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Vinay Kumar,captain of the triumphant Karnataka Ranji Trophy team, being honoured with a ‘Mysore Peta’ by former cricketer and current KSCA Secretary Brijesh Patel at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on March 13.-PICS: K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

If Karnataka has progressed well, it is all thanks to a well-defined system in place, writes K. C. Vijaya Kumar.

Minutes after being honoured with a ‘Mysore Peta’ (traditional head-gear), a shawl and praised effusively by former India cricketer and current Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) Secretary Brijesh Patel, R. Vinay Kumar mentioned a pertinent point and in that lay a clue to the success of the Karnataka squad.

The quintessential Davanagere lad who made it big in Bengaluru, Vinay, with the conviction gained from his own evolution, said: “You can be from any part of Karnataka, but if you are good you will get your opportunities. In our own squad, you have Shishir Bhavane from Hubli and H. S. Sharath from Mandya. If you are good enough, you will play for the State.” Vinay was speaking at the felicitation function organised at the Chinnaswamy Stadium following Karnataka’s Ranji triumph.

The respect for quality tides over district and linguistic loyalties. The State squad is a veritable polyglot in its sensibilities. Robin Uthappa speaks Kannada, Coorgi, Malayalam, Hindi, English and also follows Tamil. Other players have roots ranging from Telugu to Garhwali. And the one dialect that bonds them together is the language of cricket. No parochial tendencies mar this team and that in a sense is also a reflection of the cosmopolitan air of Bengaluru.

Just as Karnataka dominates the Indian domestic cricketing scene like a behemoth, a huge chunk of its success can be attributed to the equal opportunities available to all players and also the inherent qualities that they nurse, inspired as they are by their previous generations.

‘Who your dad is’ need not necessarily influence selections in Karnataka and if the odd one does slip under the radar, the concerned player’s performance or lack of it would be instantly noticed and a clutch of former cricketers would pounce on it.

Even previous generations have thrived in a democratic set-up and we have had men like Javagal Srinath from Mysore and Sunil Joshi from Gadag, go on to win laurels for both Karnataka and India. A well-oiled league system in Bengaluru with none of the inflamed corporate passions seen in Chennai; an informal network of former cricketers and enthusiasts, who keep an eye on fresh talent; the itch to take a punt on a raw player; various age-group matches that pits players from Bengaluru against those from the rural areas, are all factors that help the very best move to the top of the pyramid and break into the Ranji squad.

Members of the Champion Karnataka Ranji Trophy team reading newspaper clippings of their feat at the Chinnaswamy stadium.-

Partaking of a legacy too plays a role as in the 1980s, Roger Binny used to give a lift in his car to his Indiranagar neighbour Rahul Dravid. When Dravid became the legend that he is, he took Binny Junior (Stuart) under his wings at Bangalore United Cricket Club. If Dravid looked up to G. R. Viswanath, K. L. Rahul and Karun Nair look up to Dravid. If Anil Kumble looked up to B. S. Chandrasekhar, Shreyas Gopal looks up to Kumble. It is an inspirational conveyor belt that rolls on rather well.

It is not just bouquets all the way as Karnataka has its cautionary tales of talent that blazed away too fast and was reduced to ashes. But even these men reach out to their juniors and say, ‘Hey, watch your step.’ Many summers ago, when a young Mithun Beerala, then a State player, lost his rag in a club match, umpire Sadanand Viswanath, glorious talent with a comet’s stint in the Indian team of the 1980s, told the lad: “Mithun, don’t mess it up, don’t do what I did as a youngster, don’t get into trouble, stay calm.”

It is this all-pervading-gaze that helps talent grow and gain dignity. A decade back when this correspondent asked Fazal Khaleel — Karnataka cricketer, intrepid talent spotter and current selector — about emerging players, without batting an eyelid he said: “Karun Nair and Shreyas Gopal.” Both are now intrinsic to the State squad and it shows that the two boys stuck to their pre-ordained paths.

The KSCA, run by cricketers over the last few decades, be it Brijesh Patel for a large part or Anil Kumble during a three-year interlude, has focussed on improving cricketing infrastructure across the State. Matches have been taken to the outpost and a rural audience was inspired to throw up more cricketers. And matches go on with clock-work precision, as pointed out by KSCA Assistant Secretary Santosh Menon, who said: “Over the last year we have conducted 1800-plus matches and everything is streamlined right from the biscuits and water to umpires and scorers to venues. There is a lot of background work that goes on and when our team does well in the Ranji, it also reflects the background work that happens in the association.”

If Karnataka has progressed well, it is all thanks to a well-defined system in place. And it is not just about the greats like the E. A. S. Prasannas or the Syed Kirmanis, who continue to inspire, it is also about committed men, who run clubs efficiently like N. Duraiswamy Iyer of the Friends Union Cricket Club, current league champions. And all these factors propel the State to the pinnacle of Indian cricket. A pedestal that Vinay Kumar’s men want to own for some more years!