At the end of a 20-minute hit, Manish Pandey walked out of the nets, whipped off his helmet and busied himself with unstrapping his pads. As he was about to dispense with his leg-guard, J Arun Kumar, Karnataka’s batting coach, fired off a couple of instructions in rapid-fire Kannada.
Pandey made haste in putting his pads back on and walked to an empty net. With four fielders crowded-in close, the right-hander was served a barrage of point-blank throw-downs, with his brief seemingly centered on keeping the ball down.
A few Maharashtra players, who moments earlier were busy lugging their kit-bags into the practice area of the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, stopped and scrutinised Pandey’s batting drill. 15 minutes later, the Maharashtra batsmen were made to replicate the drill, perhaps taking a leaf out of their storied opponent’s book.
Later, with almost half the questions in a brief media interaction with both teams being about the wicket’s spin-friendly nature, the drill’s utility seemed to have been revealed. The other half dwelled on Maharashtra’s ability to take the pressure of a final.
Karnataka and Maharashtra will lock horns in the final of the 2013-14 season from Wednesday. Both teams are unbeaten and seem to have a lot in common, apart from one factor – big match experience.
While Maharashtra are in the final after 21 years, Karnataka have won the Ranji Trophy thrice in the last two decades along with a runners-up finish in 2009-10. However, those three championships were won with Karnataka’s golden generation; the likes of Dravid, Kumble, Srinath and Prasad all combining fluently in the course of victory.
Teams in transition
Over the last few years though, Karnataka have been in transition as have Maharashtra, whose last title came in the 1941-42 season. But even though both sides have undergone revamps, Karnataka seem to hold the edge.
While both teams have followed similar policies of blooding young talent, Karnataka have ensured that their performance has not really dipped. They have made the knock-out rounds over the last five seasons. They, in fact, had almost won the title in 2009-10, falling six agonising runs short against Mumbai in the title clash at Mysore.
In comparison, Maharashtra with their youthful bunch, have made the knock-outs only twice during the same time-frame. With eight players who played the 2009-10 final in the current 15-member squad, the team understands the pulls and pressures of a summit clash, a point Karnataka skipper Vinay Kumar stressed on.
“Maharashtra is a good young team. However, we have been here before. We know the kind of pressure that comes up at certain moments and that is a plus-point,” Vinay said.
The pacer also went on to say that whoever won the toss would have an upper hand.
Maharashtra coach Surendra Bhave continued…