Will Karnataka break semifinal jinx?

Will Karnataka break semifinal jinx?

Karnataka and Bengal, two teams with near identical runs in this season’s Ranji Trophy, will lock horns in a mouth-watering semifinal from Saturday with both former champions hoping their consistent vulnerabilities don't put a spoke in their wheels.

Batsmen from both the sides have struggled to impose themselves and have looked undercooked in hostile conditions, fielding has been ordinary for the better part, bowling has fired only in fits and starts and their respective captains’ form too has been miserable. However, as the saying goes ‘when the going gets tough the tough get going,’ both Karnataka and Bengal have found that extra resolve whenever the chips have been down to somehow reach the semifinals.

“Those are the signs of a champion team because you find ways to come out of difficult situations and find people to step up in difficult situations,” said Karnataka skipper Karun Nair following a training session at the Eden Gardens on Friday. “Really happy with the way we have been playing the whole season; to reach the semifinals three years in a row is wonderful. But it’s time for us to go one step further and try and reach the final.”

While picking a winner for this evenly-matched contest is indeed a gamble, Karnataka emerge as marginal favourites owing to their big-match experience and the return of talismanic opener KL Rahul. In great white-ball form this entire season, Rahul was ignored for the ongoing Test series in New Zealand and the 27-year-old will be keen to make a statement.

Rahul’s welcome return which will see him unite with his childhood buddies Manish Pandey and Nair gives the Karnataka batting line-up some much needed solidity and confidence. However, accommodating him means the team management will either have to drop a batsman — opener Devdutt Padikkal or middle-order KV Siddharth — or go with seven batsmen-four bowler combination, meaning axing J Suchith.

Given how the Eden Gardens pitch has become pace friendly since being relaid a few years ago and the fair amount of grass visible on match eve — locals say it’ll be retained for the match too — it remains to be seen whether they go with three pacers and a spinner or two-two.

Karnataka will also be looking to finally cross the semifinal hurdle, a stage where they have suffered agonising defeats the last two seasons. The Eden Gardens is one of the two venues — Karnataka lost by five runs to Vidarbha in 2017-18 despite taking a 116-run first innings lead — and that memory will still be fresh on the players’ minds. However, as they’ve shown in winning this season’s Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy, they rise up when the tide is strong and breaking that semifinal hoodoo will be high on their agenda.

Bengal, rebuilding under former player and India international Arun Lal, have even been termed as ‘favourites' by their coach. If Bengal do wish to live up to that tag, then the misfiring batsmen will have to pull up their socks against a quality Karnataka pace attack.

Bengal’s strength, just like Karnataka, is bowling. Mukesh Kumar has led the pace attack with aplomb while young Ishan Porel and Akash Deep, who has successfully recovered from an injury, have been hitting the right notes. Add the all-round brilliance of southpaw Shahbaz Ahmed (427 runs, 30 wickets), Bengal have the ammunition to cause damage as well.
Given the helpful bowling conditions, ticket to the final will be punched by the team that bats better.

Teams (from): Bengal: Abhimanyu Easwaran (captain), Manoj Tiwary, Anustup Majumder, Shreevats Goswami (wk), Sudip Chatterjee, Abhishek Raman, Koushik Ghosh, Arnab Nandi, Shahbaz Ahmed, Agniv Pan, Shreyan Chakraborty, Nilkantha Das, Mukesh Kumar, Akash Deep, Golam Mustafa.

Karnataka: Karun Nair (captain), R Samarth, Devdutt Padikkal, Manish Pandey, KL Rahul, Sharath Srinivas (wk), Shreyas Gopal, K Gowtham, A Mithun, KV Siddharth, Prasidh Krishna, J Suchith, Prateek Jain, Ronit More, Sharath BR.


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