Syed Mushtaq Ali T20: Karnataka champions after Gowtham defends five runs off four balls

Krishnappa Gowtham kept his nerves in the tense final over. (Screengrab)

Back in Bangalore, they call Krishnappa Gowtham 'the finisher', but more for his documented knack of finishing close matches with big shots, the signature slog sweeps and heaves that often nestle outside the stadium. His bowling, though, is more functional than spectacular. He's more of a tie-one-end-up trundler than an offie with a ripping off-break and cryptic variations, one cast purely in the T20 mould, either sharing the new ball or rifling through his deliveries in the middle overs.

But on a nervy Sunday night, Gowtham enhanced his death-over bowling reputation, holding his nerve to fashion a one-run win for Karnataka over Tamil Nadu to clinch the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, making a terrific comeback after being struck for consecutive boundaries off his first two deliveries. As debates swirled over whether skipper Manish Pandey should have set aside the last over for a spinner or not, Ashwin creamed him for two boundaries, whittling down the ask to an achievable five off four balls, Gowtham seemed the perfect fall guy for an impending defeat. Only that, the 31-year-old hardly flinched.

He took a leaf out of the man he was bowling to, R Ashwin, and slipped in a seam-up delivery that slid away with the angle, squarely beating a perplexed Ashwin. Gowtham let out a wry smile, Ashwin stared quizzically at the spot where the ball had pitched, as if he had spotted some dervish on it. In hindsight, it was the moment the match turned away psychologically from Tamil Nadu, the one moment hope rushed out of their window.

Everything that happened thereafter seemed like a chain reaction. The follow-up was a low full toss, an intentional one, which Ashwin could only hammer to long-on. He was aghast that he didn't put the ball to the fence and the match to bed while Gowtham sensed that something special was unravelling in front of him.

Panic sets in

But then, Vijay Shankar was back on strike and he was batting as lyrically as he ever had in recent times. But the flawlessly-constructed 47 off 27 balls went unfulfilled — ended by a pinpoint throw from the deep by Pandey, whose 45-ball 60 had been the foundation of Karnataka's 180. More panic set in, and even before the match was completed, it seemed that Tamil Nadu would return teary-eyed from yet another match against their fierce rivals.

It has become passe these days, Tamil Nadu tend to shrink at the mere utterance of Karnataka. Last month, they were soundly beaten in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final. But in passages during Sunday's chase, it seemed Tamil Nadu would reverse the trend, never more than when Washington Sundar and Dinesh Karthik were busy laying the foundation for a successful chase.

But in the space of six balls, both were back in the dugout. First, Jagadeesha Suchith, the under-rated left-arm spinner, deceived a rampaging Dinesh Karthik with a clever change of pace and flight.

Till then, Karnataka's bowlers seemed listless, to put it mildly, feeding Karthik with a flurry of freebies, which he duly punished. At one stage, the Karnataka skipper had his hands on his head, and eyes frantically scanning his bowling options. But whoever he brought in conceded cheap boundaries. Karthik and Sundar needn't have resorted to anything fanciful to keep up with the required run rate.

But a rush-of-blood moment scripted Karthik's end. He had just laced a cut shot through point, but couldn't resist stepping out to the same bowler two balls later. Suchith cleverly took the pace off the ball and floated it up, fooling him in the air to be stumped. Then Gowtham — who else – delivered the big wicket by castling the classy-looking Washington Sundar. Hope flickered again for Tamil Nadu when Shankar joined hands with Baba Aparajith. Together, they not only kept the team in the hunt but also gave a fine exhibition of cover-driving. But yet again, Aparajith departed when victory seemed in their grasp. Shankar flared up hope again, but it was snuffed out by Gowtham, the man they call the finisher. And a man whose stock keeps on rising.

Brief Scores: Karnataka 180 for 5 in 20 overs (Manish Pandey 60 not out off 45 balls, Rohan Kadam 35 off 28 balls, Murugan Ashwin 2-33, Ravi Ashwin 2-34) beat Tamil Nadu 179 for 6 (Vijay Shankar 44 off 27 balls, Baba Aparajith 40 off 25 balls, Ronit More 2-32) by one run. Toss: TN chose to bowl.