Well after the joyous pictures with the Ranji Trophy held aloft were clicked and the champagne sprayed around the dressing room, Karnataka’s coach J Arun Kumar enjoyed a quiet walk on the outfield of the Rajiv Gandhi International stadium in Hyderabad.
As Arun Kumar, oblivious to the frenetic activity building up behind him, seemed to enjoy the feeling of having claimed India’s premier domestic title, he was mobbed by six of his players. Four caught hold of the 39-year-old as Robin Uthappa, dunked a full cool-box of ice-cubes over the coach’s head. The celebrations were well deserved, for this was Karnataka’s first Ranji season triumph in15 years.
Earlier on Sunday, Karnataka had securing a seven-wicket victory over Maharashtra, chasing down a 157 run target comfortably. Robin Uthappa said that this particular match, “just didn’t feel like a final,” and it was perhaps an apt conclusion to five days of cricket where Karnataka bossed an inexperienced Maharashtra side. “It was a clinical performance. We were hungry, we believed that we could do it right from the start. We got them out for 300 odd, scored 500 ourselves. After a point it just didn’t feel like the big match it was supposed to be,” he said.
Much of the conversation after the match revolved around how the wounds of the 2010 final, a match which Karnataka lost narrowly by six runs to Mumbai, were salved. Captain R Vinay Kumar recalled that right up to the fifth day of the game against Maharashtra, he could not help recollecting that agonizing last session against Mumbai, where a clump of wickets deprived Karnataka of the silverware. It was fitting that eight players who played in that final in Mysore were part of this Karnataka team that claimed the side’s seventh Ranji title.
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Over the five days of the match though, Karnataka displayed the same brand of steel that had seen them win seven outright games in this season. The team, a mix of youth and experience, came together wonderfully, with each member of the side acquitting himself very favorably over the course of the campaign. KL Rahul, who was just finding his way back into the team last season, grabbed the limelight at the top, finishing as the second highest run-getter with 1033 runs. Karun Nair, one of the three debutants this year, came good at crucial times for his side, stroking three consecutive hundreds, two of them in knock-out games. The other young face in the team, 20-year-old, Shreyas Gopal, proved his worth as a genuine all-rounder, snaring 22 wickets with his leg-spin in five matches. The seniors chipped in at the right moments too. Abhimanyu Mithun with 41 wickets and Vinay Kumar, struck timely blows at the right time and Uthappa’s return to form in the later stages ensured that Karnataka were never really short on experience when it mattered.
On Sunday too, with Maharashtra setting a 156 run target, the general feeling was that Karnataka could be troubled. The pitch had cracks and footmarks, and was expected to provide a stern challenge. However, right from the time the openers, Uthappa and Rahul, compiled a rapid 65-run partnership, the result was never in doubt. Manish Pandey, whose dismissal in the final four years ago triggered a Karnataka collapse, dropped down a few gears, hitting a composed 28 in 73 balls, staying till the end.
Gopal’s four wickets in the second innings helped put the brakes on a Maharashtra innings, which seemed set to cause Karnataka more damage than just the 156 runs. Nair’s 44 in the first innings had helped stabilize his side, after a couple of quick wickets were lost and Mithun’s five wickets in the match came at just the right moment.
Stepping it up
Karnataka’s defining feature this season, according to Arun Kumar, has been the ability of a couple of guys to step up in every match. While in the semi-final against Punjab, it was the skipper with a five-wicket haul, in Hyderabad it was Ganesh Satish’s hundred, in his comeback innings. “This season, it has always been about different guys taking responsibility in different situations. The young guys have stuck to their plans beautifully and executed them thoroughly. This match we had our bowlers bring out something magical on the second morning and then it was Rahul and Ganesh. This team has hit the right buttons when needed,” he said.
The coaches, Arun Kumar and Mansur Ali Khan, both relatively young and with the experience of having won the Ranji Trophy as players, were the perfect guides. CM Gautam, the wicket-keeper singled out the Arun Kumar’s approach of not over-coaching the players as the highlight of the season. “We never had elaborate team meetings. Both our coaches have won this trophy and they have a very good idea of how to go about things. The suggestions were simple, to just enjoy our cricket. The positive vibe was key,” he said.
Maharashtra 1st innings 305; 2nd innings: H Khadiwale c Satish b Vinay 9, V Zol c Gautam b Vinay 31, A Bawne st Gautam b Gopal 61, K Jadhav c Uthappa b Vinay 112, S Atitkar c Verma b Gopal 0, C Khurana c Uthappa b Vinay 37, R Motwani c Gautam b Mithun 21, S Mundhe c Gautam b Gopal 42, A Sanklecha c Nair b Mithun 14, A Darekar c Uthappa b Gopal 13, S Fallah not out 2
Extras(b-6, lb-4, w-11, nb-3) 24.
Total (all out; 91.2 overs) 366.
Fall of wickets 1-18 (Khadiwale, 2.5 ov), 2-54 (Zol, 15.1 ov), 3-172 (Bawne, 41.4 ov), 4-174 (Atitkar, 43.3 ov), 5-262 (Khurana, 63.5 ov), 6-268 (Jadhav, 65.4 ov), 7-307 (Motwani, 78.5 ov), 8-338 (Sanklecha, 84.5 ov), 9-362 (Darekar, 89.4 ov), 10-366 (Mundhe, 91.2 ov);Bowling: Vinay29-1-116-4, Mithun 22-1-77-2, Aravind 21-0-67-0, Uthappa 2-0-15-0, Pandey 2-0-14-0, Gopal 13.2-1-47-4, Verma 2-0-20-0.
Karnataka 1st innings 515; 2nd innings: R Uthappa c Khurana b Darekar 36, KL Rahul c Khurana b Mundhe 29, A Verma c & b Khurana 38, M Pandey not out 28, K Nair not out 20
Extras ((b-1, lb-2, nb-3) 6.
Total (3 wickets; 40.5 overs) 157.
Fall of wickets 1-65 (Uthappa, 15.2 ov), 2-87 (Rahul, 22.3 ov), 3-120 (Amit Verma, 29.3 ov); Bowling: Fallah 11-2-28-0, Sanklecha 3-2-7-0, Darekar 10-0-46-1, Khurana 8.5-0-53-1, Mundhe 8-1-20-1.