Can Maharashtra stop a rampant Karnataka?

The Southern powerhouse, which has won 11 games on the trot, seeks maiden T20 title

The Syed Munstaq Ali final on Thursday will feature two teams that played relentless cricket and Karnataka would aim for its first Twenty20 title on the back of a 11-match undefeated run this year starting with the qualifying first round match against Assam in Cuttack.   -  FILE PHOTO/ SUDHAKARA JAIN

The volatile nature of the T20 format has suddenly turned the focus on Maharashtra’s big-hitter Nikhil Naik. Following a bright showing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali tournament four years ago, Kings XI Punjab chose him for the 2016 IPL season. He, however, got just two opportunities during that campaign.

Naik continues to be Maharashtra’s mainstay in T20s as his blistering 58-ball unbeaten 95 (4x4, 8x6) in its final Super League match against Railways showed. Promoted to No. 3, he made his presence felt, hammering five sixes in the 20th over sent down by medium-pacer Amit Mishra. Naik swung a full toss over square-leg and followed it up with four lofted shots between long-off and the straight field.

Maharashtra’s batting line-up comprising skipper Ruturaj Gaikwad, Rahul Tripathi, Ankeet Bawane, Naushad Shaikh and Vijay Zol, will be tested up against the likes of seamers R. Vijay Kumar, Prasidh Krishna, Vasuki Koushik and left arm spinner Jagadeeshan Suchith.

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The final on Thursday will feature two teams that played relentless cricket and Karnataka would aim for its first Twenty20 title on the back of a 11-match undefeated run this year starting with the qualifying first round match against Assam in Cuttack.

The Karnataka batsmen’s task has been made easier by its bowling department’s wicket taking ways. Opener Rohan Kadam (476 from 11 matches) needs to score nine runs in take his aggregate above Shreyas Iyer’s 484.

After a work out on Wednesday evening under the lights, Karun Nair said: “It’s been a collective effort with everyone chipping in at the right time. Barring a couple of occasions when the individuals took the game away (from opponents), it has been a team performance.”

Nair also said that it’s always been a big game, Karnataka versus Mumbai. “Being the first game, we were really up for it. We wanted to win that game to go into the tournament with full momentum. If you beat a team like Mumbai, you are always on a high. We were anyway in a seven-match undefeated run (Group phase in Cuttack). Our bowlers bowled brilliantly in that game against Mumbai.”

The former India batsman believes that Twenty20 games cannot have favourites. “If we play to our potential, we will win the final and the Trophy as well. It’s going to be the last match of the domestic season and everyone is prepared for it.”

Maharashtra won the title ten years ago, defending a total of 119 against Hyderabad in the final played here; the venue then though was known as Maharani Usharaje Cricket Ground.

Maharashtra has replaced the injured Rohit Motwani with Mukesh Choudhary.

The teams (from)

Karnataka: Manish Pandey (Capt.), Rohan Kadam, Belur R. Sharath (wk), Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, R. Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun, Shreyas Gopal, K. C. Cariappa, Jagadeesha Suchith , Vasuki Koushik, Manoj Bhandage, Prasidh Krishna, K.V.Sidharth, Luvnith Sisodia

Maharashtra: Rahul Tripathi (Captain), Ruturaj Gaikwad, Nikhil Naik, Mukesh Choudhary, ,Vijay Zol, Naushad Shaikh, Vishal Gite, Ankit Bawne, Samad Fallah, Divyang Hinganekar, Satyajeet Bachhav, Hitesh Walunj, Domnic Muthuswami, Azim Kazi, Swapnil Gugale, Yash Nahar.