In the president’s box at Eden Gardens, national chief selector MSK Prasad sat on the edge of his seat. Next to him was a tense looking Prashant Vaidya, former India fast bowler, now the Vidarbha Cricket Association vice-president. Karnataka had lost their ninth wicket as Abhimanyu Mithun departed after a whirlwind 33 that raised hopes of an unlikely victory. Nine more runs were needed to reach the final, with the last wicket standing. Fittingly, medium pacer Rajneesh Gurbani clinched the cliffhanger for Vidarbha. He shaped one away from Sreenath Aravind, got the outside edge and Apoorv Wankhade at gully did the rest. Karnataka were all out for 192 in their second innings, losing the semifinal at Eden Gardens by five runs. Vidarbha were into their maiden Ranji Trophy final. Gurbani collapsed on his knees, his team mates roared. Many an eye was moist on the field. They were losing their nerves on the final day, when Karnataka mounted a serious fightback through Vinay Kumar, Shreyas Gopal and Mithun. But Vidarbha refused to choke. Gurbani’s career best, 7/68, prevented heartbreak.
Match of the season
This was arguably the best match of the season because of the way it went down to the wire and what was at stake. This semifinal had almost everything that five-day cricket could offer — the ebb-and-flow, drama and a lot more intrigue than a limited-overs contest.The fifth day began, half-an-hour behind schedule due to bad light, with Karnataka needing 87 runs for victory and three wickets remaining. But the eight-time champions expectedly refused to go down without a fight. Teams like Vidarbha are not used to playing on big stages. On the threshold of the Ranji Trophy final they became jittery, losing their bowling discipline in the process. Vinay and Gopal, the overnight Karnataka not out pair, sensed an opportunity. Their big-game experience helped, as attack became the best form of defence.A couple of streaky fours notwithstanding, Vinay was gradually putting the pressure back on Vidarbha. Gurbani, outstanding, on the previous four days, started to feel it. He began changing the angles too frequently – over the wicket and round the wicket. Vinay hit him over mid-off for a four followed by a pull to the square leg boundary in the next ball. Gurbani tried to alter the length but missed his line and bowled a wide one down the leg side that went for four byes. Umesh Yadav walked up to the young fast bowler to soothe his nerves.
Karnataka were closing in on their victory target but after adding 37 runs for the eighth wicket with Gopal, the Karnataka captain paid for over-aggression. Vinay attempted an expansive shot to a fairly wide delivery, getting a nick to ‘keeper Akshay Wadkar in the process. Gurbani had his second five-for of the match and a 10-wicket match haul.Mithun survived a run-out chance on one, with Wadkar bungling a simple collection. Then, he decided to swing merrily. Umesh surprisingly didn’t aim block-hole, continuing to offer length instead. Left-arm spinner Aditya Sarvate came and Mithun hit him for back-to-back fours. Eighteen more runs separated Karnataka and a jailbreak.
Luck runs out
But Mithun’s luck eventually ran out. He lunged at a full and widish delivery from Gurbani, who else, and sliced it to Sarvate at deep point. “Inside me, I felt an eerie silence as the ball went up in the air. It’s sort of silence that Wankhede Stadium had observed before MS Dhoni’s winning hit landed in the stands at the 2011 World Cup final,” Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal said. Sarvate did the basics right and comfortably took the catch. And in the first ball of Gurbani’s next over, Sreenath Aravind played a full ball into gully’s hands as Vidarbha booked a berth in the final. Gurbani returned with a match haul of 12/162 and walked away with the Man of the Match award.Karnataka dominated the game for three-and-a-half days before being done in by a couple of bad sessions with the bat. “This is a let-down from our batting group. Fourth innings was not that difficult on this wicket but most of our batsmen got out to bad shots. I think we didn’t deserve to be in the final, the way we played,” a dejected Karnataka skipper Vinay Kumar said after the loss.
Karnataka were the overwhelming favourites coming into this game, and their ploy this season was simple — bat once and whittle opposition teams with a mountain of runs. Out of the eight games, Kumar’s team had taken the first-innings lead on five instances. In the crucial semi-final encounter and against a dextrous bowling attack led admirably by Gurbani, Karnataka’s famed batting line-up came a cropper. Having said that, they will be buoyed by the performances of their two key players — Mayank Agarwal and K Gowtham — who finished with over 1,100 runs and 30-plus wickets respectively. But they had little impact here at the Eden Gardens. “They are the ones to take care of Karnataka in the long term. Both have very bright future. But I think they need to learn about performing in these kind of matches. It’s not about the league games. If anybody wants to play the next level, he needs to show up in such matches,” he added.
Brief scores: Vidarbha 185 and 313 beat Karnataka 301 and 192 all out in 59.1 overs (Vinay Kumar 36; Rajneesh Gurbani 7/68) by 5 runs