In a little over a month, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu are set to play against each other for the third time. So intense is their rivalry that cricket buffs are not complaining about the frequent showdowns.
On Sunday, Karnataka will look to become the first team to win two consecutive Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 titles when they face their arch-rivals in the final here at the Lalbhai Contractor Stadium.
Karnataka, who kick-started their season by annexing their fourth Vijay Hazare Trophy in October, have been in marauding form. They have lost just two from ten games (Group stage and Super League combined) and their entry to the final appeared inevitable right from the start.
For an already batting-heavy unit, the arrival of Mayank Agarwal has made the defending champions’ line-up ominous. As was the case in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the batting troika of Devdutt Padikkal, KL Rahul and Manish Pandey have fashioned Karnataka’s success.
Padikkal, with 548 runs, has been a revelation this season. At his other end, he has had Rahul, who used his composure and experience to great effect to slam 291 runs from seven games. The opening combination has consistently given Karnataka ferocious starts.
Tamil Nadu would know the damage the duo can do. In the Super League game last week, Rahul and Padikkal raced to 70 in seven overs as Pandey’s men made a mockery of the 159-run target by clinching the contest in with 23 balls to spare.
Karnataka would hope that their top four does the job but if Tamil Nadu can crack open the top-order, Dinesh Karthik’s men can fancy their chances of dominating the proceedings. On paper, Karnataka bat deep on paper but Karun Nair’s poor form and lack of game time with the bat for Rohan Kadam and Shreyas Gopal could put the defending champions in a spot of bother.
In the all-important final, Karnataka would want their pacers to fire unison. It has helped that at least one from the trio of Abhimanyu Mithun, V Koushik and Ronit More has stepped up in every game. The worrying aspect for Karnataka is their pacers’ tendency to leak plenty of runs in the death.
Tamil Nadu, who steamrolled teams in the group stage, suffered a setback when they lost by nine wickets to Karnataka in the Super League opener but they bounced back to thump Mumbai by seven wickets and even top the Group B.
It’s the spinners who have driven Tamil Nadu’s campaign. Sai Kishore, with 20 scalps, is the highest wicket-taker of the tournament. Apart from his reputation of taking wickets in Powerplays, the fact that he has operated with an economy rate of 4.63 makes him a dangerous customer. Throw Washington Sundar and R Ashwin in the picture and it makes for an enviable spin attack.
Ashwin will be Tamil Nadu’s biggest hope. The India international had very little to show for in the Vijay Hazare final and will be eager to use his big-match expertise to the fullest.
The all-star final is expected to be a cracking contest. With the likes of Pandey, Rahul, Agarwal, Nair, Dinesh Karthik, Vijay Shankar and Ashwin set to battle it out, the rich international presence is a big boost for Indian domestic cricket. And for long-lasting rivalry to flourish further, fans would want an engrossing battle between the two deserving finalists.