It was a tale of two contrasting ones as Tamil Nadu spun their way into the finals of the tournament while defending champions Karnataka blazed their way to the finals. Tamil Nadu’s consistency is a direct result of the performance of their spinners coupled with some batting brilliance.
Dinesh Karthik was and should be a "proud captain" of the Tamil Nadu unit, despite their defeat at the hands of rivals Karnataka. Not many sides on the domestic circuit are capable of going neck-to-neck against Manish Pandey’s side, who have shown an absolute form to decimate opposition(s). In the finals, it all boiled down to who handled the pressure better and took their chances with the conditions absolutely offering ducks to the bowling unit.
Both teams had a stark approach to the finals as Tamil Nadu wanted to restrict Karnataka’s top-order with their spinning web while the seamers chipped in with some tight overs or wickets. The game plan was a well-known one in the domestic circuit, as Karthik’s team had worked with the same plan throughout the tournament. With seasoned campaigner Ravichandran Ashwin back in the squad, Karthik had as many as 6 spinners to operate in tandem, well probably, he could even have operated the entire innings with just spinners.
That is how powerful the Tamil Nadu spin-unit is, you can compare to the best of pace bowling attacks throughout the world. While the uncanny spinner Murugan Ashwin bowled the middle overs, youngster Sai Kishore usually operated with the hard-ball. However, he was in no mood to give away any leeway with the opposition, making early inroads for the team. On the finale, Karthik understood that bowling Sai in the powerplay would be a gamble against Karnataka as he went wicketless on his previous outing against the same opposition.
While Sai picked up as many 20 wickets in the tournament, his fellow spinners M Siddarth and Murugan Ashwin too chipped in with equally important contributions. It was Murugan’s third tournament with the side, and his experience had grown invaluable with his stint in the IPL. The tournament definitely made him learn a lesson or two and improved his bowling drastically as the leggie hit the length more often than not during the tournament. His stature in the dressing room was equally important as he picked up 11 wickets during the tournament.
While fellow-left arm spinner Sai ended up as the highest wicket-taker, his ‘duo’ and left-arm doppelganger Siddarth too impressed the lot. Imagine playing your first ever season with the state team, would you not be nervous? The nerves never got to him. Cool, composed yet spinning cobwebs at the batsmen, Siddarth’s debut season was one to remember. The left-arm spinner picked up 12 wickets in just five games, and yet Sai takes all the credit, well if you ask Siddarth, he would say the team matters much more than the mini-competition going between the spinners.
The spinners hunted in packs, as the pacers shotgunned their way into the wickets tally. On conditions which were rarely in support to the bowlers, T Natrajan, G Periyaswamy and Vijay Shankar were always present when the team needed wickets. While Natrajan led the pacer pack with 13 crucial wickets, Shankar and Periyaswamy chipped in with six and eight wickets of their own. Slingy, left-arm or ‘3-D’, the bowlers always found a way to stop runs and more crucially pick wickets.
It is very rare that we rave so much about a bowling-unit, and more importantly on conditions which were flat as flush. For the spinners, however, we all know how the sub-continent is (Para, Para, Paradise). In tandem, the entire bowling unit managed to pick up 85 wickets in the tournament, with only Kishore, Shankar and Murugan being a regular feature of this bowling attack.
While it is always the batsmen who get the bigger chunk of the team’s success credits, it is not given to rule their existence in Tamil Nadu’s road to final. Only three batsmen crossed an aggregate of 200 runs in the tournament, yet the team made it to the finals. The trio of Washington Sundar, Dinesh Karthik and Shankar were the only batsmen to cross the meagre 200-run mark for the side. While Karthik took the onus on himself to deliver in crucial games, Sundar ensured that the side got off to a solid start and often flyers. Shankar was there, making his presence felt in the middle overs, averaging 30 and striking the ball sweetly.
On the day it mattered, the side was there, like ever holding each other like they were born into the same family. However, the result was like the cookie box, which is filled with the sewing kit as Tamil Nadu were so close yet so far. It was the second time in the year that a side wearing yellow jersey fell short by one run to the side wearing the blue ones. All said and done, Tamil Nadu must and must always hold their chins up as they defeated all-odds to nearly winning the illustrious trophy.
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