The final day’s play at the Chinnaswamy stadium on Wednesday was a mere formality, the game done and dusted long before as Karnataka opened up a gargantuan 367-run lead on the first innings. Karnataka passed up the option of enforcing the follow on in a bid to keep their supremely successful fast men fresh for the final against Mumbai starting in Mysore on Monday, and wicketkeeper CM Gautam cashed in with a second century of the season to carry form and confidence with him to the title clash.
This will be the fifth Karnataka-Mumbai final, with the latter having won three of the previous four clashes.
In some ways, a comprehensive drubbing of last year’s beaten finalists would have been the perfect route to the title round for Rahul Dravid’s men, but Karnataka’s reluctance to ask Uttar Pradesh to bat again made perfect sense, if not for great entertainment.
Indeed, had Karnataka chosen to enforce the follow on, there is no denying that they would have completed an innings victory against a team that has been in three of the last four finals, because Uttar Pradesh looked totally dispirited and lacklustre after being rolled over for 208.
Even so, there was no disputing who the boss was over the four days at the Chinnaswamy stadium. Dravid’s wondrous double hundred took them to the heights of 575 for seven declared, and once the pace-bowling trio of R Vinay Kumar, A Mithun and S Arvind got into the act, all escape routes were comprehensively shut out for UP.
The final day was all about the middle-order getting some batting practice in ahead of the final, and no one welcomed it more than Gautam (100 n.o., 206m, 169b, 15x4). The young stumper, in his first full season, had tapered off substantially after a century early on against Bengal. Desperately needing runs under his belt for self-confidence, more than anything else, the right-hander made the most of the opportunity with a classy century that rubbed further salt into already festering Uttar Pradesh wounds.
Piyush Chawla had winkled out the Karnataka top three on Tuesday evening, but while Uttar Pradesh found success at reasonable intervals early on on Wednesday when Karnataka resumed at 43 for three, they were denied even consolation points by Gautam’s third first-class century.
The feisty 23-year-old was fluent in his driving on the off-side even on a track whose bounce could seldom be trusted. Walking in after the impressive Rudra Pratap Singh had got rid of Ganesh Satish fairly early, Gautam hit his straps straightaway against pace and spin alike, watchful defence and silken strokeplay fusing perfectly.
Amit Verma dug himself in for the long grind but couldn’t build on time spent in the middle, trapped in front by Tanmay Srivastava, but that ushered in the best batting phase of the day as Gautam took wings and R Vinay Kumar launched a fierce but calculated onslaught. The pair added 112 (98m, 154b) for the sixth wicket, classic orthodoxy and clean striking combining to make a pretty picture.
Dravid watched on in appreciation from the dressing room, but the skipper had to dig his pads out of his kit as RP Singh struck thrice with the second new ball with Gautam still in the 90s. Fittingly, the man who has encouraged his young charges to give shape to their dreams was at the non-striker’s end when Gautam steered Bhuvneshwar Kumar for his 15th boundary and hundred number three.
Dravid enforced the declaration, more so that the team could celebrate its entry into the final on the field as a unit than anything else. When play was called off an hour before scheduled close, with UP on 22 for one, there was no outlandish celebration, but a quiet and dignified acceptance of their superiority, and a generous acknowledgement of the sparse gathering’s appreciation. Way to go, boys!