Upbeat Karnataka eye revenge

KV Siddharth (left), Karnataka’s top run-getter in last season’s Ranji Trophy, is set to play his first game this edition when the eight-time champions face Saurashtra. DH FILE PHOTO

Karnataka have squared up against two old-time rivals — Tamil Nadu and Mumbai — this Ranji Trophy and on both the occasions they’ve emerged triumphant. They now front-up new-age nemesis Saurashtra from Friday, and hope the end result is the same.

Saurashtra don’t boast of the same cricketing pedigree as Mumbai and Tamil Nadu but they’ve managed to do what the two heavyweights have failed, hand Karnataka some heart-breaking defeats in the recent years. None worse than the bitter semifinal loss at the Chinnaswamy Stadium around a year ago.

Karnataka, after setting Saurashtra a target of 279, reduced to the visitors to 3/23 with skipper R Vinay Kumar and fellow pacer Abhimanyu Mithun breathing fire. Cheteshwar Pujara then slowly began to engineer a fightback along with Sheldon Jackson when Karnataka were seething. Vinay got an edge off Pujara shortly after lunch and while the entire Karnataka team went up in appeal, umpire Saiyed Khalid remained unmoved.

Pujara went on to score an unbeaten 131 and with Jackson also slamming an exact ton, Saurashtra coasted home on the final day without much trouble.

It was the second time in the match Pujara — the right-hander had gloved Mithun in the first innings — had enjoyed a slice of luck, coincidentally the umpire being Khalid on both occasions. Karnataka fans openly jeered Pujara as “cheater”, the chants not going down with the visitors camp.

Given the backdrop, there’s going to be plenty of needle for this Group B contest at Madhavrao Scindia Cricket Ground but Karnataka’s stand-in skipper Shreyas Gopal downplayed talks of revenge. “I don’t think too much about the past and it’s going to be another game of cricket. It’s very important we don’t get distracted by such talks and focus on just giving our best. It’s important players stay in the present. We just need to stick to our game plan.”    

When Karnataka conceded the first innings lead to Himachal Pradesh in their third game, it looked their multiple issues could dent their semifinal chances.

But things are slowly falling in place for Yere Goud’s men with R Samarth’s return to form giving them a massive boost. The right-hander was struggling since last season and was even dropped for the Mumbai game before earning a lucky call-back when Mayank Agarwal was instructed rest. Samarth made that chance count, scoring 86 and 34 on a challenging wicket and he’ll be keen to build on that momentum.

With regular skipper Karun Nair missing out due to his marriage, the returning KV Siddharth will most likely take up his position, meaning the batting wears an inexperienced look. Barring Devdutt Padikkal, none have shown consistency, and against a decent Saurashtra attack they will have their task cut out.

Saurashtra started the season with a bang, posting back to back wins before being busted by a dogged Uttar Pradesh side. Having not competed in the fourth round, they’ll be well rested and keen to get their mojo back.

Karnataka, who last beat Saurashtra in the 2009/10 season, however will be hoping to put an end to this jinx, and also, give further thrust to their knockout ambitions.

Teams (from): Karnataka: Shreyas Gopal (capt), Devdutt Padikkal, D Nischal, R Samarth, KV Siddharth, BR Sharath (wk), Rohan Kadam, J Suchith, Abhimanyu Mithun, V Koushik, Prateek Jain, Ronit More, Sharath Srinivas (wk), Pravin Dubey.

Saurashtra: Jaydev Unadkat (capt), Cheteshwar Pujara, Sheldon Jackson, Snell Patel, Arpit Vasavada, Prerak Mankad, Chirag Jani, Harvik Desai, Samarth Vyas, Dharmendra Jadeja, Kamlesh Makwana, Krushang Patel, Chetan Sakariya, Jay Chauhan, Avi Barot, Divyaraj Chauhan, Parthkumar Bhut, Vandit Jivrajani.

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