Karnataka 349 (Uthappa 100, Nair 100, Gautam 100) and 204 (Rahul 92, Murtaza 6-64) beat Uttar Pradesh 221 for 9 dec (Parvinder 92, Mithun 4-70) and 240 (Chawla 44, Gopal 5-59, Mithun 3-71) by 92 runs
Experience. That is what Karnataka had and Uttar Pradesh lacked. Experience in batting, in bowling, in playing hard, in recovering from bad situations. A combination of all that today helped Vinay Kumar to lead Karnataka into their first semi-finals after two years.
278 runs was what UP needed when Tanmay Srivasatava and Ali Murtaza resumed on Saturday. Srivastava started confidently, taking seven runs off the first over from Abhimanyu Mithun when he pitched wide and short. In Mithun's third over, Murtaza rocked back in his crease to guide a short ball between the two point fielders for a boundary.
But the big question for UP was could they maintain a steady tempo throughout the chase? The answer came within half hour of play on Saturday morning. Vinay and Mithun had been feeding easy hit-me balls erring mostly on the shorter side, which the two UP left-handers took advantage of. But Vinay corrected his lengths.
Vinay switched to round the stumps for Srivastava and moved Robin Uthappa from silly mid-on to first slip and then bowled closer to the off stump, fuller and swung the ball away. Srivastava, who had been going for his strokes, edged and was picked safely by Manish Pandey at second slip.
Mohammad Kaif checked in and out as if he was picking a toll ticket, spooning an easy catch to Vinay at short cover. It was Kaif's second duck in the match. Srivastava, the acting captain after RP Singh was injured on the first afternoon, admitted the failure of Kaif this season was a major reason behind UP's batting failures this season. He was not pointing any fingers. The evidence is out there: four ducks and a highest score of 49 in 13 innings for the most senior and experienced player is plain embarrassing.
A streetsmart cricketer, Murtaza showed more resolve than any other batsman as he confronted both the bowlers and the constant talking of Karnataka fielders. Being from a state where chit-chat is part of the culture, Murtaza shot back and once even walked up to Uthappa, only to be separated by Karnataka players.
But before he was out in a comical circumstance, Murtaza had ruffled Karnataka. As soon as spin was introduced, Murtaza charged legspinner Shreyas Gopal off his first ball for a four over long-on. When Pandey pitched fuller on the off stump, Murtaza punched him behind square for another easy four.
However, Murtaza was defeated by his own excitement. He made his attacking intentions clear by charging once again against Gopal. But this time Gopal bowled short and straight. Murtaza was caught unaware and instead of trying to defend or hit the ball, he tried to return to his crease. He would have been embarrassed to realise his mistake as he was bowled. Karnataka and the home fans had a loud chuckle at Murtaza's expense.
"This kind of a situation will not come again. This is not a league match. We needed to be in the face of the opposition. Murtaza is not a specialist batsman but he was picking his balls cleverly. In this kind of wicket you cannot defend for long. You need to attack. Murtaza is basically a bowler. He had come to go after us. That was the only way to stop him getting runs. So we misguided him with some loose balls and bowling to his weakness and that worked for us," Vinay said, defending Karnataka's hard-ball tactics.
Piyush Chawla and Eklavya Dwivedi nearly proved Vinay wrong as they judiciously picked the balls to score some easy runs while remaining alert to the quirks of a weary and steadily breaking pitch. But UP's hopes were punctured soon when Dwivedi played a leg-side delivery from Mithun towards midwicket where an alert Vinay dived forward to take a spectacular catch inches from the ground.
That was the end of UP's resistance as Gopal finished his maiden five-for before Vinay sent Ankit Rajpoot's middle stump flying to seal Karnataka's win.
"We are dependent on just two or three players," Srivastava said. "Kaif bhai is one of our key players and he was down the entire season batting at No. 3. And we fell short in the batting department due to that."
Karnataka, who had five outright victories, the highest by any team during the league matches, would be happy they managed to live up to the favourites tag. But it was not a victory where they stamped their authority in convincing fashion. The fielding errors during UP's first innings were glaring. The top order continues to be brittle. Although Mithun finished as the Man of the Match, he was only effective in patches. And in the end it was Vinay's leadership that played a vital role in Karnataka not letting their guard down completely.