KV Siddharth had injured his left shoulder during the Vijay Hazare Trophy and was sidelined for three months. The blow had come at a time when he was trying to nail down a permanent spot in the Karnataka XI across formats. When he returned, the competition was so tough that he did not get a chance to break in immediately.
But heading into the Ranji Trophy semi-final against Bengal at Eden Gardens, Siddharth has put himself in a fantastic position to be among the first few on the team sheet. But like it is with every player, the season was far from a smooth sailing for the 27-year-old.
Siddharth was out for a duck on his comeback against Saurashtra and managed just 19 in the second innings with Karnataka desperately trying to save the game while battling for one point. Against Railways in cold New Delhi, he managed just 4 on an "up-and-down" wicket at the Karnail Singh Stadium.
In Karnataka's penultimate game, against Madhya Pradesh in Shimoga, he was out for a first-ball duck. And that was the turning point. The bowler had overstepped, and having earned a reprieve, Siddharth fought to make a grinding 62 in their first-innings total of 426. While it was not enough to gain a lead, he showed signs of returning to his best.
"It was really frustrating because I felt like I was batting my best when I got injured," Siddharth said of the untimely injury, after that match. "It's not easy to come back after not playing a match for almost three months. But I knew somewhere that I would do well because I had worked really hard."
The grinding qualities were to the fore in Jammu too, as Karnataka battled early on the third day - effectively the first of the match - on a slightly damp surface against a competent pace battery. With the top order folding around him, he set himself in for the long haul to make a battling 76, the highest in Karnataka's sub-par 206.
Siddharth is just in his second season, and is a late bloomer of sorts at 27. But his first-class numbers are impressive already. He has 1045 runs in 28 innings at an average of 43.54. He is stylish, has a wide range of strokes, the penchant to make big runs and marries them with the mentality of occupying the crease for long periods. In Jammu, he batted 189 balls in the first innings, ran 30 singles and hit nine fours. The knock helped Karnataka cross the psychological 200-run barrier they wanted dearly after a slump of sorts.
Then in the second innings, Karnataka lost two wickets in a clutch but Siddharth gave no further headway to the Jammu & Kashmir bowlers, who were under pressure to keep picking wickets. With the comfort of a lead and the first innings behind him, Siddharth was a touch more flamboyant without being reckless. He particularly played the spinners well and cashed in when the pitch was flat. He fell two short of his third first-class century, but by then, had helped take the game beyond the hosts.
"Commendable effort from KV [Siddharth]," the captain Karun Nair said. "He was out with injury for a long time this season, but to come back and continue [with the same hunger] is excellent. He did well last year for us as well. He's been doing well in most of the innings he has played, convening starts into big scores. Now the next step is for him to get the bigger hundreds."
The coach Yere Goud, too, was impressed with Siddharth's efforts.
"In terms of batting, the aim is to have big scores from the top five. Two batsmen got 80s in this game, so we are making [runs] at the right time.
"Siddharth's innings was crucial; it helped us get to 200, which we felt was needed to then bowl them out for a lead. Even in the Baroda game [the final league game], his 29* in the second innings with Karun [Nair] was very crucial. We knew he will contribute for us in tough situations."
In delivering in key moments, Siddharth has also ensured the selectors and the team management will have a healthy selection dilemma while sitting down to pick the XI for the semi-final against Bengal, especially now with KL Rahul available for the big game.
Devdutt Padikkal has had a breakout season, topping the run charts for Karnataka with 583 runs in 17 innings, including six half-centuries. Prior to the first-class season, Padikkal finished as the highest run-getter in Karnataka's victorious march at the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. R Samarth is second on the list with 507 runs and Manish Pandey is an automatic shoo-in for being the impact player with international experience while Nair is captain.
Nair has had a lean run of sorts, managing just three half-centuries this season, but showed signs of a return to form in the final league game against Baroda when he promoted himself up to No. 3 and struck an unbeaten match-winning 71 in a tricky chase. Goud firmly backed his captain, though.
"He is a big-match player. Even in the game we lost against Himachal, he made 81. We're confident he'll deliver."