Karnataka run into Plate toppers Puducherry

Karnataka pacer V Koushik, bowling coach S Arvind, spinners Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham(from left) at a practice session in Bengaluru on Saturday. DH PHOTO/ S K DINESH

With great power, comes great responsibility. This has to be among the most overused adages. But then it works the other way around too. You can point to Manish Pandey’s run in this edition of the Vijay Hazare Trophy to prove it so.  

In and out of the Indian side, Pandey has taken stock of his ability and has attached a great deal of value to his wicket that seldom he does. He has been uncharacteristically responsible in his shot-making. The result of this new-found maturity is 505 runs in eight innings, including five half-centuries, a century and three unbeaten knocks, at an average of 101.

This run-glut, coincidentally or otherwise, comes after he was handed over the reins of the Karnataka side half-way through the last season, replacing long-standing skipper R Vinay Kumar. He has responded to the promotion by leading Karnataka to seven wins in eight games in the ongoing one-day tournament, resulting in their qualification as the top team from a combined list of teams from Group A and B.

To say the least, the three-time champs have looked unbeatable, and as fate would have it, they run into Vinay and his new employers Puducherry in the quarterfinals at the M Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday.

One could look at Puducherry’s table-topping no-loss record in the Plate Group and insist on the possibility of a stiff challenge. But that would be a bit of a stretch. Momentum is a real factor in cricket and it helps even if the wins come against sides with less experience, but unless there’s a miracle of sorts, the likelihood of Puducherry slaying Karnataka at home is slim.

Sure, having Vinay and J Arun Kumar, the current Puducherry coach and ex-Karnataka coach, on the roster helps boost the quality of ‘inside information’, but the execution of plans is what matters. 

Puducherry have three bowlers - Sagar Udeshi, Ashith Rajiv and Sagar Trivedi - who have picked up 17 wickets each and Vinay has come up with 14 scalps. While that, and the fact that no team has played over 40 overs against this side, is comforting, there is cause for concern with their batting. The highest scorer for the side is KB Arun Karthik and he has only scored 262 runs in nine games.

They haven’t had to chase down big scores, possibly explaining the small numbers, but even still, it’s going to be a task against A Mithun, M Prasidh Krishna, Ronit More and V Koushik upfront. They’ll also have Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham to contend with. 

Then there’s a not-so-small matter of Karnataka’s protein-injected batting arsenal. Barring Pandey, there’s Devdutt Padikkal, who has scored 456 runs from eight innings at an average of 76, and you can’t ignore KL Rahul, though he would have liked to churn out more runs than he has so far. Karun Nair hasn’t been a factor for a while either, but Puducherry can’t take him, or the robust lower-order, lightly.

In conclusion, Karnataka are firm favourites. Unless, of course, the cricket gods have other plans.

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