Baroda crush Karnataka to reach final
Baroda 153 (Shah 83, Joshi 6-58) and 44 for 3 beat Karnataka 107 (Vahora 5-34) and 88 (Bhatt 5-30, Swapnil 5-20) by seven wickets
Baroda entered the Ranji Trophy final for the first time since 2001-02 after crushing fancied Karnataka by seven wickets at the Reliance Stadium in Vadodara. In a frenetic match that lasted less than five sessions on a sharp turner, Karnataka were rolled over for a tiny total for the second day in a row - making only 88 today, after having folded for 107 on the first day.
Karnataka's second innings began in much steadier fashion than their first, and they erased the first-innings deficit of 46 with seven wickets remaining. KB Pawan and Uthappa played the ball late, and also left many in the channel outside the off stump. Pinal Shah, the Baroda captain, opened with Bhatt but the new ball was not doing as much, and the openers had eased to 27 before Pawan missed the line of one from Swapnil to be bowled. Uthappa did have three chances though, but two of them were difficult caught-and -bowled opportunities off full-blooded drives. However, Amit Verma and Sunil Raju continued their horror match, and the shuffling in the batting order made no difference to their fortunes; Verma drove airily straight to short midwicket, and Raju was trapped in front after going back to one that straightened.
Still, at 66 for 3 and with two of their best batsmen, Robin Uthappa and Manish Pandey, in the middle, Karnataka were about 100 runs away from setting Baroda a challenging target on a dry surface that was making survival difficult against left-arm spinners in particular. Unfortuantely for Karnataka, Baroda had one on from either end, and they triggered a collapse that saw seven wickets go down for 22 runs. Bhargav Bhatt and Swapnil Singh split ten wickets between them to herald a victory that Baroda wouldn't have thought possible even in their wildest dreams, given the strength of the Karnataka side.
The downward spiral for Karnataka began with Uthappa's dismissal. He had looked pretty assured during his 35, but was given out caught at slip off Swapnil, a decision that did not impress him. In the very next over, Pandey edged one straight to slip off Bhatt, and Karnataka were now effectively 22 for 5. Suddenly, the prospect of an exit was staring them in the face, and this time the recovery firm of CM Gautam and Stuart Binny shut up shop. They had been bailing Karnataka out of tight spots throughout the season, but Nos 6 and 7 can only do that for so long.
Gautam caved in to the pressure, trying to sweep a full delivery from Swapnil to be trapped leg-before. Sunil Joshi decided he was going to go down playing his shots and swung Bhatt high in the gap between deep midwicket and deep square leg, but Ajitesh Argal running in from the latter position put in a full-length dive to pull off a blinder. The players had barely settled in after lunch, and the remaining batsmen had to hurriedly pad up. The procession continued as Vinay Kumar went back to a vicious turner that caught him in front, and Mithun tried to hit his way out of trouble, only to find backward point. Binny tried to score a few quick runs, but was rapped on the pads as he swung across the line of a full delivery, and Karnataka had lasted less than two-and-a-half-hours.
Baroda added 20 in the morning to stretch their lead to 46, before Pinal tried one sweep too many to be caught at square leg for a priceless 83, which proved to be the difference between the two teams. Joshi picked both the wickets to fall, ending with 6 for 58.
Whatever slim chance Karnataka thought they had was snuffed by Connor Williams and Jaykishan Kolsawala. The pair put on 32 in the chase of 43, which was also the highest opening stand of the game. They were positive with their footwork against the spinners, and repeatedly stepped out of the crease to blunt the turn, something the Karnataka batsmen were loath to try. Though a few wickets fell towards the end, there was only going to be one winner after last year's finalists had managed 195 runs in the game.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo