In the end, it was comfortable for Karnataka, a 167-run win that sealed its spot in the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy. Set an improbable target of 331 in 58 overs, Jammu and Kashmir folded for 163 on the fifth afternoon at the Gandhi Memorial Science College. K. Gowtham took seven for 54, swiftly ending a run chase that the batting side was never really going to take seriously. Karnataka will now face Bengal, in Kolkata from February 29, for a place in the final.
Monday's events, though, felt like a formality. All the air had been sucked out of the contest on the previous afternoon, when Karnataka stole the first-innings lead from under the opponent's noses. On the final morning, the touring side was already ahead by 259 runs, and it was merely a question of when and not if. K.V. Siddharth, who was 75 overnight, fell two short of what would have been a third first-class hundred. It was the softest of dismissals, Siddharth driving Abid Mushtaq straight into the hands of the short-midwicket fielder. The 27-year-old batsman was later declared man of the match; nobody would have grudged him a hundred here.
Karnataka was bowled out for 316 at the stroke of lunch. What little interest there was in J & K's pursuit evaporated quickly, when K. Gowtham packed off Shubham Khajuria and Abdul Samad in the 11th over. In reality, Parvez Rasool's men knew they had squandered their chances on day four. In the days, weeks and months ahead, they will wonder what might have been. Five more minutes of measured batting, two more overs of composure, one more calm head, and things may have turned out differently. Karnataka would have fancied its chances of forcing a win even after conceding a narrow lead. But the eight-time champion would also have been under pressure, and J & K would have been in a position to dictate terms. We will never know.