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Vidarbha crush Karnataka by 128 runs to make Ranji Trophy semifinals

Vidarbha came from behind on the final day to stop Karnataka in their tracks with a flurry of wickets and secured a place in the semifinal. They join Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Last Updated 27 February 2024, 09:34 IST

Nagpur: Right throughout the season, the Karnataka have oscillated between outstanding and ordinary. They were mediocre to start with in the quarterfinal against Vidarbha then produced an exceptional turnaround on the fourth day before hitting the familiar shambolic note on the concluding day to crash out of Ranji Trophy in what was a turbulent campaign.

Karnataka appeared gone for good after below-par performances with the ball and bat in the first innings but somehow they found a way back into the contest when Vidwath Kaverappa and Vyshak V produced a riveting display of fast bowling to knock out Vidarbha for 196. The target then was still an improbable 371 but with the pitch at the old VCA Stadium possessing no demons and Karnataka taking stumps on the fourth evening at 103/0, the impossible seemed possible.

Overnight batters Mayank Agarwal and Aneesh KV, in fact, kickstarted the final morning positively. Vidarbha took the field with a defensive mindset by spreading the field and looking to contain the runs, and Agarwal and Aneesh had it easy, picking singles and getting the odd boundary. They just had to bat with application but then, Karnataka haven’t done it consistently this season and imploded in spectacular fashion, losing 7 wickets for 119 runs in a disastrous morning session.

Skipper Agarwal was guilty of trying to step out to Aditya Sarvate and hit him over mid-on. The canny left-arm spinner dragged the ball a bit short and Agarwal ended up miscuing the ball straight into the hands of Harsh Dubey at mid-on. Disappointment was writ large on his face and even before he could process the mistake he had committed, Karnataka slipped from 127/2 to 131/4 — SJ Nikin Jose and Manish Pandey gifting wickets on a platter through poor shot selection. Eventually Karnataka were bowled out for 243 a little after lunch.

This wasn’t the first occasion Karnataka’s batting line-up imploded this season. Four times they’ve been bowled out for less than 200 runs, they nearly bungled up the chase against Railways, literally surviving by the skin of their teeth in reaching 229/9. The botch-up against Vidarbha brought back memories of the Gujarat game where they slipped from 50/1 to 103 all out in a chase of 110.

A problem that persisted was the poor form of opener R Samarth (341 runs) and Jose (281). Barring a decent knock here or there, neither of the two looked assured and it appears the cross of vice-captaincy was too heavy for Jose to bear in his sophomore season. Also, statically Agarwal (468) and Pandey (480) may claim they’ve had a good season but the fact is whenever the chips were down and the team needed them, they seldom put their hands up.

Karnataka were also found wanting in the spin department. The selection committee, headed by J Abhiram, in a bid to build a team for the future, chose to axe seasoned off-spinner K Gowtham and tried out as many as five rookie spinners. They all had good results in age-group cricket but thrust into the gruelling world of first-class cricket rather prematurely, they all misfired.

Guys like Shubhang Hegde and AC Rohit Kumar were banished after just three games and the management even handed out a debut to 17-year-old Dheeraj Gowda to partner with Hardik Raj, also 17, in a game as important as the quarterfinal. Both obviously struggled and it’s no fault of theirs. It’s fine to build a team for the future but at the same time the present can’t be sacrificed. 

In Indian pitches, good spinners are a vital ingredient for success, not just for taking wickets but holding one end up. Karnataka sorely missed the services of Gowtham on that front, the joint highest wicket-taker for Karnataka last season with 31 scalps.

The only saving grace for Karnataka was the accomplishment of pacers Vyshak (39 wickets), V Koushik (28) and Kaverappa (25). The trio not only wrecked havoc but on docile pitches, they bowled their hearts out consistently to ensure Karnataka were always in the game. They easily can claim to be the best pace unit in the country, given their potency and performance.

The management and selectors know what the problem areas are and they have enough time for course correction.

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(Published 27 February 2024, 09:34 IST)

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