Vijay Hazare semifinals: Karnataka wary of Maharashtra’s resilience

Mayank Agarwal needs another 56 runs to overtake Dinesh Karthik’s 607 and become the highest run-getter for a season.

Karnataka’s top-order has remained consistent with opener Mayank Agarwal looking to extend his impressive run of scores – 109, 84, 28, 102, 89 and 140 – in the competition.   -  SUDHAKARA JAIN

Mighty Karnataka will be wary of Maharashtra’s resilience when the two clash in the first semifinal of the Vijay Hazare Trophy here on Saturday.

It is easy to look at Karnataka as the favourite but going by the trends seen in this season’s competition, Maharashtra’s chances cannot be discounted.

Indeed, Karnataka’s top-order has remained consistent with opener Mayank Agarwal looking to extend his impressive run of scores – 109, 84, 28, 102, 89 and 140 – in the competition. He needs another 56 runs to overtake Dinesh Karthik’s 607 and become the highest run-getter for a season.

R. Samarth’s 125 in the quarterfinals, after three failures, has added to the team’s confidence. In addition, skipper Karun Nair is raring to make his presence in the knockout phase. With the return of all-rounder Stuart Binny, Nair can consider more options for the most balanced combination.

Maharashtra, fresh from knocking out Mumbai, has surely gained the respect of Karnataka. The team, without stars, has come this far with opener Rituraj Gaikwad (329 runs), Ankit Bawne (288), Naushad Shaikh (247) and skipper Rahul Tripathi (234) showing good form. Shrikant Mundhe, who scored a surprise 70 after being promoted in the batting order against Mumbai, has been the most consistent bowler with 10 scalps.

Besides these numbers, what makes Maharashtra a tough rival is the ability of its players to perform under pressure.

On Sunday, the second semifinal involving the all-conquering Andhra Pradesh and Saurashtra promises to be a close one.

Much like Maharashtra moving ahead of arch-rival Mumbai in the competition, Andhra, too, has raced past Hyderabad, this season.

After an impressive start in the Ranji Trophy, Andhra has already exceeded all expectations this month. Having won all seven matches, Andhra made the semifinals in style. In fact, it was made to look a lot better by Delhi which did not perform even remotely close to its potential on Thursday. Given the small target, the in-form lot of Srikar Bharat (361 runs), Hanuma Vihari (353), Ashwin Hebbar (275) and Ricky Bhui (256) were not required to go big.

For Saurashtra, consistency has been the key. The batsmen have contributed by turns and bowlers have done just enough to keep the team afloat.

The triumph over Baroda in the quarterfinals came after severely anxious moments. The triumph was also symbolic of the tough way Saurashtra has covered the distance so far. Though Cheteshwar Pujara (272 runs), Samarth Vyas (250) and five other batsmen have contributed over 150 runs, Robin Utthappa is struggling to add value to his adopted team.

The former Karnataka opener, who holds the record of scoring nine centuries in the competition, has so far aggregated only 95 runs in six innings, with an average of 15.83. Given another chance, Uthappa will be understandably desperate to come good.