Karnataka and Tamil Nadu cricket rivalry is as old as the Ranji Trophy itself when the two sides played the inaugural match of the country’s premier domestic event in 1934. From that day onwards, whenever the two have clashed, it’s never been just about the match they would be involved in. A lot more rides on the outcome of that contest.

While the players from either side have enjoyed great camaraderie with each other, it’s the issues beyond the sporting arena that often colour the proceedings on the field. And so it will be when the two southern cricketing powerhouses lock horns for the Vijay Hazare Trophy in a mouthwatering final here at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Friday.

The progress of the two sides to the final has been similar even though Karnataka had to contend with stronger teams in Group A as opposed to Tamil Nadu in Group C. While rain washed out Tamil Nadu’s quarterfinal against Punjab and they advanced to the semifinal by virtue of having more wins in the group stage, they had little difficulty in beating Gujarat for a place in the final.

Friday’s needle match, however, will be the biggest test for TN in the tournament even though they have been bolstered by the arrival of senior India off-spinner R Ashwin.

Balanced outfits

In fact, there is a generous spread of India internationals in both camps which promise a Friday blockbuster. While both teams appear balanced on paper, it may eventually turn out to be Karnataka’s batting versus TN’s bowling.

With more experience and variety in their attack, especially in spin, TN will pose some tough questions to an in-from Karnataka top-order of K L Rahul, Devdutt Padikkal and Manish Pandey, all of whom have topped 500 runs. And we are not even talking about Mayank Agarwal — who gave a glimpse of his destructive prowess against Chhattisgarh in the semifinal — and Karun Nair who is yet to fire in the tournament.

While their batting has been robust, Karnataka have a few areas of concern in bowling and particularly their inability to finish off innings after having made early inroads.

Far too often in this tournament they have allowed the teams to post decent to competitive totals with tailenders. Pacer M Prasidh Krishna’s absence through injury just before semifinal was a big blow but they have clearly struggled in the middle and death overs with their spinners.

While Karnataka could overcome this shortcoming against inexperienced teams, they can’t afford such a blip against TN whose batting is dotted with internationals like Abhinav Mukund, M Vijay, Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar. Besides these three, B Aparajith has topped 500 runs in the tournament while M Shahrukh Khan has produced some useful cameos.

The injury to all-rounder Pavan Deshpande, who could take out at least 6-7 overs in an innings, has obviously upset Karnataka’s balance but they will need to find a way out with the options available to them. And one of them could be to bite the bullet and include left-arm spinner J Suchith at the expense of a batsman.

It could be either Nair or, harsh as it may seem, an in-form Rohan Kadam.

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Rohit Kumar founded Vimocafe in 2016. He covers Entertainment news from the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada Film industries.