Karnataka targeting bowling improvement
Where they finished last time
They made it to the quarter-finals. Finished third in Group B.
Since narrowly missing out on the silverware in 2009-10, Karnataka have made it to the knockouts in the three seasons after. They made the quarter-finals last season but their journey wasn't smooth. They were winless in their first four games, including three draws, and following their defeat to Odisha at home last December, they were languishing at the bottom of the table. Desperate for an outright win, a green pitch was laid out in Bangalore for their match against Delhi and Karnataka showed good character to overcome a first-innings deficit to register their first victory. Two more draws and a victory in a must-win final group game against Maharashtra - set up by an unbeaten double-century from CM Gautam - ensured their passage to the quarter-finals, where they were battered into submission by Saurashtra.
The quarter-final demonstrated what Karnataka lacked all season: quality spin options. Their spinners were primarily responsible for allowing Saurashtra to ransack 463 runs in a single day, often guilty of bowling short, and on the pads. This time, however, the signs are more promising, according to their batting coach J Arunkumar. One of their biggest gains ahead of the season has been the form of their lead spinner, KP Appanna, Arunkumar said, noting that the left-arm spinner has been striking even on good batting pitches in the lead-up tournaments. Abrar Kazi, another left-arm spinner, is one of the new faces in the squad. Their seam attack is well stocked with S Aravind returning from injury. Abhimanyu Mithun will spearhead the attack, with Vinay Kumar. "We now have five fit seamers (including HS Sharath and Stuart Binny). We are now in a predicament as to who to leave out," Arunkumar said.
Anil Kumble, the outgoing Karnataka State Cricket Association president, said at a function recently that last year's showing was a good enough sign that a title shouldn't be too far away. For that, though, they need their attack to click as one to pick up 20 wickets on a regular basis, for the batting isn't their biggest worry.
Players to watch
Top-order batsman KL Rahul had an impressive season last year, scoring 400 runs in five games at an average of 50. His only century (157) came in a high-scoring game against Vidarbha. Rahul was one of the star performers for India Under-23s in Singapore in August, scoring a match-winning unbeaten 93 in the final of the ACC Emerging Teams Cup. It is reported that Rahul has been getting batting tips from Rahul Dravid and much will be expected from him.
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Kanishkaa Balachandran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo