Need for speed
During their golden run in the 90s, Karnataka's fast-bowling contingent was the envy of the country, being able to choose from Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Dodda Ganesh and David Johnson. Since that quartet faded, they have rarely had a seam attack to be proud of.
R Vinay Kumar have proven a reliable performer for six seasons now, but support from the other end has been thin. NC Aiyappa briefly got the Karnataka fans excited but a series of injuries eroded his pace and confidence. B Akhil was a willing trier, but he was never going to run through the opposition, as one five-wicket haul in 51 matches indicates. This season, though, left-armer S Aravind has proved effective and, of far more importance, the emergence of 20-year-old Abhimanyu Mithun has injected some serious pace.
Mithun's 38 wickets, one less than country-wide leader Vinay Kumar, has been one of the keys to extracting Karnataka from the rut of mediocrity they had been trapped in over the past few years. He jumpstarted the season with a match-winning 11 wickets on debut, including a hat-trick, against Uttar Pradesh in Meerut, that earned instant comparisons with the last Karnataka bowler to take three-in-three in his first game - Srinath.
It was his speed that made the difference on Tuesday, on a placid track where more celebrated pacers like RP Singh and Praveen Kumar had barely troubled the batsmen. In the first over of the morning, it seemed it would be another day for the batsmen after most balls reached the wicketkeeper only after the second bounce. Mithun, though, got rid of Tanmay Srivastava by tempting him to flail at one well away from his body.
That was followed by an exhaustive appraisal of Rohit Prakash Srivastava's technique against the short ball. Rohit somehow preserved his wicket against the bouncers: several times he barely ducked under, once he was struck on his back, once on his forearm. At the other end, Kaif was also not having an easy time, nicking Mithun once between slip and the wicketkeeper. Kaif was finally dismissed after his attempted defence only had the ball trickling back on to the stumps.
It wasn't all about the chin music, though. When Amir Khan walked out for his first ball, he was greeted with a pinpoint yorker, the same delivery that had undone Amir for a golden duck during Mithun's Meerut hat-trick. Amir lasted two deliveries more this time, before Mithun had him spooning a catch to square leg.
Even after Rahul Dravid's double-century, there was an outside chance that UP could sneak through to the finals, by outbatting Karnataka as they had last season at the Chinnaswamy. Mithun's heroics made sure there was a different script this time.
The wildly successful start to his first-class career is an unlikely story, given that he took to leather ball cricket only three years ago. He had a similarly successful start to his Under-19 career, taking a hat-trick in his third match on his way to being among the leading wicket-takers in the 2007-08 Cooch Behar Trophy. Was he hoping to join Karnataka team-mate Manish Pandey in the squad for the U-19 World Cup where Virat Kohli's boy triumphed?
"Yeah, I did very well at that time, I was thinking I might play," he said, "but I thought since that was my first year, some more experienced players will there."
Despite the bucketload of wickets in the U-19s, he came into the spotlight only after Bangalore Royal Challengers coach, Ray Jennings, spoke highly of him ahead of the second IPL season. "He gave me a lot of confidence during the IPL season," Mithun says. "Bowling coach Eric Simons also helped me a lot."
His one IPL appearance was not one to savour, leaking 42 runs in four overs. One reason for that was the lack of variation in pace. "I still don't have the confidence to bowl the slower ball. As of now, I'm focused on bowling some good outswingers (his stock ball is the in-cutter)."
In the Ranji Trophy, though, his incisive partnership with Vinay Kumar has Karnataka eying a first title in 11 years.
Siddarth Ravindran is a sub-editor at Cricinfo