At one point this season, Karnataka looked like it had the team to sweep every domestic title. But a dominant show in the Ranji Trophy came to a juddering halt in the semifinals after a poor fourth day in Kolkata, and an early super-over loss to Punjab ruined its chances in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. It will thus come as a relief to Karnataka that it did not falter in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. This is a team accustomed to success and a third year without silverware would have hurt.
At the heart of Karnataka's display this season has been Mayank Agarwal, who has now scored an extraordinary 2,141 runs across formats (with the Deodhar Trophy and the Irani Cup still to be played). He began with an innings of 31 over Assam in the Ranji Trophy opener before bagging a pair against Hyderabad in the next game. What followed was extraordinary.
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“We knew the talent was there; it was only a question of self-belief,” the Karnataka coach P.V. Shashikanth said on Wednesday. “We persisted with him even after those two ducks. So he had that confidence and security. We knew he would have a good season but we never thought he would break records like this. He wanted to make up for the years when he had missed out. We never curbed his stroke-making, never criticized him for getting out playing a shot.”
R. Samarth was Karnataka's second-highest scorer both in the Ranji Trophy and the one-dayers while Pavan Deshpande made some important runs. K. Gowtham was relentles. The off-spinner's spell (10-3-27-3) in the final on Tuesday again demonstrated that he was a player for the big occasion.
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Karnataka will be pleased, though, that when its more experienced players were absent, the replacements proved more than useful. K.L. Rahul and Manish Pandey were away on India duty for the most part while R. Vinay Kumar, S. Arvind and A. Mithun featured little in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. “This is a smooth transition,” said Shashikanth. “We can't afford to have a situation where four or five players leave and suddenly there is a void. We played the (Vijay Hazare) knockouts without Vinay and Manish. It shows how much we have worked on the second line. Every player has a replacement. We still have guys like Abhishek Reddy and D. Nischal on the bench.”
Karun Nair, meanwhile, did himself no discredit leading the side in Vinay Kumar's absence. “He had already captained in the IPL but he has evolved as a leader,” said Shashikanth. “It was wonderful to see.”