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The Report by Karthik Krishnaswamy in Hyderabad
February 2, 2014
Karnataka 515 (Rahul 131, Satish 117, Fallah 3-93) and 157 for 3 beat Maharashtra 305 (Bawne 89) and 366 (Jadhav 112, Vinay 4-116, Gopal 4-47) by seven wickets
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
Features : 'It was like winning the World Cup' - KL Rahul
Features : A season for Karnataka's batsmen and seamers
Features : Depth, healthy competition clinched it for Karnataka
Most Ranji Trophy titles
For the last three days, the Ranji Trophy had sat gleaming in the lowest tier of the Shivlal Yadav pavilion, right behind the Maharashtra dugout. At no point during the final had Maharashtra looked like they would get closer than that to holding it. Now came the moment when they would know for certain whether they still had a chance.
The morning session had gone to plan for Maharashtra. Their lower order had extended the lead past 150. Shrikant Mundhe, brought into the team as third seamer in place of Domnic Joseph because of his batting ability down the order, had scored 42. Samad Fallah and Anupam Sanklecha had bowled tight opening spells. On came Akshay Darekar, their left-arm spinner. This was their last chance. Karnataka were 17 for 0, chasing 157.
The pitch, ridden with cracks and footmarks, wasn't a pretty sight, but it had barely caused batsmen any sort of alarm for four days and a session. Had anything changed now?
Darekar's first ball was too short and too wide for that question to matter. Robin Uthappa cracked it past point for four. In the next over, Maharashtra brought on their offspinner, Chirag Khurana. Third ball of the over, Uthappa flicked him for four in front of midwicket.
Bang, bang. From day one, Karnataka had inched steadily towards victory. At times their tactics hadn't reflected their dominance. At times they looked like they had come close to giving their opponents a glimmer of hope. Now, with two dismissive strokes, Uthappa showed how illusory that hope had been.
At the other end, KL Rahul was being equally dismissive of Maharashtra's bowlers. In his case, he was telling them they couldn't work their way through or around his defensive strokes. And so it went, till the 15th over. At that point, Rahul - batting on 9 from 42 balls - came down the track and launched Khurana over mid-on's head for six. The umpires had to check if it had crossed the boundary before it bounced, but they didn't have to bother with anything of that sort the next ball, which Rahul struck even more sweetly in the same region. Khurana dropped the next ball short. Rahul cut him witheringly for four.
Darekar dismissed Uthappa the next over, and Rahul followed a little while later, edging Shrikant Mundhe to slip. Rahul trudged disconsolately off the ground, and, approaching the stairs to the Karnataka dressing room, raised his bat as if to strike its handrail, and stopped himself. He had scored a century in the first innings. He had seen off the difficult part of the chase, and left his team just 70 to get, with eight wickets in hand. He had made over a thousand runs in the season. It wasn't enough. He looked like he wanted, desperately, to be there at the end and score the winning runs.
Who would that task fall to? It wasn't to be Uthappa. It wouldn't be Amit Verma, who made 38 before Khurana dismissed him, flying to his right in his follow-through to grab hold of a fierce straight drive. Both of them had been part of Karnataka's team in the 2009-10 final, which they had lost by six runs to Mumbai.
Suhas Suresh had travelled from Bangalore to Mysore to watch that final. Now, he was in Hyderabad, waving a red and yellow flag and screaming himself hoarse. He had been there from the first ball. "Come on Manish," he yelled, in Kannada. "Finish it!"
Manish Pandey had been in that final too, four years ago. He had scored a blistering 151-ball 144 in the fourth innings, as Karnataka attempted to chase 338. Now, they needed far less. After a wild slog to the second ball he faced, Pandey had reined himself in, before hastening the end by smacking Samad Fallah for two fours in an over.
It wasn't to be Pandey either. With 10 runs needed, Karun Nair tried to reverse-sweep Khurana, and edged it for four between the stumps and the wicketkeeper. Once again Khurana skipped in. Nair skipped down the pitch. It was his first season in first-class cricket. He had scored centuries in three successive matches, leading up to the final. Now, he sent the ball soaring over the long-on boundary.
Karnataka's eleven had eight players who had experienced the heartbreak of the 2009-10 final. It also had Rahul, Nair and Shreyas Gopal, who had all established themselves in the last two seasons. And the eleven players who won the final were by no means the only ones responsible for winning the title.
In all, 19 players had played some part in their triumph, some part in an unbeaten season, in a season that had seen their team win seven matches outright, six of them on the bounce. All 19 were at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, including Stuart Binny, who had flown here from New Zealand after the end of India's one-day series. Now, everyone swooped to the middle. This was their moment.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor in ESPNcricinfo
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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