Travails of Karnataka's cricket tragics: Most heartbreaking Ranji Trophy losses of state team - Part 3

The victorious Karnataka team are all smiles with the Ranji Trophy!
The victorious Karnataka team are all smiles with the Ranji Trophy!

After revisiting the losses from 1960s to early 2000s, now let’s have a look at a few more heartbreaking losses for Karnataka in the recent past. Well, most of these losses are still fresh in our memories, and refuse to fade away.

Semi-finals vs Baroda, 2010-11

Sunil Joshi, the Karnataka stalwart, played his last first-class match!
Sunil Joshi, the Karnataka stalwart, played his last first-class match!

The semi-final was played on an absolutely treacherous pitch at the Reliance Stadium in Baroda. The venue was also changed just a day before the clash. Ignominiously, the match lasted for a mere five sessions, which pretty much sums up the quality of the pitch.

Batting first, Karnataka, led by Vinay Kumar, managed a paltry 107, with keeper CM Gautam scoring the highest (28). Although the visitors bowled well and didn’t let Baroda bat them out of the game, the hosts, riding on skipper Pinal Shah’s 83, walked away with a 46-run lead.

Karnataka did have an opportunity to make amends with the bat in their second outing. But the pitch had become a minefield, and rather than the batter’s technique and skill, it was the good fortune that decided the fate of their innings. The odd ball kept pretty low and a lot of the deliveries were misbehaving. It was apparent that the pitch was underprepared.

Barring opener Uthappa (35), no other batter got going as Karnataka’s innings folded for just 88, leaving the hosts with a target of just 43 runs. Clearly, there was no way any team could defend such a tiny total. But the guests did fight and picked up three wickets before Baroda got home with no fuss whatsoever.

Karnataka played dominating cricket throughout the season without losing a game and made it to the semi-finals as the favorites to lift the Ranji Trophy. But a precarious pitch halted their progress. Later, the KSCA did raise concerns about the quality of the pitch and filed a complaint against the BCA with the BCCI. But nothing materialized and the issue was forgotten.

Quite conspicuously, the loss has been a bitter pill to swallow for both the players and fans as skill-wise, Baroda were no match for Karnataka.

Last League match vs Maharashtra, 2015-16

Having won two back-to-back Ranji, Irani and Vijay Hazare titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15, defending champions Karnataka started their campaign pretty slowly in 2015-16. They found themselves in a precarious situation during the last league game of the season against Maharashtra in Pune. Thanks to their dismal fielding and below-par bowling.

Apparently, a first-innings lead would’ve catapulted the Vinay Kumar-led team into the knockouts. But ironically, they crumbled under pressure and lost their first outright first-class match after three years. Following the defeat, their 35-match unbeaten streak ended and the mighty favorites crashed out of the tournament on a disappointing note.

But mind you, they’d their moments in the game. Despite reducing Maharashtra to 123-8 in their first innings, they let them off the hook and allowed the opposition to score 212. Karnataka's celebrated batting lineup then failed to overhaul a moderate score, handing the hosts a 32-run lead. But it wasn't all over for the visitors. They fought back with the ball, courtesy of Vinay Kumar's 4/71, and stayed in the game.

Maharashtra still managed to score 260, setting a stiff 293-run target for the visitors. But barring Robin Uthappa (61) and CM Gautam (65*), the rest of the Karnataka batters succumbed to pressure, suffering a 53-run defeat in the process. The fact that Maharashtra won with just three proper bowlers in their ranks on a pitch where there were no demons further added insult to Karnataka’s woes.

Well, this was one game that Karnataka should’ve prevailed given Maharashtra’s poor form throughout the season. Unfortunately, they stumbled. Till date, the season remains the only instance where Karnataka failed to make it to the knockouts ever since the new format was introduced in late 2000s.

Quarter-finals vs Tamil Nadu, 2016-17

Dinesh Karthik with a quick-fire innings took his team home!
Dinesh Karthik with a quick-fire innings took his team home!

Karnataka and their traditional rivals Tamil Nadu faced off in Vizag in a high-profile Ranji Trophy quarter-final clash in 2016-17. With all the big guns turning up for both sides, it made for a mouth-watering prospect. It was a shame that the game wasn’t aired on TV.

Abhinav Mukund won the toss and asked Karnataka to bat first on a pitch that had some assistance for the seamers. As expected, his seamers made merry and bowled out Karnataka for a paltry 88. Ashwin Christ was the pick of the bowlers, returning with figures of 6/31. But Karnataka did not let Tamil Nadu run away with the game. The seam attack, led by Vinay Kumar, responded with some disciplined bowling and restricted Tamil Nadu to 152, conceding a 64-run lead.

Karnataka now had to bat big and go for an outright win with ample time remaining. But only KL Rahul (77) made a substantial score while all the other big guns fell cheaply. 150 was all Karnataka managed in their second innings— setting Tamil Nadu an easy target of 87.

Subsequently, Tamil Nadu got there with Dinesh Karthik’s blistering 41. The favorites to win the title, Karnataka, suffered a seven-wicket loss in just six sessions. The defeat came as a rude shock to the Karnataka fans. The team played some outstanding cricket, winning five games in the league phase without breaking a sweat to make it to the knockouts. But against all odds, despite getting their international stars’ services, one bad session ended their campaign, in the knockout stage.

