The Karnataka Ranji team stumbled in the final but kept its pride intact with a riveting performance. It is perhaps a sign of even better times ahead
It was a loss that failed to diminish Karnataka's cricketing aura. The Ranji Trophy final that concluded at Mysore's Gangothri Glades Ground last week, pitted domestic behemoth Mumbai against the enterprising bunch of Robin Uthappa's men.
And in a final that bristled with energy and a hard edge between the players, Mumbai snatched a six-run triumph.
Mumbai's 39th Ranji title might reiterate its hoary history but it was Karnataka that lured attention and envy right through the season.
A mix of young batsmen ranging from the season's highest scorer Manish Pandey (882 runs) to the steady duo of Ganesh Satish (639 runs) and K. B. Pawan (631 runs) helped Karnataka stay ahead. Add to it the potent combine of leading wicket-takers - Abhimanyu Mithun (47 wickets) and R. Vinay Kumar (46 wickets) – and Karnataka surely was running hot.
The lone loss in an otherwise largely happy campaign came in the final and that will rankle the team. In the summit clash, Karnataka conceded the lead for the first time this season but Pandey's stunning 144 in the second innings kept the team in the hunt before Mumbai seamers – Ajit Agarkar and Dhawal Kulkarni – shut the door with a mix of swing and acerbic words.
The season though will be remembered for a long time just for the promise of youth and the delightful fragrance it whipped up for a Karnataka team that had lost its way after its last Ranji title in 1999. “This team has the strength and potential to stay at the top for the next few years,” said E.A.S. Prasanna, the first captain under whom the team won the premier title in 1974.
Right from its first triumph in the opening game against Uttar Pradesh at Meerut last November, Karnataka was the best team of the tournament.
In every crisis, a player stood up to be counted and with Vinay and Mithun softening and scalping batsmen with their respective strengths of crafty swing and scorching pace, it was presumed that this team would go all the way.
“It is heartening to see the synergy between Mithun and Vinay. They are contrasting bowlers, extremely accurate, enterprising in their own way and in S. Arvind they have a crafty left-arm seamer to provide the perfect back-up,” Javagal Srinath said.
Coach Sanath Kumar, who has worked his way up the ranks after having groomed successive junior squads over the last decade, has been a calming influence and with Rahul Dravid lending his solid presence and inspirational captaincy to the beginning and end of the campaign, the team was on an upswing.
However Dravid's absence in the final due to his trip to Bangladesh for the current Test series, did rob the team of the needed steel in a fiery clash with Mumbai marred by the visiting team's tendency to mouth expletives and behave in an abominable manner.
A few worries do remain. Robin Uthappa, who led when Dravid was away, has dished out cameos and failed in the final. The spin department too relies heavily on the 39-year old Joshi.
“We need young spinners to step in but there seems to be no one after Joshi,” said former India batsman Vijay Bharadwaj.
The Karnataka State Cricket Association officials however believe that the team is poised to leap ahead.
“You have to have faith in players and the results will come,” KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel had said at the start of the campaign.
The team proved him right and has the talent to keep the Karnataka flag flying high over the next few years.