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A work in progress

K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR
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CRICKET The Karnataka Ranji team revealed steel in its spine in the recent Ranji Trophy game against Delhi, but for a squad in transition, more results have to go its way before it can aspire to be at the championship’s high table

Heralding a new era?Karnataka players celebrate the fall of a Delhi wicketPhoto: Bhagya Prakash k.
Heralding a new era?Karnataka players celebrate the fall of a Delhi wicketPhoto: Bhagya Prakash k.

Serendipity screamed out aloud as a few days ago a bunch of journalists were amazed at the incredible coincidence of what they saw on the ground and on television! At the Chinnaswamy Stadium, Karnataka collapsed in a heap in its first innings against Delhi in the Ranji Trophy game and on television, images of India’s surrender against England at Kolkata’s Eden Gardens was beamed live.

India failed to buck its downward spiral but Karnataka sprung a surprise. R. Vinay Kumar’s men came back strongly in the second innings and eventually defeated Delhi by 159 runs. Karnataka was well and truly alive in the tournament though more work needs to be done in its remaining three Group B matches.

Much like India, Karnataka’s performance over the last month has been an inexplicable mix of the odd high marred by the quick slump. India won at Ahmedabad and lost in Mumbai and Kolkata; Karnataka emerged second-best against Baroda and Uttar Pradesh, lost to Odisha and amidst this medley of under-performance, managed to wrest the lead against Tamil Nadu before having a measure of Delhi.

The inconsistency that trailed the team like a drunk’s shadow forced a few legends to express their views behind closed doors. Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid spoke to the players and drew fresh benchmarks. Meanwhile behavioural consultant Hari Iyer tried to clear the cobwebs of the mind and coach J. Arun Kumar said: “It was good for the players to get a few things off their chest.”

Arun and his fellow-coach Mansur Ali Khan have been exasperated over the past few weeks as their wards oscillated between fine performances and below-par displays. A flamboyant opener during his prime, Arun, JAK to his peers, has now restricted that attribute to the Harley Davidson bike he rides while Mansur remains soft-spoken as ever.

It helps that they have an immediate rapport with the players and Stuart Binny said: “I have played when JAK led us in the Ranji Trophy and you can talk anything to him.” A contemporary coaching staff, the game’s biggest names like Kumble and Javagal Srinath at the helm in the Karnataka State Cricket Association, a squad with talent and a legacy that reels out names like G.R. Viswanath, B.S. Chandrasekhar, E.A.S. Prasanna and Syed Kirmani, are all pointers to a smooth progression.

Yet the State team has not lived up to its earlier standards and some years ago, a puzzled press photographer grabbed the mike at a press conference and asked Kumble about the dearth of Karnataka players in the Indian squad.

Robin Uthappa, Vinay and Abhimanyu Mithun have all had their brief turns and with age on their side, may well get opportunities in the future too but it is a fact that the highs of the 1990s – when Kumble, Dravid, Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Sunil Joshi, Dodda Ganesh and David Johnson turned out together for India – may not be replicated immediately. Manish Pandey, who was the next-in-line for an India cap, has languished behind. Uthappa meanwhile is coping with the twin challenges of piling up big scores without losing his natural flair. With personal coach Pravin Amre in tow, Uthappa tended to embrace the tenacity of Mumbai batsmanship without the requisite fast runs and finally Arun requested him to remain true to his aggressive style.

The squad is in churn as the earlier generation has bowed out with its last representatives – Joshi and Thilak Naidu – retiring this year. And the Delhi-game was in a sense a do-or-die venture and Karnataka rose to the challenge. The emergence of fast bowler H.S. Sharath augurs well. The road ahead though is long and the team needs to better its previous performances – quarter-finalist, last season; semi-finalist, the previous year; and runner-up, prior to that.

A Ranji title will be a huge boost but before that, consistency has to be embraced fully in the games ahead starting with the one against Vidarbha at Mysore from Saturday.

K.C. VIJAYA KUMAR

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