Semi-finals vs Vidarbha, 2017-18

Ex- Karnataka batter Ganesh Satish, proved to be Karnataka's nemesis!
Ex- Karnataka batter Ganesh Satish, proved to be Karnataka's nemesis!

Karnataka, after decimating every single opposition in the league phase of the Ranji Trophy 2017-18 and topping the table, trounced Mumbai in the quarter-finals to reach the semis. They looked like the best side in the tournament and were pretty much on course for their ninth title up until they locked horns with the eventual champions Vidarbha.

The game against Vidarbha, held at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, ended up being the most nerve-racking match of the season. Batting first, Vidarbha found it hard against the incisive four-pronged seam attack of Karnataka and managed only 185. Mithun, with his (5/45), was the wrecker-in-chief for the former champions.

Karnataka responded in style with Karun Nair’s 153 and CM Gautam’s 73. They eventually scored 301 and ended up securing a healthy first-innings lead of 116 runs. A bowling performance similar to that of the first innings would’ve sealed the deal for them. But Ganesh Satish, a former Karnataka player, turned into their nemesis in the second innings. His painstaking 81 pulled Vidarbha out of the rut and pushed them to a respectable 313, setting a target of 198 for the opposition.

With Mayank in the form of his life, and Karun Nair, too, amongst runs, Karnataka were hoping to chase this down without any fuss. But Rajneesh Gurbani had other ideas. He just kept probing them without giving an inch, and Karnataka performed hara-kiri in the fourth evening, and found themselves in a hopeless situation at 104/7.

Captain Vinay (36) along with Shreyas Gopal (24*) did a bit of a repair job and put their chase back on track. Following Vinay’s departure, Mithun, with a belligerent 33 off 26 balls, got his team to within striking distance of a win. But he played one shot too many and perished with victory just nine runs away. Consequently, at a crucial juncture, the last-wicket duo of Shreyas and Arvind inexplicably ran for a single off the last ball of an over, exposing Arvind to a steaming Gurbani in the next.

As the luck would’ve it, it took just one ball to induce the edge of Arvind’s bat which was safely pouched in the slip cordon as Karnataka lost the game by a mere five runs in dramatic fashion. It was their first outright loss against Vidarbha. Gurbani, with his miraculous career-best spell (7/68), proved to be a thorn in Karnataka’s flesh. Unequivocally, this defeat came from nowhere and took a lot of time for the Karnataka players and fans to come to terms with it. This was probably the most agonizing defeat after the defeat in the 2010 Ranji Trophy final.

Semi-finals vs Saurashtra, 2018-19

Pujara's timely century ended Karnataka's Ranji campaign!
Pujara's timely century ended Karnataka's Ranji campaign!

The semi-final between Karnataka and Saurashtra, played in Bengaluru, was a controversy-hit game, and a few dubious decisions paved the way for the usage of DRS in the Ranji Trophy the following year. In that sense, the game could be considered a watershed moment in the history of Indian domestic cricket.

Batting first, Karnataka overcame initial setbacks and put a respectable 275 on the board. Thanks to Shreyas Gopal’s 87, S.Sharath’s 83 and Skipper Manish Pandey’s 62. The hosts then backed it up with some quality seam bowling and ended Saurashtra’s innings at 236, earning a lead of 39 runs. Ronit More with his career-best (6/60) led from the front.

It was pretty much even-stevens at the end of the first innings. But Karnataka started off poorly again, losing wickets aplenty in the second innings. All-rounder Shreyas once again came to their rescue with a timely 61 and stitched together a substantial partnership with Mithun (37*) to power the hosts to 239. This meant Saurashtra had to chase down 279 to win outright. It was a stiff ask given the quality of the Karnataka attack.

Fortunately, their former captain Vinay, who was off-colour with the ball throughout the season, came to the party with early breakthroughs and reduced the guests to 23/3. Pujara was now the only obstacle for the rejuvenated Karnataka side, with Vinay taking him on. After a spell of disciplined bowling, he eventually managed to get a nick of Pujara’s bat that was held by the keeper. But the umpire, Syed Khalid, did not give it out.

Replays later confirmed the obvious edge and that’s when all hell broke loose with the home fans at the stadium losing their cool. There were chants for an extended duration, calling Pujara a ‘cheater’. Social media also went crazy and there were debates as to how it was wrong on Pujara’s part not to walk.

But mind you, a batter isn’t obligated to walk. It’s the umpire’s duty to make the call. Ostensibly, nothing seemed to deter the calm and composed Pujara; and, by staying unfazed despite all the noise around him, he went on to pile up runs and build a partnership with Jackson. Their 214-run partnership - Pujara (131*), Jackson (100) - ended Karnataka’s hopes as Saurashtra comfortably won the game by five wickets.

Karnataka players and fans were distraught at the loss. It was a dagger through their hearts. This was a game they believed they should’ve won. But it was not to be. There were also comparisons drawn with the 2008 Sydney Test, where the umpires had spoiled India’s party. Later, the KSCA did lodge a complaint with the BCCI regarding the abysmal umpiring. But the defeat was a bitter spill to swallow for the fans, and they seemed unforgiving as far as the umpiring blunders were concerned.

Apparently, Karnataka fans still lose their cool whenever they’re reminded of this game. In hindsight, one can say that this is the kind of impact the Pujara fiasco has had on cricket-loving Kannadigas.

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Edited by Samya Majumdar
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