Vinay bullish about reaching quarters
It took five games for a struggling Karnataka to get their first win of the season, but with only 11 points on the board their captain Vinay Kumar is bullish about making the quarter-finals, if they can make the most of their three remaining games. Playing in familiar surroundings at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore, Karnataka picked up six points from their victory over Delhi on Tuesday which meant they were no longer the bottom-placed team in Group B, jumping to sixth. With their next two games also at home (in Mysore and Hubli), Vinay felt two more wins would help them get a foot in the door in the quarter-finals.
"It was a good win and there were some positives to take from the game," Vinay said. "Now we've got 11 points. In the next three games, two are home games, one's away. Hopefully we'll get another two outright wins and make the quarter-finals."
The pitch had a crucial role to play. Karnataka were desperate for a result to arrest their slide, and a grassy pitch was prepared to encourage a win. It was a sort of pitch suited for the seamers to make a mark on the opening day, but Vinay took the gamble of batting first. You had to ask why a team struggling for runs through the season would throw its batsmen in the deep end at a crucial stage in the tournament.
From an armchair critic's perspective, it was a surprising decision but Karnataka saw things differently. It was a question of seeing off the new ball and waiting for the afternoon session to start piling on the runs. However, the decision was questioned on the opening day when Karnataka were bowled out for 192.
Their bowlers did a decent job to not allow Delhi run away with an imposing lead, keeping it to 66. Karnataka's openers, Robin Uthappa and KL Rahul got their heads together to build a stand of 140. Delhi hit back with quick wickets but the hosts' middle order ensured a more than handy lead, enough to ensure they couldn't lose.
If given a similar pitch, Vinay said he would still opt to bat. "It was a good wicket to bat on," he said. "In any wicket, the first one hour will be crucial. We lost three wickets in the first hour. So, if we get the same kind of wicket, we're definitely going to bat first."
The pitch had eased out for the batsmen on the fourth day, and with the Mithun Manhas-Rajat Bhatia duo standing in the way of Karnataka's plans of chasing a win, Vinay realised he had to try something different in the field to force mistakes. He continued to attack, and persisted with his seamers from both ends.
Manhas' untimely dismissal, caught off a top edge, gave Karnataka a big opening, but Vinay felt that Bhatia's wicket, caught brilliantly by Kunal Kapoor at silly point, turned the game.
"Till tea, we tried many things, but nothing happened," he said. "The catch that Kunal took was amazing. That's where the game turned. The fourth-day wicket was very good to bat on. We knew when the new ball was due, we would have a chance."
While Karnataka can toast their success, there's still plenty to be done if they are to be contenders for the quarter-finals. They need bigger contributions from their batsmen. So far, the team has only two centuries, both scored in a high-scoring draw in Chennai. In this game, both Uthappa and Stuart Binny were in sight of centuries but fell in the eighties.
Their performance against Delhi was a big improvement from their previous game against Odisha, where none of the batsmen passed fifty. Having made 475 in the second innings, Vinay acknowledged the improvement but felt it was time his frontline batsmen started converting their scores. He said the bowling attack had a more settled look, and wasn't in favour of going with four frontline seamers, given that the lone spinner KP Appanna was underused in this game.
"It (playing four seamers) means that one will be underbowled. If it's the three of us and Stuart (Binny), it'll be easier for us to rotate the bowlers. Appanna is also there, he got three crucial wickets in this game. So, we don't think four seamers is a good option."
Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo