Karnataka seek to maintain rhythm

Karnataka seek to maintain rhythm

As the harsh winter sun began to scorch this busy town on Sunday, the players settled into their post-training routines like getting a quick massage and packing their kits.

The veil of serenity was soon breached as Bollywood hits of the 60’s and 70s began to blare from the Jammu & Kashmir dressing room with some of the cricketers crooning along.

Rank outsiders before this Ranji Trophy season, they are now the third-placed team in Group A. They are only behind Karnataka, their immediate rivals from Monday at the KSCA-Rajnagar Stadium, and Mumbai, with 10 points from four games.

It has been a romantic ride thus far, just like those songs in their change room indicated.

In contrast, the Karnataka dressing room presented a calmer picture, carrying the poise of a champion side. But had they chose to play their own records, then Elton John’s ‘This Train Don’t Stop’ would have been quite apt. No team in Indian domestic circuit has been so relentless, so purposeful in their quest for victory, so resourceful in taming any conditions than Karnataka.

In their three previous matches against Tamil Nadu, Bengal and Railways, Karnataka had to negotiate seam-friendly pitches. Their batsmen may not have racked up many big scores except Shreyas Gopal’s hundred against Bengal, but they did enough good work to give their bowlers a chance to put the opposition under pressure. R Vinay Kumar, the Karnataka skipper, underlined that.  

“First three games, it was very challenging for the batsmen. First game we played in Bangalore, it was a seaming track and we batted first. Even in Kolkata, it was a seaming track and we batted first. Against Railways, we won the toss and we batted first. It is difficult conditions for our batsman. On that also they have done well. Hopefully, they will get a good batting track and will perform here,” said Vinay on the eve of the match.

The 22-yard strip here sported a generous smattering of grass a day before the match, but it remains to be seen that how much green tinge the pitch would actually retain on Monday. Whatever be the nature of the track, the frontline Karnataka batsmen would certainly like to collect some big runs, and none would be more eager than Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey.

Of course, Uthappa is their highest run-getter this season so far with 281 runs from three games at a shade over 46. But a three-figure knock has eluded him despite coming close on a couple of occasions, and there wouldn’t be a better time for him to notch one.

Pandey hasn’t really hit the straps thus far, scoring just 136 runs with one fifty, and a big score here would boost his confidence ahead of sterner tests. CM Gautam has been in good touch since the start of the season, justly reflected in his 221 runs at 73.66 with three fifties. The wicketkeeper batsman has held together the Karnataka batting with patience and panache more than once.

“He is the backbone for us. He has performed for many years in crunch situations for Karnataka. Whenever the team needs, he has performed. Last few games when we lost five wickets, he came and consolidated the innings,” said Vinay. Now, Gautam too would be eyeing to capitalise on his good form with a more substantial innings.

 Jammu and Kashmir will be without opener Shubham Khajuria, their best batsman of the season. Khajuria, who had made 311 runs from four outings at 44.42, had injured his shoulder while fielding against Uttar Pradesh in their last match. So, the rest of the batsmen will have to contribute big against an in-form Karnataka pace pack – Vinay, S Arvind, A Mithun and Stuart Binny. It also adds that much more responsibility on their skipper Parvez Rasool, who is also in World Cup probables from J&K side, to come good both with bat and ball.

Even then it will be a mighty tough task for them to stop this Karnataka team.
DH News Service

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