Ranji Trophy | A golden jubilee, and time to name the stands after the greats

Fifty years on, since Karnataka famously won the Ranji Trophy at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, we should ask ourselves, wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit in the Viswanath stand or cheer from the Prasanna enclosure?

Updated - January 19, 2024 11:17 am IST

Published - January 17, 2024 12:30 am IST

Prasanna and his Karnataka teammates get a rousing welcome on their arrival in Madras from Jaipur after beating Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy final in 1974. That was Karnataka’s greatest year when holder Bombay was toppled at Bangalore in the semi-final.

Prasanna and his Karnataka teammates get a rousing welcome on their arrival in Madras from Jaipur after beating Rajasthan in the Ranji Trophy final in 1974. That was Karnataka’s greatest year when holder Bombay was toppled at Bangalore in the semi-final. | Photo Credit: The Hindu Archives

Fifty years ago this year, Karnataka won the Ranji Trophy for the first time and changed the face of Indian cricket, leading to the game spreading faster and wider. They loosened Mumbai’s grip on the trophy and paved the way for Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, Railways, U.P., Rajasthan, Gujarat, all of whom won their inaugural titles in the years following.

Mumbai had been champions for 15 consecutive years when Karnataka beat them (on first innings lead) in a semifinal at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. They then beat Rajasthan in the final by 185 runs.

“At the start of the season, we practised as the Mysore team; by the time we played our first match, we were Karnataka,” recalled Bhagwat Chandrasekhar who played a crucial role in the success.

Players often recall the off-field drama in that Jaipur final. Some fans who had travelled to the venue spent their nights on the field to ensure no one fiddled with the wicket! It wasn’t necessary, but such was the passion. The Karnataka players were fed the local specialty ‘bhang’. One bowler recalled appealing before getting into a laughing fit. The umpire caught it too and couldn’t control himself. Can you imagine any of that happening today?

Skipper Erapalli Prasanna, now a sprightly 83, claimed nine wickets in the semifinal against Mumbai. The two best batsmen, Gundappa Viswanath and Brijesh Patel made centuries while the two best bowlers, Prasanna and Chandrasekhar helped bowl Mumbai out.

Two bits of luck and master ball stand out. Viswanath might have been out first ball, leg before to medium pacer Abdul Ismail. But the umpire stood as rigid as the stumps, and Viswanath went on to make 162. Mumbai skipper Ajit Wadekar was run out as he slipped while turning for a run. His new pair of shoes had let him down. When the Karnataka State Cricket Association builds a museum, they should make a bid for Wadekar’s shoes from that game.

Prasanna’s magic

The master ball was delivered by Prasanna who drew Sunil Gavaskar forward to play the off spin, beat him in flight and took the off bail.

It stunned both the batsman and Wadekar, the non-striker. “Wadekar was so shocked that he ran himself out soon afterwards,” Prasanna was to joke later. Thus did one ball claim two wickets!

Somewhere in that crowd of some 25,000, I sat holding my breath at times, and making all kinds of private vows. There would have been many like me – some refusing lunch, others making sure they touched every telephone pole en route to the stadium and so on. It was all very personal.

In the final which Karnataka were expected to win, the lesser lights made the difference, a testimony to the depth in the team. Opening batter and bowler V.S. Vijaykumar scored 66 and claimed four wickets in the first innings, Vijayakrishna made 71 and A.V. Jayaprakash 55 and 64 not out, rescuing Karnataka from 147 for five to 276. Syed Kirmani made 60 in the second innings to ensure there would be no shocks after Karnataka were 83 for six.

Prasanna had led superbly, getting the best out of his players and continuing the work of predecessor V. Subramanya who inspired youngsters to play above themselves. “His skill as a leader,” wrote K.N. Prabhu, the leading cricket writer of the day, “matched his cunning as a bowler.”

Fifty years is a long time in sport. But it is sufficient to form a legacy. From V. Subramanya to K.L. Rahul is an exciting line-up of world class performers and legends: Prasanna, Chandrasekhar, Viswanath, Patel, Kirmani, Anil Kumble, Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Shanta Rangaswamy, Roger Binny…. it is a growing list.

The time is overdue for naming the stands (and gates) at the Chinnaswamy Stadium after some of them. It is a way of paying tribute to those who have made the sport what it is, and is a custom followed around the world. The KSCA’s reluctance to do so is more than embarrassing, it is scandalous.

As the stadium plays host to another international, we should ask ourselves, wouldn’t it be wonderful to sit in the Viswanath stand or cheer from the Prasanna enclosure?

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