As far as Ranji Trophy rivalries go, Karnataka versus Saurashtra is no Rumble in the Jungle. Both teams do fancy a good punch-up as they did here in the controversy-ridden 2018-19 semifinal that Saurashtra won, but the match-up is neither very old nor as fierce.
The battle is still in its early rounds.
What is true though is that Saurashtra, of late, has been Karnataka’s nemesis. Of the last five matches between the two, Karnataka has lost three and conceded the first-innings lead in the other two. As both teams head into the semifinal clash at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium starting Wednesday, Karnataka has a score to settle.
It will help that Saurashtra will miss the star trio of Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat, all of them away on National duty. Pujara’s, in particular, will be a big absence, for he has scored 1193 First Class runs against Karnataka in just eight matches, the most against any Indian opponent.
But in recent times, no team has worked its way towards securing the tag of a stalwart quite like Saurashtra and its pedigree can alone make Karnataka wary. In the time since Karnataka last reached the final (2014-15), Saurashtra has made the summit clash thrice and won the title once.
Last week, it triumphed in the quarterfinal against Punjab without Pujara, Jadeja and Unadkat, but with left-arm spinner, Parth Bhut, scoring an unbeaten century, a fifty and claiming a match-haul of eight wickets. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja’s 37 wickets, skipper Arpit Vasavada’s 577 runs and Harvik Desai’s 516 runs have been the other bright spots this season.
But an in-form Karnataka, at home, will be a tough nut to crack. While its batters can be expected to continue their fine form, the home pace battery, on what coach P. V. Shashikanth reckons will be a seamer-friendly pitch, should revel.
The trio of V. Vyshak, Vidwath Kaverappa and V. Koushik have together accounted for 76 wickets. M. Venkatesh made his debut in place of the then-injured Koushik in the quarterfinal against Uttarakhand and impressed with seven wickets, thus creating a selection headache.
“It’s good for the side to have an embarrassment of riches,” said Shashikanth. “There is a lot of fuel in the tank and we will go with the combination that can help take 20 wickets. If you see, we have been unbeatable in the league phase. We just want to continue that streak.”