Vinay Kumar swings the ball both ways, Abhimanyu Mithun hits the deck at 140kph, and left-armer Sreenath Aravind swings and seams. K Gowtham bowls off-spin, Jagadeesha Suchith left-arm spin and Shreyas Gopal brings in wrist spin. Watching Karnataka bowlers strut their trade at the nets, you can’t resist the feeling that they’re the most diverse bowling firm in the country. They have been hunting collectively as well, contributing in the Karnataka’s five outright wins in the lead-up to the semifinal against Vidarbha that starts at Eden Gardens from Sunday.
The signs are ominous for Vidarbha. Karnataka won four matches in the group phase and then steamrolled over Mumbai in the quarterfinals. Vinay took a hat-trick against the 41-time Ranji Trophy champions, the captain’s 6/34 set up his team’s thumping victory. The grass is green at Eden and the expected mowing before the match notwithstanding, the pitch is likely to provide some assistance to the quicks through all five days, which would make them all the more a formidable proposition.
In the list of top five wicket-takers, Gowtham is Karnataka’s sole entrant with 34 scalps. But Vinay and Mithun’s impact bowling up-front has made life easier for their team-mates. Together, they have whittled out 40 wickets–Vinay 22, Mithun 18.
Hearteningly, Mithun has regained his pace. The 28-year-old suffered a groin injury last season, which by the player’s own admission, was down to a mistake. “I removed my ankle braces for one game and that directly made my groin injury, because the load went to the groin,” Mithun told The Sunday Express. A change in mindset helped a strong comeback. “I didn’t have good guidance (after coming to the fold and playing for India). Pace is my strength but I tried to concentrate more on swing at the expense of speed. Former Karnataka coach Sanath Kumar advised me to stick to my strengths during a KSCA tournament match before the start of this Ranji season. I changed my training, altered my approach to the crease and also my loading,” the fast bowler said, also crediting his skipper for on-field mentoring.
Vinay’s plans, meanwhile, have been simple. “It’s all about bowling well (as a group). Wickets might go to anybody but the plan is to bowl well.” The Karnataka bowling chart speaks volumes about the shared responsibility. Five bowlers are going with averages below 30 and strike-rates lower than 60.
Gowtham stands as first among equals. The biggest change in the off-spinner is about his upgradation from a line-and-length bowler to a wicket-taking operator. His six-for against Mumbai, more precisely the way he nailed the opposition batsmen, attested his progress. In the nets on Saturday, he kept on varying his pace; good ploy for a surface that won’t offer much turn.
As impressive has been the strides their batsman had made. With Robin Uthappa having switched loyalty, KL Rahul and Manish Pandey mostly with the national team, the youngsters have taken the extra responsibility and lifted their overall performances.
Mayank Agarwal towers over the rest, with 1,660 runs in seven matches so far but R Samarth, too, has cemented his place as an opener. Even Gopal, who bats at No 7, has a staggering average of 88. So much so that Karnataka haven’t felt the absence of Rahul and Pandey.
In Umesh Yadav, Vidarbha have an ace in the hole
Vidarbha are no domestic heavyweights, and have never been in the Ranji semifinal scheme before. But if their performance this year is any signifier, they can be a good match for their fancied rivals. Vidarbha, too, have tallied five outright wins, rattling several big names. Faiz Fazal has five centuries in the last six matches. Vidarbha don’t have a 30-wicket bowler in their ranks, but as a group, the bowling has had been fantastic. Little wonder then that the mood in the camp is upbeat.
Spin, however, is Vidarbha’s strength, confirmed by 54 scalps between off-spinner Akshay Wakhare and left-arm spinner Aditya Sarwate. The Eden pitch might nullify the spin-punch a bit, but Umesh Yadav is set to give them a timely fillip. Although the speedster didn’t turn up for pre-match practice, the Vidarbha Cricket Association president Anand Jaiswal confirmed that Umesh’s chances of playing are “100 per cent”.
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