Serene Verma guides Karnataka to semis
Karnataka 360 (Verma 85, Gautam 51) and 189 for 5 (Verma 68*) beat Madhya Pradesh 200 (Saxena 73) and 337 (Ojha 68, Joshi 4-108) by 5 wickets
Karnataka made heavy weather of the 177-run target they were set, but Amit Verma saved their blushes with a serene, unbeaten 68 to guide them to the Ranji Trophy semi-finals. The Karnataka coach Sanath Kumar was miffed with his batsmen for wasting starts in the first innings and they threatened to repeat the same mistakes in the second, but Verma held the chase together with a responsible knock.
Verma himself was one of the batsmen Sanath had criticised for throwing his wicket away in the first outing. "Amit is not getting the big runs," Sanath said then. "I have been speaking to him about it, and gave him a piece of my mind." It's not known whether it was the talk that did it but Verma seemed a transformed man today. He showed great patience in leaving deliveries outside off stump and rarely played a false stroke. His judgement of length was precise - he was rarely caught at the crease - and employed square drives against the seamers, and cuts against the spinners to great effect.
The other batsmen, barring CM Gautam, lacked the same discipline and wickets fell at regular intervals. KB Pawan was trapped lbw, Manish Pandey ran without looking at his partner after pushing to mid-on, Ganesh Sathish collected a pair, Robin Uthappa holed out to mid-off, and Stuart Binny poked one to silly point. However, Uthappa and Binny managed to contribute some vital runs to ease Verma's burden. Uthappa, in particular, tried to play a responsible hand - he faced 92 balls for his 37, but the mode of his dismissal would rankle him. He had just survived a plausible shout for lbw against left-arm spinner Ankit Sharma but charged down the track the very next ball and couldn't clear mid-off.
Binny, too, survived a good shout for lbw against Sharma, with Karnataka on 84 for 4, but recovered to play some positive strokes. He cut and slog-swept the offspinner Jalaj Saxena before Sharma induced a fatal prod to silly-point.
Madhya Pradesh might have sensed an opportunity when Binny fell to leave Karnataka wobbling at 109 for 5 but Verma found good support in Gautam, the wicket-keeper batsman. Gautam played a few stylish drives and punches and hit five boundaries in his unbeaten 31. Karnataka have reached the semis but they won't be entirely happy with the way they got there.