Ranji Trophy: Karnataka up against tricky target

Shreyas Gopal (3/52) and K Gowtham (4/54) made sure the target remained below 200 for Karnataka. (DH Photo)

Karnataka, with seven wickets in hand, require 139 runs against Rajasthan to book their place in the Ranji Trophy semifinal. On paper, they appear the better-placed side but the enormity of the contest tells a different story.  

There is inevitable pressure on both sides in a knockout game. In Karnataka’s case, their batting mainstay Karun Nair has very little to show in the runs column. Three days into the last-eight contest here at the Chinnaswamy stadium, the uneven nature of the pitch has forced the batsmen to grind it out in the middle.

On Friday, when Karnataka resume from 45/3, an absorbing contest is on cards. Nair (18 not out) and night-watchman Ronit More (5 not out) will resume proceedings for the hosts. Despite the target looking within their reach, Karnataka, who stumbled in the knockouts – their five-run defeat to Vidarbha in the semifinal last season is still fresh in the memory – will have to fight their inner demons to cross the finish line.    

Earlier, Rajasthan rode on valuable contributions from skipper Mahipal Lomror (42), Robin Bist (44) and Chetan Bist (33) to post 222 all out and set a tricky target of 184 runs. Aniket Choudhary then picked D Nischal (1) and K V Siddharth (5) in his brilliant first spell of 6-0-9-2. In the penultimate over of the day, Rajasthan landed a severe blow on their opponents. Samarth (16) was trapped in front by left-arm spinner Lomror off a ball that kept low.  

For Rajasthan, not a single batsman produced an eye-catchy effort. But unlike their first-innings display, the visitors weren’t irresponsible in their approach. Chetan and Lomror were composed in their 72-run stand. Rajasthan nearly took complete honours in the first session. But Gowtham’s two-wicket burst and Ronit More’s dismissal of Ashok Menaria (4) gave Karnataka the momentum going into the post-lunch session.

Rajasthan were helped by another useful partnership of 63 between Salman Khan (25) and Robin Bist. The lead began to soar and Karnataka let the frustration affect their fielding. A couple of over-throws and miss-fields in the deep aided Rajasthan to stay in control. A down-and-out Karnataka side clawed back into the game courtesy Shreyas (3/52). He had Robin Bist stumped and then removed Salman leg before wicket in the 56thover. With two set batsmen back in the hut, Rajasthan’s confidence was crushed.

“We would have loved to be two down at the end of day’s play. Unfortunately we lost Samarth also. I don’t think the pitch will create an issue. There is definitely a bit of wear and tear. Couple of balls are keeping low. But there is nothing to worry,” said Gowtham, who bagged four for 54.  

Karnataka will also be fretting about wicketkeeper BR Sharath’s injury. The youngster hurt his finger while collecting a Siddharth delivery and walked off the field. Two times this season, Karnataka’s effort batting fourth has been dismal. While they avoided a scare and eked out a draw against Vidarbha in the season opener, they suffered an 87-run defeat chasing a 179-run target against Saurashtra.

On Friday, the eight-time champions would want to script a better tale.

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