After two consecutive treble-winning seasons (Ranji Trophy, Vijay Hazare Trophy and Irani Cup), Karnataka has endured two difficult years. In 2015-16, it failed to even make the quarterfinals, while last season, the team began well in the group stages before stumbling against Tamil Nadu in the last eight. On a green-top in Visakhapatnam, Karnataka was bowled out for 88 in the first innings, undone by Aswin Crist’s medium-pace. It set the stage for a seven-wicket defeat.
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In the aftermath, the Karnataka State Cricket Association showed the successful coaching duo of J. Arunkumar and Mansur Ali Khan the door, replacing them with P.V. Shashikanth and G. K. Anil Kumar (assistant coach). The challenge for Shashikanth, a former Karnataka captain and hitherto coach of the State U-23s, is to revitalise the side and deal with the absence of stars on India duty. Last season no batsman except R. Samarth (702) aggregated over 500 runs, while the bowling continued to depend heavily on veterans R. Vinay Kumar (29 wickets) and S. Arvind (30) with some support from K. Gowtham (27). Given India’s fixture calendar for the rest of the season, K.L. Rahul and Manish Pandey are likely to be unavailable for long periods while Karun Nair could figure in the Tests against Sri Lanka. Robin Uthappa, meanwhile, has moved to Saurashtra.
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Karnataka will need a new, young crop of batsmen to step up. Abhishek Reddy’s return from injury is a relief while much will be expected from the likes of Pavan Deshpande and Mayank Agarwal. On the bowling front, Ronit More is back in the mix, while H.S. Sharath, who has not played for Karnataka in nearly two years, has been performing well in the KPL. Twenty-one-year-old seamer Prasidh Krishna, who was impressive for the U-23s last season, is an exciting prospect.
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P.V. Shashikanth (coach): “The last two seasons were an aberration. In terms of talent, we’re still among the best in the country. Having said that, we need back-up for seniors; we need to strengthen the second rung. We also need to deal with the absence of the internationals. If the India players come, we will treat it as a bonus. We have to face the reality. We just need to motivate the boys and get them together. That’s the biggest challenge.”
Last season: Lost to Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinals.
No. of titles: 8
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