Ranji win is a start of something different for Karnataka

2014 Feb 04 by Suresh Menon

There was something about Karnataka that marked them out as Ranji champions early in the season. Perhaps it was the energy of their young players, the self-belief that manifested itself at the start.

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By Suresh Menon

There was something about Karnataka that marked them out as Ranji champions early in the season. Perhaps it was the energy of their young players, the self-belief that manifested itself at the start. Perhaps it was the confidence that comes from knowing that the bench strength was strong, and that the youth came with experience too.

Their seniormost international player, Robin Uthappa, is just 28. Those who made their debuts this season – Mayank Agarwal, Karun Nair, Ravikumar Samarth and Shreyas Gopal – came good almost immediately. Amit Verma and Ganesh Satish who returned to the team after being dropped made centuries in the final stages. Gopal, who made his debut on the strength of big scores in the junior tournaments, picked up 22 wickets with intelligent leg spin bowling. And he is only 20.

Only Mumbai, with 40 titles, have won the Ranji Trophy more times than Karnataka’s seven. Yet this could well be the start of the Karnataka era in the national championship; half a dozen wins in the next decade or so will ensure that, and such a result is eminently possible.

Ironically for a state that produced some of the finest spin bowlers – Erapalli Prasanna, Bhagwat Chandrasekhar, Anil Kumble, Sunil Joshi, Vijayakrishna, Raghuram Bhat – Karnataka won the title without a spinner running through the opposition. It was a pace-oriented attack that held sway, and although in recent years men like Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Dodda Ganesh have been in charge, never have so many gifted medium pacers all played together in the same season.

Abhimanyu Mithun’s 41 wickets and skipper Vinay Kumar’s 29 made the difference as did the 32 wickets claimed by the young Sharath who played a key role in the defeat of Mumbai in the quarterfinal. It was probably when they defeated Mumbai that the youngsters began to fantasise about holding aloft the trophy.

When a team wins the title, a question asked is: who are the players most likely to make it to the national team? Some, like Uthappa, would legitimately nurse ambitions of a return to international cricket after a break of five years. In the interim, he has hired a professional coach, tightened his game bringing to it a maturity in defence. He is stronger in his mind too, a combination that holds out hope.

Manish Pandey made 729 runs in the season, not sensational by his standards, but a reminder that the talent which grabbed attention when he became the first Indian to score a century in the IPL is being honed for bigger and better things. There is too his outstanding fielding. He is 24, and deserves a trial as the World Cup approaches.

With 1033 runs in the season, K L Rahul has staked a claim too as a player with the temperament and cricketing intelligence of his great namesake Dravid, who served Karnataka and India for many years. He is a big match player, intent on playing the long innings. For some time now he has been the answer to the question about the next big player from Karnataka, and he seems to be keeping his end of the bargain all right!

In all, 19 men turned out for Karnataka this season, and all of them were present at the final in Hyderabad to see their team through. But why Hyderabad, when the other finalists were Maharashtra? This was a result of the BCCI’s fetish over neutral venues, ostensibly because that would take the preparation of the track out of the home team’s hands.

This ridiculous rule meant that the final was played to near-empty stands. Karnataka played UP and Mumbai at home to increasingly bigger crowds, and the faithful deserved a final, the first with Karnataka in it for nearly a decade and a half. As to doctoring the wicket, these are easily handled by the board’s neutral pitches committee, after all.

That Karnataka won seven matches outright spoke of an attitude that is refreshing in the context of the national championship where the temptation is to outbat the opponents and progress on the first innings lead. The final six by Karun Nair, maker of three centuries in succession, was tribute to Karnataka’s positive approach through the season, especially in the latter part.

For a team like Karnataka to win the title just seven times in four decades (since they first won it) suggests under-achievement. Both in the Prasanna-Chandra-Vishwanath era as well as in the Dravid-Kumble-Srinath era they deserved more. Perhaps this win is the start of something different.