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Haryana’s knockout punch

Express news service

Posted: Jan 05, 2012 at 0054 hrs IST

Bangalore: The quarterfinal stage had been an obstinate roadblock for two decades. Having failed to make the Ranji Trophy semifinals for 20 seasons, it is only understandable that the Haryana team had lost touch with being amongst the last four. They had also spent the last few seasons seesawing between the Elite and Plate Groups.

And in Karnataka they had drawn a rather tough opponent. After restricting Karnataka to 262 (overnight 122 for 3) in their second innings, the visitors scored the required 142 runs in only 36.2 overs. The reliable opening pair of Nitin Saini (52, 70 balls, 8x4) and Rahul Dewan (25) added 75 runs in only 17 overs. Amit Mishra and his team were in for a pleasant surprise when they arrived at the Chinnaswamy Stadium on the opening morning of their quarterfinal. Like coach Ashwini Kumar puts it, they didn’t expect Karnataka to have been such good hosts.

“We are so used to playing on grassy wickets at our homeground in Lahli, that we were quietly elated to see the green tinge on the Chinnaswamy Stadium wicket. We just felt at home from the very start,” he tells The Indian Express on Wednesday.

And on a day, his team achieved a feat that had eluded them for over two decades in the Ranji Trophy, Kumar insists that the ‘home away from home’ advantage in Bangalore played an integral part in Haryana’s convincing six-wicket victory. He is also not short of praise for his young team, who have continued to punch above their weight from the beginning of the season.

“I have to admit that we got the best of the conditions. There was a lot of moisture on the wicket too, and our young pacers made the most of it,” he says.

Karnataka skipper Ganesh Satish had opted to bat after winning the toss, and Kumar believes the decision played into his team’s hands. And by blowing away the hosts in their first innings for a paltry 151 with his eight-wicket haul, Harshal Patel not only drew first blood for his team; he also ensured that his batsmen got to bat in perfect conditions.

It was the opening partnership of 152 between centurion Rahul Dewan and Nitin Saini that proved the decisive factor between the two teams in the first innings especially. The absence of Karnataka’s premier pacers, R Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun, also proved very beneficial for his team, admits Kumar.

Though credit to the helpful conditions at the Chinnaswamy Stadium that ensured a three-day finish is warranted, Haryana came into the contest buoyed by an impressive showing in the league stages. And Kumar believes that Rajasthan had shown the way to all other lesser fancied teams the previous year on how not to be overawed by the might of the opposition.

“The winners of the Ranji, one-day and T20 competitions last year were Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Bengal, two of which belonged to the Plate Group. So we took a lot of confidence from those results going into this match,” he says.

Kumar for one is not overly surprised with Haryana’s long hiatus from the Ranji semifinal stage. “If you see our Ranji structure, it’s mainly teams like Mumbai, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu who make it to the final stages consistently. But the tournament is opening up slowly,” says Kumar.

BRIEF SCORES: Karnataka 151 & 262 all out in 76.5 overs (Robin Uthappa 53, Stuart Binny 34; Sachin Rana 3/42) vs Haryana 272 & 144 for 4 in 36.2 overs (Nitin Saini 52, Prateek Pawar 27; SL Akshay 2/31)

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