Karnataka host Mumbai in Ranji Trophy semis
Bengaluru, Feb 24: In exactly a fortnight's time, Mumbai and Karnataka meet again in Ranji Trophy, this time in the five-day semi-final commencing here Wednesday. Earlier this month, 40-time champions Mumbai pipped Karnataka on first innings lead points to advance to the quarter-final where they eased past Delhi. In both the matches, Mumbai made 400-plus scores that ensured their progress.
If Mumbai barely made it to the knockouts, winning just two of the eight league matches, then defending champions Karnataka roared through their early league games with four outright wins while remaining unbeaten in the round robin before overcoming Assam on first innings lead in the quarters.
Mumbai, without two key players in Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane, both on World Cup duty, seemed to have run into form at the right time after a disappointing run in the league while seven-time winners Karnataka's performance somewhat tapered off after a bright start that suggested they would win virtually every game.
"Most of the time they (Rohit and Rahane) go for national duties. The history of Mumbai is such that everyone who comes in is expected to do well. In that aspect, we have players like Nikhil Patil who have done well. Shreyas (Iyer) and Surya Kumar Yadav also are doing well," Tare said.
Special rivalry in Ranji folklore
The spotlight would be on 20-year old Iyer, the team's highest run-getter this season with a tally of 744 from nine matches and who was picked up for Rs. 2.6 crore by Delhi Daredevils at the Indian Premier League (IPL) auction here earlier this month.
Matches between Mumbai and Karnataka, especially in knockouts, have never failed to generate fireworks as they competed with great intensity to an extent that their rivalry has a special spot in Ranji folklore.
"We know the strengths and weaknesses of Mumbai. We conceded the last match to them by virtue of first innings lead. That happened because we rested some players for big matches. Mumbai is a good side. The name itself is enough. They are a big-match team. We always take pride in beating Mumbai," Karnataka skipper Vinay Kumar said.
On paper, both teams appear strong in batting though Karnataka's batsmen have not exactly been consistent. Their line-up was considerably strengthened with the return of Lokesh Rahul, following his dream Test series debut in Australia earlier this year.
Karnataka better placed in terms of balance and form
Karnataka would be happy with the form of their top order batsmen like Robin Uthappa, Ravikumar Samarth and Rahul, all of whom have scored over 500 runs this season as also young Shreyas Gopal, who is shaping into a fine all-rounder as he has scored 629 runs and taken 22 wickets this season.
"We have picked up Shreyas for his bowling but he is getting runs with his bat which is handy and beneficial for the team," said Vinay on the eve of the match.
With their seamers led by Vinay along with Sreenath Arvind and Abhimanyu Mithun among wickets with a haul of exactly 100 amongst them, the hosts appear better placed in terms of balance and form.
"To be honest we have come here to win. We know Karnataka have been performing well for the past two years. They are playing at home, so obviously the pressure is on them, not us as we are a young and grooming side," said Tare.
While Karnataka will be hoping to ride on the home advantage, Mumbai need to play far better than they have this season to beat a team that is high on confidence and talent.