In Bangalore, Krishnappa Gowtham is known as the finisher. And for a good reason. He has a habit of getting Karnataka past the finish line through spectacular acts of individual brilliance. Like the manner in which he held his nerve while bowling in the final over of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy final to fashion out a tense one-run win against Tamil Nadu. On Wednesday, he had another arduous task in front of him — help his team take the first-innings lead against Railways. Though, he didn’t finish the job but he did play a key role in Karnataka taking the all-important first innings lead over Railways during a tense final session.
When he walked out to bat after the tea interval at the Karnail Singh Stadium, the visitors were in trouble at 110/6, still, 72 runs adrift. Another wicket at that stage would expose Karnataka’s fragile lower order. Seizing the situation, the 31-year-old unfurled a series of dazzling shots that lit up the afternoon session. Through a brace of boundaries and sixes, Gowtham took his personal tally to 41 from 30 balls. But he couldn’t finish the job that was assigned to him. Railways pacer Amit Mishra dismissed him hooking to a short-pitched delivery.
That’s when things took a dramatic turn. His ouster was followed by an intense battle of attrition. Mishra got the ball to reverse prodigiously. He cleaned up Abhimanyu Mithun and Ronit More in the space of just three deliveries, to leave Karnataka precariously placed at 177/9, still six runs adrift. Wicket-keeper batsman S Sharath survived a close call. When an inside edge missed the stumps there was a collective gasp of anguish from his team-mates in the dressing room. He found an ally in the No.11 batsman Prateek Jain.
Buoyed by his maiden five-wicket haul earlier in the day, Jain showed tremendous composure. Together, they saw off the perilous final hour’s play without further mishap. In the process, they also added a crucial unbeaten 22-run alliance for the final wicket, that took Karnataka to 199/9 at stumps on Day 3, to stretch their lead to 17 runs. The drama in the final session on Wednesday made up for the dour two days, which were marred by incessant rains and a wet outfield.
Stumps day-3 — Sharath Srinivas has played a fantastic innings to give Karnataka the first innings lead. His 56* is worth its weight in gold. Take a bow, champ. KAR: 199/9; lead by 17 runs.#RanjiTrophy #RLWvKAR
— Karnataka Ranji Team║ಕರ್ನಾಟಕ ರಣಜಿ ತಂಡ (@RanjiKarnataka) January 29, 2020
Despite having conceded the lead, Railways will be pleased by the manner in which their pacers mounted a stirring fightback. Such a scenario looked improbable when they were struggling at 45/6 on Day1. Sharath and Jain may have earned plaudits for their spectacular acts of defiance, but spare a thought for Mishra and Himanshu Sangwan, who accounted for 8 of the 9 wickets that fell.
Mishra finished with 5/70, his third five-for in just his 17th first-class match. “Gowtham’s wicket got us back into the game. We were struggling at one point. There was hardly any help from the track and the ball had stopped moving after 20 overs. So, we realised that we needed to work hard on this ball to get it reversing. After a point, things started falling in place and I got three quick wickets that brought us back in the game,” he explained after the day’s play.
With 26 scalps from 6 matches, Mishra has been one of the stand-out performers for the Railways this season. Along with Sangwan and T. Pradeep, their incisive spells that have given them a lot to cheer in an otherwise dismal season so far, wherein they have managed just a solitary win against Mumbai in six matches. Mishra made his first-class debut for the Railways in 2010-11 season, at a time when they were at their peak, boasting of the likes of Murali Karthik and Kulamani Parida. Unsurprisingly, his appearances, too, have been largely intermittent — as his 17 first-class games spread across the decade attests to.
“There has to be a spot available in the team for me to play. When I made my debut, there was hardly any spot available in the team. Four years later, there were Anureet Singh and KK Upadhyay, who had already made their mark. Thankfully, I got more opportunities in the shorter formats,” Mishra recounted. The limited game time was frustrating no doubt, but it didn’t deter him away. Growing up in Bilaspur, Mishra began by bowling with the tennis ball before graduating to the district level. In 2006, MPCA allowed players from Bilaspur and Raipur to feature in their local league and he got selected in the Vijay Hazare squad for the 2006 season. Even here, he got precious little playing time. Two years later, he secured a job with the Railways as a Grade 4 employee. It’s taken more than a decade to cement his spot as the team’s frontline pacer. As Mishra insists, the wait was definitely worth it.
Brief Scores: Karnataka 199/9 (S. Sharath 56 not out, Amit Mishra 5/70) lead Railways 182 (Avinash Yadav 62, Prateek Jain 5/38) by 17 runs.
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