The 2018-19 Ranji Trophy season was a unique one for Karnataka. For the first time in at least five years, they competed without the tag of ‘an all star team’. As many as eight players made their debut. It was not just about the new faces. The format too had changed, leaving teams to fight out of their skin to progress to the knockouts.
Karnataka appeared under-cooked but the Manish Pandey-led side produced a second successive semifinal finish to bow out with hopes of a strong comeback next time.
For Karnataka cricket, the season was a big test. It is one thing to produce a rare bunch of immensely gifted players but it is another thing to keep the flow of talent going. But the newcomers -- K V Siddharth, Prasidh Krishna, Sharath Srinivas, BR Sharath, Prateek Jain, Shubhang Hedge, Liyan Khan and Devdutt Padikkal -- gave a clear picture of a strong backup talent.
Siddharth, with 728 runs, has made a strong case for himself for the crucial No 3 slot. He bats with a positive mindset and never goes into a shell.
“He was very consistent in the Thimmappiah memorial tournament. He’s been in the system for almost three to four years, in the Under-23s and Under-25s. We’ve been following him in that age group. This was the right opportunity for us to give him a go,” said coach Yere Goud of the 26-year-old.
Opener D Nischal, who amassed 620 runs, came out of the shadows of the big guns R Samarth and Mayank Agarwal and shone with his gritty batting.
Looking to fill the void left by CM Gautam, Karnataka will be satisfied with the performances of the young duo of BR Sharath and Sharath Srinivas. B R Sharath, who slammed a ton on his debut, is nice prospect but needs to work on his temperament. Sharath Srinivas, after a long wait for his chance, was a surprise package. Apart from showing fine intent with the bat, he gave glimpses of his solid technique behind the stumps.
Batting was Karnataka’s main problem. Samarth and Karun Nair are players with fine first-class pedigree. But their efforts let Karnataka down. Samarth had his first poor season in three years. Nair, speaking about his torrid run, said: “I need to do better. I am trying to keep my hunger for runs going and I am putting in the efforts. I am definitely not happy with the results.”
With Stuart Binny sidelined, the all-rounder’s duties rested on Shreyas Gopal and K Gowtham. Shreyas, with his mature batting and incisive bowling, was a big asset to the side. Gowtham, with the ball, showed his match-winning abilities. But it will help Karnataka if the off-spinning all-rounder bats with more responsibility. Karnataka can always bank on J Suchith, who picked 24 wickets from five games.
The third seamer’s slot left by Arvind was grabbed by Ronit More (37 wickets), who was a revelation. The right-arm medium pacer was the team’s strike bowler, regularly changing the game in Karnataka’s favour by plucking important wickets.
Vinay’s performance raises questions. The veteran, a natural fighter, bailed Karnataka out with his batting in crunch situations. But for someone known to pick wickets with his ruthless approach, Vinay finished with just 14 wickets. For the first time in recent memory, Vinay appeared jaded. “He kept one end tight for us. That is the role he has played for us. He was unlucky as many catches were put down off his bowling,” Goud defended the veteran.
In the coming years, Karnataka need a set of confident young players stepping up consistently. “The team is in a transition phase. We’ve built it for two to three years now, it is time for us to take it forward now,” said Goud.