in a Group A match from Sunday here at the M Chinnaswamy stadium.

Of course, they have lost Amit Verma to Kerala and Ganesh Satish to Vidarbha, robbing the middle-order a large chunk of experience. But in Mayank Agarwal, new kid Shishir Bhavane, Karun Nair, Manish Pandey, Kunal Kapoor and wicketkeeper C M Gautam, who is returning from a surgery as the vice-captain of the side, Karnataka have a clutch of batsmen who can powderise any bowling line-up.

They have already given enough indications of their consistency and firepower while retaining the South Zone one-dayers for the Subbiah Pillai Trophy and the all-India one-day competition for the Vijay Hazare Trophy.

K L Rahul, who scored over 1000 runs last year to lead Karnataka’s batting charge, too will not be available as he is in Australia with the Indian Test side. But there are no wrinkled foreheads, only the talk of a new batsman stepping up and scoring truckload of runs. This then could be a Robin Uthappa season. The Kodava man has been drafted into the 30-man World Cup probables, a just reward for the bagful of runs, and the manner in which he has made them in the domestic circuit in various formats.

Even stand-in Indian skipper Virat Kohli was impressed by Uthappa’s form. “Uthappa has been batting quite well, as there was no slogging. There was a lot of self-belief in him while facing some of the best bowlers in the world (in IPL). I think he is in a good mental space, which I think is very important. It is equally important to keep someone like Uthappa confident because of the value he brings to the side,” Kohli had said last month ahead of India’s fourth one-dayer against Sri Lanka at Kolkata.

Uthappa had missed six matches last season due to a hamstring injury, still he had made 374 runs from five matches at a healthy 46.75 with a hundred against Uttar Pradesh. In his latest avatar, Uthappa is willing to stay at the crease initially before opening up later. The credit of turning him into a more settled batsman goes to former India batsman Pravin Amre, his personal coach.

Now, Uthappa has an additional point to draw motivation, if he requires so. While a good run with the bat will certainly keep Karnataka way ahead of their rivals, it will also brighten his chances of finding a place in the World Cup squad of 15. Will he blaze his way through?

The 22-yard strip at the Chinnaswamy sported generous amount of green tinge on Saturday, reminding us about Karnataka’s impressive bowling resources. Skipper R Vinay Kumar is a wily campaigner, employing a vast bag of tricks and blessed with a sharp brain to outfox batsmen. Abhimanyu Mithun, who is recovering from a left-quad injury that he sustained during the Hazare final against Punjab in Mumbai, and HS Sharath, the tireless workhorses with ability to match, complete the most potent pace attack in domestic circuit.

The hosts also have Stuart Binny, a clever bowler and a destructive batsman and talented young leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal provides a rounded look to the attack.
But there is another inconspicuous element that makes this Karnataka outfit a dreaded one. It’s their self-belief.

In many of the previous editions, Karnataka failed to go all the way largely because they never seemed to have the belief in their abilities. Coaches J Arunkumar and Mansur Ali Khan together have rewritten that familiar script, transforming them into a confident, all-weather side. That self-assurance will be their strongest ally in this Group.

Despite the prolific S Badrinath ending his 14-year association with the state for a move to Vidarbha, Tamil Nadu remain a strong unit under new skipper R Prasanna, and they have some excellent players such as Dinesh Karthik, Baba Aparajith and Abhinav Mukund to bank upon to get the big runs. If they tide over Tamil Nadu, Karnataka still have to negate an array of former champions -- Mumbai, Uttar Pradesh, Baroda, Bengal and Railways. The minnows in this group are Jammu and Kashmir and Madhya Pradesh.

If Karnataka can reproduce last season’s drive and resilience, the trophy will be secure in their shelf.
DH News Service

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