The fast bowlers were running in from two steps. At the other end, two tail-enders were refusing singles — once even when the ball trickled down to deep extra-cover and the fielder took almost a minute to retrieve it.
It was difficult to fathom who was guarding whom. Maybe the unforgiving March heat had something to do with it. Or probably Lakshmipathy Balaji and Malolan Rangarajan had decided there was no point running. Just like their team had decided there was no point trying. Or so it had seemed for a major part of the last five days at the Wankhede Stadium.
For good measure, even the defending champions, led by their skipper Vinay Kumar, seemed convinced that shortening leg-spinner Shreyas Gopal’s run-up was good enough to ensure a quick finish on Day 5 of the Ranji Trophy final. It didn’t take too long for the match to end, as Rangarajan edged Sreenath Aravind to a diving Manish Pandey at a wide slip, setting off a delirious scramble for the stumps.
Before long, the Karnataka camp was screaming in unison and clutching on to their prized possession, the Ranji title, for the second year running. Then commenced a frenetic photo session, with selfies and flashes replacing runs and wickets.
The outcome of the match itself had seemed obvious since the opening hour on Day 2. For, once Karnataka had overcome the unexpected collapse of their top-order, and Karun Nair had dug his trench in, the only question that remained was how and when Tamil Nadu’s challenge for the title would meet its bitter end. In many ways, it had been Karnataka’s title to lose from the time they faced the same opposition in November. If the 2013-14 season was about redemption and the dawn of a new era, the subsequent winter had been all about showboating their reclaimed status as the preeminent domestic team in the country.
“Last year was definitely special because we won it after years. There was a little more pushing needed and a lot more excitement. This year, we were certain and a lot more confident about winning,” as Robin Uthappa, the season’s top run-getter would put it later. And that confidence shone right through.
Along the way, they failed to take the first innings lead only twice — against Mumbai at Wankhede and Baroda in Mysore — posted four outright wins, and rarely seemed in any considerable trouble getting past the knockout phase.
Then came the facile win in the final. To the extent that, Tamil Nadu often looked out of place, forget out of ideas. If this was a boxing bout, the challengers had stopped even lifting their gloves after having attempted a few meek jabs in the first round before resigning to their fate.
And even while Dinesh Karthik and Vijay Shankar helped themselves to centuries on the final day, it looked like Karnataka were being kind to them, almost as if to ensure that Tamil Nadu too left Mumbai with some memories to cherish from the final.
Three of their seamers ended up in the top-7 wicket-takers for the season, with skipper Vinay Kumar joint-highest with 48 scalps. Two of their batsmen were in the top-4 run-makers, with KL Rahul amazingly occupying No.4 with 838 runs despite having played in only five matches as compared to the 11 that those above him had got to play. And true to form, it was their seamers who set up the match on the opening day before Nair and Rahul booked in for a run-buffet at the Wankhede.
In a week’s time, the two-time defending Ranji champions will vie more additional honours when they take on Rest of India in the Irani Cup. And in Uthappa’s opinion, his team isn’t just eying another title, their eying the record-books. He said, “No one’s ever won three tournaments — the domestic, the one-day and then the premier one-off. And for us to do it twice in two years, I don’t think people will do it for a hundred years.”
On Thursday at the Wankhede, it didn’t sound like much of a brag. You had to agree with him.
Brief scores: Tamil Nadu 134 and 411 in 107.5 overs (D. Karthik 120, Vijay Shankar 103, b. Aparajith 68; S.Gopal 4/126) lost to Karnataka 762.