R Vinay Kumar was ruthless in his assessment after Karnataka fell six runs short of making the Ranji Trophy final for the third time in five years. Declarations of not deserving to be in the final gave the impression of a man who had a single-minded ambition, and his despondency at having failed to achieve it.
In many ways, this had been a brilliant season for Karnataka. Their unsparing demolition of opponents on the road to the semifinal had made them look near-invincible. But Vidarbha was a different story.
Karnataka hadn’t faced this kind of passion, fire and heart before the semi-final. Here was a team that was as hungry, as determined and as relentless as they were. The one factor that could have separated them was experience; Karnataka were more familiar with the big stage but Vidarbha simply never gave up.
“If you ask me, the season is successful only if you win the Ranji Trophy,” Vinay said. “Otherwise, even if you make the final, if you don’t win, you should treat that as not qualified. That’s how I look at it. We had many advantages while coming into this game. But unfortunately, we didn’t capitalise on them.”
When play began, Karnataka made a point of setting right mistakes from the previous day, and avoided going into their shell. Vinay scored a brisk 36 and along with Shreyas Gopal, he turned the strike over regularly, ran hard between the wickets, and found timely boundaries to bring belief back into the Karnataka camp.
Balancing attack and defence, however, with only three wickets remaining was tricky work and Vinay ended up playing one shot too many. In the 50th over – after he had struck Rajneesh Gurbani for successive boundaries and the bowler had also conceded four byes – the Karnataka captain played a flashed at a wide one and was caught behind.
“Bad shot from my side,” Vinay said. “Maybe I should have let the ball go. And (Abhimanyu) Mithun again, when we required nine runs maybe we could have played a little more sensibly, both of us.
“Credit has to go to their bowlers. They bowled in channels where we are not comfortable. Definitely, this is a let down from our batting group, because 200 runs in the fourth innings was not that difficult on this wicket actually. Most of the batsmen got out to bad shots. And the way we played, I think we deserved not to be in the finals.”
Gurbani was a thorn in the Karnataka side throughout. Umesh Yadav’s erratic lines and lengths meant he never looked a threat. Siddhesh Neral took two wickets in an over, but was otherwise manageable. Gurbani, though, was relentless. He continued getting sideways movement, without ever letting his pace drop. He finished with 13 wickets in the game, including all three that fell on Thursday to seal the win.
“The sort of energy he bowled with was really good. He was bowling long spells, and was bowling where our batsmen are not that comfortable,” Vinay said. “He is a tough bowler for batsmen who offer shots. If you play close to the body and keep leaving, then he may not be so effective. I think if we had played him that way, it may not have been that difficult to handle him. They were destined to go play the final, I think.”
Karnataka end the season with several positives. Mayank Agarwal has had his breakout season with 1160 runs. R Samarth has established himself as first-choice opener, giving them cover for when KL Rahul goes on national duty. K Gowtham, who topped their wicket charts, has evolved into their premier spinner. Gopal’s all-round performances have further added to the squad’s depth. And Mithun, who showed improved speed with the ball, has begun to consider himself as more than a carefree slogger.
“Definitely, the top-order batsmen getting scores it’s a very rare sight for me as captain,” Vinay said. “Scoring 500-plus runs most of the games, don’t think we have done it so consistently. That is a big advantage, and if you see the fighting spirit from the lower-order batsmen, that is a big takeaway from the season.
“These are the guys to take Karnataka forward for long years. They have a very bright future where they can go and play for the country. I think they need to learn to perform in these kind of high-pressure matches. It’s not about the league games. If they want to play the next level, they need to show it in these sort of matches. Many positives, but I always look at the big games.”