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Phoenix from the ashes

ASHWIN ACHAL
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CRICKET Kunal Kapoor hit two centuries in a match against Haryana, ensuring some positives for the Karnataka Ranji team at Hubli

Silver liningKunal Kapoor exalts after his century at HubliPHOTO: Sampath Kumar G.P.
Silver liningKunal Kapoor exalts after his century at HubliPHOTO: Sampath Kumar G.P.

Karnataka has produced many batsmen of repute, but it took a rookie to write a record which has eluded its stalwarts for 78 years. By scoring 106 and 100 not-out against Haryana in a domestic match recently at Hubli, Kunal Kapoor became the first cricketer from the State to score a century in both innings of a Ranji Trophy match. Though Karnataka disappointed by conceding the first-innings lead in a crucial match, the measured, unruffled approach of the 25-year-old provided tremendous comfort to the team management.

Kunal, playing just his third Ranji game, went about his business like a batsman who belonged to the classical mould.

There were no uncultured hits across the line, or flashy strokes aimed to please the passionate crowds which thronged the KSCA Stadium.

When on strike, his stance was relaxed, before the bat came down with a confident intent to defend. At the non-striker’s end, Kunal appeared casual, yet focused – legs crossed, body leaning on the bat placed by his side, and eyes sharp on the action. His laidback demeanour fitted well with the picturesque setting at Hubli, with its stunning sight of hills in the backdrop. “I like playing long hours and spending time at the crease. This is my strength, and I play to it. I stick around and wait for the bad ball,” Kunal said, at the conclusion of the match.

The graduate from St. Joseph’s College of Commerce has been touted for many years as a talent to watch out for, given his appetite for runs in age-group cricket (Kunal has represented Karnataka in the under-16, under-19 and under-25 categories), as well as for his first division team, Friends Union Cricket Club.

At Hubli, this hunger was visible again, in an innings with added significance after failures in his first two matches for Karnataka. “This match was quite important. I had to get some runs. The plan was to just enjoy the experience, and play the innings ball-by-ball with a free mind,” he says, “When you play the Ranji Trophy, there is bound to be some pressure. It is a given, and you need to handle it. I felt the pressure after the first two games, but I went out there and didn’t really think about who is watching me, or even about the failures before. Maybe I put extra pressure on myself during my debut games. But here, I was relaxed, like I was batting in a league match.”

When Kunal returned to the pavilion after registering his second hundred of the match, he was greeted by an elated team, which was searching for a silver lining in an otherwise lacklustre performance.

The Frank Antony Public School alumnus is grateful for the help he received from his mates in the squad. “There were a couple of senior people in the team who talked to me before the match, telling me to enjoy my batting. The Batting coach, J. Arun Kumar told me the same thing too. I got a lot of support from the team management and the support staff as well, and all this helped me a lot.”

His captain, Stuart Binny, is thrilled to have him on board. “Kunal’s show is a huge positive. For him to score centuries in two innings in just his third game speaks volumes about his talent. We are disappointed with our batting here, but he showed us the way; how it should be done.”

Despite the below-par show at Hubli, Karnataka have qualified for the quarterfinal-stage after a thrilling victory over Maharashtra in its final round-robin encounter on Tuesday. It is now more important than ever for Kunal to build on a promising start.

ASHWIN ACHAL

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