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Ranji Trophy: Karnataka out of their comfort zone

Karnataka, on a six-match streak, must acclimatise to the cold to continue good run.

Mohali | Updated: January 18, 2014 2:16 pm
Harbhajan Singh Harbhajan Singh Bhajji, Captain of Punjab during practice session on the eve of Ranji semi final match against Karnatka at PCA on Friday, January 17 2014. Express photo by Jaipal Singh

Billabong, the Australian surf-wear giant, is not known for its winter-line collection or cold-weather accessories. Yet, a woolen balaclava (perhaps the only one ever manufactured by Billabong) found itself resting over R Vinay Kumar’s scalp at the PCA Stadium on Friday. In chilly (6 deg Celsius) Mohali, it was rather handy.

That red pull-over, combined with a black Manchester United jumper, blue woolen trackpants, green winter socks and fluorescent yellow boots made Vinay resemble a walking colour-palette. Or maybe even a Bollywood extra from the ‘80s. But today, at the practice session on the eve of the Ranji Trophy semi-final match against hosts Punjab, the Karnataka captain wasn’t issuing a fashion statement. He, like his team-mates who clasped steaming flasks of tea before running in to bowl in the nets, was just doing whatever it took to stay warm.

Harbhajan Singh, however, found it rather amusing. “The men from the south are feeling the pinch of northern winter, I see,” said the Punjab captain, wearing nothing more than a light jacket and a smile over his training gear. “Hope the fog stays away tomorrow. It could spoil a good contest.”

The fog might, but the rain perhaps won’t. To make matters worse for the visiting side, who’ve travelled from the tropical climes of the Deccan (29 degrees Celsius), a few shower bursts are expected on the first day of the semifinal on Saturday — a day with an expected maximum temperature of nine degrees Celsius and a minimum of three.

The weather was the main talking point among the visiting players at the nets. And also of this match preview here. There are facts and then there are, pardon the pun, cold facts.

The facts first. Karnataka, toppers of Group A and winners of six straight matches this season, are on a hot streak. In this period, their batsmen have notched a total of 11 centuries (more than any other side) and their opener, Lokesh Rahul (with 869 runs), climbed up to third on the run-getters list.

But now come the cold ones. Most of those aforementioned runs and centuries were notched in sun-kissed conditions and on hard-baked pitches. Of the nine matches played by Karnataka in 2013-14, only two have been played in conditions that resemble current day Mohali — against Delhi in Delhi and versus Haryana in Rohtak. And how many centuries were notched in these four Karnataka innings and 44 individual attempts?

One. By Karun Nair (105) at the Feroze Shah Kotla Stadium on New Year’s Day.

On the dense, dark clouds, however, there is that proverbial silver lining for Karnataka. Despite not scoring once over 300 in any of those four occasions in north India, Vinay Kumar’s side won both matches outright. Only, while chasing a humble target of 97 against Haryana, Karnataka lost seven wickets, saved in the end by Stuart Binny’s run-a-ball 31. Not one of the five players before Binny crossed 30. Not one of the three after him opened their accounts.

This, then, has been the chip on Karnataka’s collective blade.

In hot conditions or cold and with or without Binny — who is currently touring with Team India in the relatively warmer (11 degerees) climes of Napier — Karnataka’s batters have failed to fire together. Just take a look at their incredible quarterfinals scoreboard if you have a doubt. Against Uttar Pradesh in Bangalore, the hosts had three centurions in the first innings. Yet, they made just 349 — the second-lowest score for a first-class innings that held three hundreds in it. Five ducks, it goes without saying, played their part.

Second clash

In the second innings of the same match, three more Karnataka players got out for zero. But then, run-hungry Lokesh Rahul scored 92 and Karnataka won by exactly as many runs to book their semifinal spot. This will be their second clash against Punjab this season and more importantly, their third in the cold. Where balaclavas and football jackets appear from kit-bags long before gloves and pads do. Where flasks of chai warm first the hands and then the throat.

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