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Sriram Veera in Bangalore
December 16, 2007
Confidence can be such a fickle commodity. Four more runs against Saurashtra in their fifth-round game would have given Karnataka victory, five points, a place near the top of the table, and a huge injection of confidence. Instead, their hopes disappeared with the setting sun at the picturesque Gangothri Glades ground, as KP Appanna was bounced in the last over of the match. That result means Karnataka go into their next game - against Delhi in Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium - low on confidence, and floundering near the bottom of the table.
On the other hand Delhi, who escaped relegation last season, are currently leading the table with 17 points in five games. A semi-final spot is just around the corner, but with three teams - Mumbai, Maharashtra and Saurashtra - sharing the second spot with 15 points each, they cannot afford to take their foot off the pedal. Moreover, the weather in Chennai - the venue of their final game - has been fickle this season, which means they will want at least first-innings points here to prevent the elements from gatecrashing their party.
The difference in the attitudes of the two teams was visible on the eve of the game. Karnataka were already looking at the long-term future, trying to mop up some pride from the remaining two games, while Delhi were cautiously upbeat.
"We need to do a lot of introspection. This [situation] is a serious wake-up call," Vijay Bharadwaj, Karnataka's coach, said. "Just because of those three runs, we have lost the opportunity to be near the top. But the flip side is, had we achieved that, no one would be talking about the state of cricket. We need to plan ahead from now itself."
Theoretically, they are still in with a chance if they win the next two games, in which case they will have at least 19 points (21 if they win both games with bonus points). Sunil Joshi, who is No. 3 on the wicket-takers' list in the Super League, is hanging on to that hope. "What is gone is gone," he said. "We have two games left and I am confident we can do well."
Delhi don't need to hang on to any metaphorical camel's straw. As Delhi coach Vijay Dahiya said, the team has clicked as a unit. "Everyone has contributed. All the top-order batsmen have been among runs and the bowling has been good."
Manoj Prabhakar, Delhi's bowling coach, agreed with Dahiya, but chose to be cautious regarding his opponents. "We are not looking at points and saying, 'Karnataka can be beaten.' They are a good side, with experienced players who know how to fight back."
But Prabhakar must be happy with the performances of the young bowling attack. Pradeep Sangwan, the promising left-arm seamer playing in his first season, has already taken 20 wickets at an impressive average of 22.15, Parvinder Awana, the other seamer, grabbed a hat-trick in the last game while Chetanya Nanda, the legspinner, has taken 15 wickets.
With Virender Sehwag on national duty, speculation centred on Gautam Gambhir, the other regular opener, who has been advised three weeks' rest due to a sore shoulder. There was talk of him leading the side tomorrow, but Dahiya squashed those rumours. "He is joining the team this evening only for his rehab sessions with the team physio. Like Ashish Nehra [who bowled a bit in the nets session], he will be practising with the team."
So Virat Kohli is expected to replace Sehwag in the team that beat Maharashtra, and Delhi are expected to play two seamers and two spinners on a dry track that was the centre of attention. Narayan Raju, the curator, saw plenty of runs in it while Prabhakar felt it was a "dicey track. It looks too dry to me. We have to wait and watch."
Karnataka have their own worries. Robin Uthappa is a doubtful starter since he is unwell, and if he doesn't recover, either Manish Pandey or Amit Verma could get a look in. However, two other changes are certain. NC Aiyappa, the seamer who has taken 21 wickets in five games this season, is unfit and Sudhindra Shinde, the middle-order batsman who has made 187 runs in three games, has been given a break. S Dhananjaya, the medium-pacer, and Devraj Patil will get a game.
On the basis of what has happened so far this season, you'd have to pick Delhi as the favourites to take at least the first-innings honours from this match.