DINDIGUL: How quickly a game can change! It was a matter of surviving two overs for Tamil Nadu and taking one wicket for Karnataka. In a dramatic turn of events, it was the latter who won by 26 runs, sealing six points with the third last ball of the Ranji Trophy Elite Group B match.
The match had all the spices one expects from a contest between the domestic arch-rivals. Played at the scenic NPR College ground, the intensity never dropped in four days. That Karnataka had beaten Tamil Nadu thrice in the one-dayers and T20s earlier this season added more context to match.
Tamil Nadu were stronger on paper, with experienced players such as Dinesh Karthik, R Ashwin and Murali Vijay. Karnataka were without key pacers Abhimanyu Mithun and M Prasidh Krishna. But the game never titled completely to one side until the end.
On Thursday, there was genuine hope for Vijay Shankar’s Tamil Nadu. The first session belonged to them, when they bowled out Karnataka for 151 to set up a target of 181 in 62 overs. Even the start was brisk, as Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay rattled up 49 in nine overs.
That’s when things turned. Krishnappa Gowtham was the hero of the match. After scoring 51 and taking six wickets in the first innings, the off-spinner bowled almost non-stop in the second innings to single-handedly bowl his team to victory. Figures of 30.3-11-60-8 gave him a match-haul of 14/170 and made it Gowtham’s match. It was one continuous spell. Such was his domination that Karnataka operated with just three bowlers till the 49th over.
“None of us had any doubt (if we could win), said Gowtham. “From being nowhere, we reached a position where we couldn’t lose. That itself set it up for us in terms of the belief. We never had a thought about not winning.”
After a sound start, it was Tamil Nadu’s match to lose and that’s what they did. From 49/0, they lost seven wickets for the addition of 49 more. It was good bowling that swung the momentum back in Karnataka’s favour after Abhinav (42) and Vijay (15) hit seven boundaries between them in seven overs.
With the pitch offering uneven bounce and spin from one end, Karun Nair’s strategy was to give Gowtham a long spell. In his first over after lunch, the all-rounder dismissed Vijay and Baba Aparajith in three deliveries. And as he kept bowling and taking wickets, it seemed as if the Tamil Nadu batsmen were gradually losing the battle of the mind.
“There is no mental block,” said Tamil Nadu skipper Vijay Shankar. “If there were, we wouldn’t have made a match of this. After conceding a first innings lead (of 29), the way we bowled and came back was good. We kept it tight and kept taking wickets. It was just about (not having) a couple of partnerships. Not having those changed the result of the game.”
After Tamil Nadu’s quick start in the first session, Karnataka applied the brakes in the second. Medium-pacer V Koushik gave little away, sticking to a fifth-stump line. His figures of 11-2-19-1 in the second session slowed things down for Tamil Nadu, as they lost four wickets for just 38 runs in 24 overs between lunch and tea. The onus was on Vijay Shankar and Dinesh Karthik to save the game in the last session. But the duo departed soon and surviving 25 overs became too tall a task for Tamil Nadu.
Brief scores: Karnataka 336 & 151 (Ashwin 4/46, Vignesh 3/31) bt TN 307 & 154 (Abhinav 42; Gowtham 8/60). Points: Karnataka 6, TN 0.