Spinners let Karnataka down
When Sunil Joshi was nearing the end of his illustrious career with Karnataka, there were some murmurs that by playing on past the age of 40, he was blocking the path of younger spinners in the state. The heir apparent to the illustrious lineage of Karnataka spinners - which includes Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwath Chandrasekhar, Raghuram Bhat and Anil Kumble - was KP Appanna, who had to wait four years since his debut as a 17-year-old in 2006-07 to get a run as the lead slow bowler.
Two seasons after Joshi's retirement though, the vacancy left by him is yet to be filled. It was never more evident than on the fourth day of the quarter-final in Rajkot, when Saurashtra's batsmen, led by the unstoppable Cheteshwar Pujara, pummelled Karnataka's attack for 463 runs in a day. Karnataka captain Stuart Binny had talked up how big a role the spinners will have to play on the day, and they trusted Appanna with the new ball.
The faith proved misplaced as, like for much of the season, Appanna couldn't maintain a consistent line and length and gifted away free runs. He bowled too many short deliveries, and wide ones, and just one maiden from him all day meant there was no pressure being built up on the batsmen. While Karnataka had two other spinners they could turn to - K Gowtham is in his first season and Amit Verma is only a part-time legspinner - which meant it was up to Appanna to deliver. He couldn't.
Usually, big scores in Rajkot are pooh-poohed on the basis that the pitches there tend to be extremely flat. That wasn't the case this time. Karnataka coach J Arunkumar was forthright in his criticism of the spinners. "Can't blame the pitch, the pitch is actually bad," he said. "We bowled in bad areas, the wicket is slow, you have to pitch it up, which our bowlers didn't do, our spinners didn't do. Bad bowling, we have to accept it."
Even Pujara, usually seen as a soft-spoken man not prone to talking down the opposition, was harsh on the Karnataka spinners. "The ball was turning but I think they did not bowl in the right areas. The bowlers were not mature enough. I feel that it is a kind of wicket where you can easily get ten wickets but I don't think they bowled well."
He felt the bowlers weren't aggressive enough. "I was in an attacking mood and they were a little negative. Defensive rather than negative. We were scoring too many boundaries and getting too many runs so rather than taking wickets they were trying to be defensive so that's the reason we could get away.
"In six balls, they were bowling just one or two good balls and if you defend them, you could score two-three boundaries after that."
Pujara had talked about how he had worked on his reverse-sweep to counter defensive bowling on the pads, and he unfurled it three times in a row against Appanna. "I just wanted to play that shot and I just wanted to make sure he comes within the stumps or he has to move out of the leg stump so that was my strategy."
While Appanna's average of over 50 this season isn't good enough for a frontline spinner, Karnataka don't really have too many options. Gowtham fared even worse than Appanna today, and provided loads of half-trackers on the pads. Appanna had been dropped for the crunch league match against Maharashtra last week, but his replacement SK Moinuddin didn't impress the management enough to retain his place, thereby giving Appanna another chance.
Like quality Test spinners for India, the supply line has run dry for Karnataka. "Regarding the history of spinners produced, this is a little shocking," Arunkumar said. "One of the spinners was inexperienced, but that is no reason (for the poor performance)."
Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo