Until the skies cracked open for the umpteenth occasion on Wednesday, this time for a post-noon drizzle, the players were kept waiting under the awning of the PCA Pavilion. Shivering under their umbrellas and staring hopelessly at the blue rexine plasters all over the ground, the umpires finally decided to call off the fifth and final day of this semifinal match, without a ball being bowled.
In the process, the match had ended and so had Punjab’s misery. Karnataka, based on their large first-innings lead, had made it to their second Ranji Trophy final in four years. The truth, however, is that Karnataka had sealed that spot long before 12:35 pm on Wednesday. In a severely weather-affected game, they had gone past Punjab’s first innings score of 270 on Monday afternoon itself.
But if Robin Uthappa is to be believed, then Karnataka had ‘one hand around the trophy’ long before even this semifinal week began. “With the way we’ve been playing and the incredible confidence shown by each of our guys on the cricket field all season long, this edition is indeed ours to lose,” gushes Uthappa. “Now all we have to do is keep this momentum flowing and wrap that other palm around the silverware.”
His confidence isn’t misplaced. Such has been the ferocity of Karnataka’s 2013-14 campaign.
Since the end of November and all the way until the start of this match, Karnataka had won six straight matches. The streak could and should ideally have stretched into a seventh – a win that would have tied the Ranji record – had the elements not come into the equation here in Mohali.
“The breaking of the streak is fine,” says Uthappa. “We just need to win the one that matters.”
Indeed. Notice how Uthappa uses the word ‘need’ rather than ‘want’. In his decade-long first-class career, the former India batsman has seen just one final – the epic one against Mumbai in Mysore back in 2010. Back then he was captain and excruciatingly, Karnataka fell short of the target by six runs. But for a man who made his debut in 2002, shortly after his state’s glory years of the late 90s, his undying will to recreate a truly dominant Karnataka side saw him through.
“It was a difficult phase to be a part of. Losing that final was incredibly hard. But then to get to all those knock-out stages in the following few years and not proceed further was just as bad,” he says. “But now, after the transitional period, we’ve finally put together a side that deserves to be called champions.”
End of transition?
The transitional phase in question began continued…