Vijay Hazare Final: Saurashtra to face rampant Karnataka

While Karnataka's untested middle-order could be the team's only Achilles Heel, Saurashtra would be hoping star batsman Cheteshwar Pujara comes good in the final.

The in-form batting trio of Mayank Agarwal, skipper Karun Nair and R. Samarth has done most of the work for Karnataka.   -  SHIV KUMAR PUSHPAKAR

Karnataka looks inspired to hold a trophy in an otherwise below-par season, by its own lofty standard. In Tuesday’s final, the two-time champion will have to deal with surprise-finalist Saurashtra for the Vijay Hazare Trophy at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground. The winner will join India 'A' and India 'B' in Deodhar Trophy at Dharamsala next month.

No doubt, Saurashtra could find it tough to match Karnataka's firepower. Much depends on how the team bowls.

Karnataka, which lost narrowly to Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy semifinal and finished behind Rajasthan and Punjab in the league phase of Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, has taken each match as an opportunity to redeem its reputation.

The in-form batting trio of Mayank Agarwal, skipper Karun Nair and R. Samarth has done most of the work in the two matches at this venue.

Untested middle order

They came good in setting a target beyond the reach of Hyderabad and then saw the team past Maharashtra.

Therefore, to make a contest, Saurashtra will have to make early inroads into Karnataka's middle-order. The last time its batting was put to sword this season was against Railways - when Agarwal stood firm after the fall of three quick wickets - and in the company of Pavan Deshpande, added 132 runs. The largely untested lower-order could well be Karnataka’s Achilles Heel should the leading batsmen fail.

READ: Vijay Hazare Trophy: Mayank makes history

The bowlers, too, have been consistent for Karnataka and played their part as the team eyes a fifth successive victory.

New-ball bowler Prasidh Krishna has impressed after breaking through from the under-23 ranks. T. Pradeep has shown consistency with his line and length while sharing the new-ball.

If left-arm paceman S. Aravindh recovers from the fever that forced him to miss the semifinal, the team will have variety in its attack. Among the spinners, Shreyas Gopal and K. Gowtham have proved their worth when it mattered.

Saurashtra needs to set the pace

So far, Saurashtra has displayed tremendous fighting abilities after being pushed to the brink of elimination following losses to Jammu & Kashmir and Hyderabad in the league stage.

Since then, it has chased down targets against Jharkhand, Services, Ranji Trophy champion Vidarbha and Baroda.

On Sunday, it overcame several anxious moments against the first-time semifinalist Andhra and defended 255 to win by 59 runs.

Though Saurashtra has several batsmen who can step up the pace, its biggest worry is Cheteshwar Pujara’s poor strike rate of 63.93, spread over eight matches. Shockingly, it is the lowest among the 15 Saurashtra players who have batted this season.

So far, Pujara has managed only 289 runs off the 452 deliveries he has faced (most for his team this season). Moreover, if Ravindra Jadeja and Aarpith Vasavada had not scored brisk half-centuries and established a timely century-stand against Andhra, Saurashtra’s campaign could have ended in the semifinal.