Karnataka vanquishes TN in Battle of Mumbai

The victorious Karnataka team.-PTI

Karnataka outplayed Tamil Nadu to retain the Ranji Trophy. A report by G. Viswanath.

Karnataka proved to be a true prize-winning team as it crushed Tamil Nadu in the recent Ranji Trophy final. It started the season as the defending champion and after three months of sweat and toil and offering some entertaining fare, it retained the title it won in the last season defeating Maharashtra. It was a wonderful feat and in doing so, it emulated the high-class achievements of teams that have won the title back-to-back after the turn of the millennium like Rajasthan and Mumbai. Seventeen years ago, Karnataka under different captains had won the title in consecutive years, 1997-98 and 1998-99.

Few teams in recent times have compelled as much attention as Karnataka for its style and manner of play. It played as a committed and dedicated unit. Its players backed each other and set an example to other serious teams in the race for the title. The team showed that sharpening of skills and implementing work ethics were the only ways to court success. There was no clash of egos in the team. Moreover, the Karnataka captain, R. Vinay Kumar, did not lose much sleep over being left out of the World Cup squad. Instead, he showed the way with a terrific bowling effort right through the season on diverse wickets.

Karun Nair with a triple hundred and Lokesh Rahul, who fell just short of a double century, shut Tamil Nadu out of the game.-VIVEK BENDRE

Born and raised in Davanagere, known for its culinary delights, Vinay Kumar has raised a captain’s performance-bar that would probably take decades to emulate. He dispatched five Tamil Nadu batsmen on a helpful wicket on the first day of the final at the Wankhede Stadium and returned with the bat to notch up a century; both feats a first in the annals of the National Championship. No other captain in the preceding 80 finals had come up with this particular distinction. Although Vijay Hazare had scored 288 and captured five-plus wickets (six for 85) for Baroda against Holkar in the 1946-47 final, the Baroda captain then was Raosaheb Nimbalkar.

There were some exemplary qualities that helped Karnataka win the title for the second season in a row. After its home defeat against Odisha in a league match of the 2012-13 season, Karnataka has not been beaten in 28 matches. “We matured as a group from the final (2009-10) we played against Mumbai in Mysore. We have never looked far too ahead, played match by match and that’s the reason for our success. I did not see any anxiety on the faces of my teammates before the final and that’s the best thing and I told them so,” said Vinay Kumar.

Karnataka also benefitted from the hopes and ambitions of some of its cricketers who were either keen to get a recall to the national team or make a breakthrough. The likes of former India cricketers (either in Test matches or ODIs) such as Robin Uthappa, Abhimanyu Mithun and Vinay Kumar and others like Manish Pandey and Karun Nair, who were looking to impress the selectors, helped the team’s cause.

The batsmen scored runs aplenty, but the most significant aspect of Karnataka’s success was the capability of its three-pronged pace attack comprising Vinay Kumar (48 wickets at 18.72), Mithun (39 at 24.52) and Sreenath Aravind (42 at 17.42) to stifle opponents. The all-rounder, Shreyas Gopal, bowling leg spin, added his weight with 28 scalps at 32.75. A team equipped with a fast bowler, swing bowlers and a genuine wrist spinner can rarely fail; a fact that was evident in the final against Tamil Nadu which was outplayed.

Opener K. L. Rahul scored 188, Karun Nair made an all-time best of 328 in a final, Vinay Kumar uncorked an unbeaten 105 and the seamers and Gopal extracted optimum benefits out of a Wankhede Stadium pitch that became very slow, but which helped the seamers on Day One and the spinners on the fourth and fifth days.

Karnataka beat Tamil Nadu by 285 runs, won three more against Bengal, Jammu & Kashmir and Railways and drew with Madhya Pradesh, Baroda, Uttar Pradesh and Mumbai in the league before getting past Assam in the quarterfinal and Mumbai in the semi-final. Skittling out Mumbai for 44 in under 16 overs was a spectacular effort from the home team that was restricted to 202 in the first innings.

Vinay Kumar led by example in the final, taking five wickets and bringing down Tamil Nadu for 134 runs in the first innings. Laxmipathy Balaji responded with a three-wicket burst, but from day two onwards and from the sixth wicket stand that saw Rahul and Nair sparkle to put on 386, Karnataka turned the match on its head. Karnataka kept Tamil Nadu on the field for 1044 minutes and made it send down 231.2 overs to post a match-winning score of 762, the second highest in the Ranji championship final. Vijay Shankar and Dinesh Karthik scored pleasing centuries on the last day, but yet Karnataka forced a win by an innings and 217 runs. It was a fabulous effort.