Karnataka completed a historic treble at domestic level by emerging champions in the Vijay Hazare Trophy with a four-wicket win over Railways in yet another low-scoring affair at Eden Gardens here today.
Chasing 158, the Ranji and Irani Trophy champions had a jittery start after they lost five wickets in 26 runs to be 47/5 in the 12th over but sensible batting by youngsters Karun Nair (53 not out) and Lokesh Rahul (38) set up the chase with a 66-run partnership.
After Rahul's fall, 22-year-old Nair, who made the first-class debut this season, showed the right temperament as his unbeaten half-century, third in List A, saw the team through with seven overs to spare.
Despite the small total to defend, the Railways pacer duo of Anureet Singh and Krishna Kant Upadhyay did not give up their hope as they ripped apart the Karnataka top order bowling in tandem for 14 overs. R Vinay Kumar promoted him to the crucial No 3, a move that faltered badly with Upadhyay (7-2-27-3) and Anureet (7-1-28-2) blazing all guns.
Having impressed behind the stumps, Lokesh Rahul was solid with his batting technique as well. The 21-year-old revived their chase with Karun Nair giving a fine company.
Rahul also had luck on his side as he survived a close lbw appeal before getting a reprieve on 23. The duo put on the match-turning 66-run partnership for the sixth wicket.
Chanderpal Saini broke the partnership but Nair stood tall as he along with Kunal Kapoor (24 not out) took Karnataka to an unprecedented hattrick of titles in domestic cricket.
Earlier, No. 8 batsman Rongsen Jonathan topscored for Railways as his gritty 46 from 57 balls (3x4) helped them recover from being 83/7 to 157 all out in 47.4 overs after they were asked to bat on the Eden green top.
It was a pathetic display from the Railways top and middle-order batsmen until Jonathan's positive intent put them past 150.
First, he stitched a crucial 38-run eighth wicket stand from 60 balls with Amit Mishra, while with Anureet he added a brisk 34 from 35 balls to give the much-needed push to their total.
For Karnataka, Abimanyu Mithun returned with 4 for 19 from his 9.4 overs, while part-timer Uthappa and Abar Kazi claimed two wickets apiece.
The damage was done in the first 10 overs only when Railways trudged to 20 runs in the powerplay.
Just when Shivakant Shukla looked set in the middle having consumed 46 balls for his 21 runs, the left-handed opener gave an easy catch to Ganesh Satish from a poor Uthappa delivery.
The part-time bowler got his second wicket in the next over off a gentle outswinger when he dismissed Railways in-form skipper Mahesh Rawat (4) cheaply.
Karnataka were sharp in the field and they got some variable bounce from the pitch as Railways looked out of sorts.
Bengal lad Arindam Ghosh (33) looked steady in the middle for sometime but soon frustration crept in with their sluggish run-rate as he stepped out to Kazi only to be stumped.
Karnataka wicket-keeper Lokesh Rahul took a fantastic one-handed catch diving to his left to pile on Railways misery.
It handed Mithun the first wicket as the Karnataka pacer returned with impressive figures of 3-0-16-2 in his second spell en route to his four wicket-haul, the wrecker-in-chief for the Railways.
Brief Scores: Railways: 157 in 47.4 overs (Rongsen Jonathan 46, Arindam Ghosh 33; Abhimanyu Mithun 4/19, Abar Kazi 2/27, Robin Uthappa 2/19).
Karnataka 158/6 in 43 overs (Karun Nair 53 not out, Lokesh Rahul 38; Krishna Kant Upadhyay 3/30, Anureet Singh 2/41).
Karnataka Talk of Bigger Goal
It is due to Karnataka's "bigger goal" of having as many representatives as possible in the Indian that the southern side is presently reaping the benefits at the domestic level.
They completed a historic treble today by winning the Vijay Hazare Trophy at the Eden Gardens. They had earlier won the Ranji and Irani trophies.
Describing this as a great milestone, Karnataka skipper R Vinay Kumar said: "The mantra is nothing different. In our side everyone wants to play for India. Once they have a bigger goal, small things fall in place."
Karnataka skittled out Railways for a paltry 157 in 47.4 overs and chased down the target with four wickets and seven overs to spare.
Karnataka were in a spot of bother having lost five quick wickets to be 47/5, but youngster Karun Nair's sparkling 53 not out sealed the chase.
He rated this Karnataka side as the best ever.
"If you see, every day different players are performing for us. We are not banking on any particular individual, we have been combining well as a side. I think this is the best ever side."
The out-of-favour India medium pacer said they would now look to achieve a quadruple of titles by winning the Syed Mushtaq Ali Twenty20 beginning next month.
"Yes, that will be in our mind. But we want to go step by step. We take one match at a time and give our best. The rest falls in place."
The biggest gain for Karnataka has been out-of-favour India batsman Robin Uthappa's coming to form as the opener has smashed three centuries and one fifty to top the run charts with 536 runs at an average of 76.57.
Among youngsters, Nair, who made his Ranji debut this season, has impressed with his maiden List A century as he totalled 309 from eight innings, while wicketkeeper Lokesh Rahul, too, impressed with his glovework and batting.
Vinay Kumar spearheaded the bowling well, topping the list with 28 scalps, while the final's Man of the Match
Abhimanyu Mithun excelled with 13 wickets from six matches.