The Ranji Diaries: Karnataka, The New Ranji Powerhouse
Karnataka has won the Ranji Trophy a total of eight times.
This story is part of an eight-part series previewing India’s leading domestic cricket teams in the Ranji Trophy tournament.
Karnataka's rise in the Ranji Trophy is significant on two counts. One: it indicates a power shift, as the centre of gravity of south zone moves from Chennai to Bangalore. Two: it indicates cricket is democratic, and the game has rapidly spread to new areas.
Different Successful Phases
Karnataka has a rich cricket tradition stretching back to 1934, at that time it participated in Ranji as Mysore and the team finished runners up in 1942 and 1960. Beginning 1970, a silent turnaround started and Ranji trophy saw the impact of a powerful Karnataka team.
The crowning moment came in 1974 when a resurgent Karnataka led by Prasanna won Ranji for the first time. Same year, the state cricket association inaugurated the modern Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore, located close to the upmarket MG road.
The initial win was the beginning of a golden period – for the next 10 years Karnataka became a major Ranji team. Between 1974-84, they reached 6 finals, winning 3 titles. Between 1996-99, it had another spectacular sequence, winning thrice in four years. Post 2000 results tapered off somewhat but soon another successful period started. After losing the Ranji final in 2010 by a mere 6 runs in 2010, Karnataka came back to win Ranji in 2014 and 2015. And this time its dominance was complete. Karnataka set a unique record both years by winning 3 titles – Ranji, Irani and Vijay Hazare trophy.
The Major Players
In all these triumphs the Karnataka team revolved around a set of outstanding players. In the ’70s the batting was led by GR Vishwanath, the supremely stylish stroke player, and Brijesh Patel. Bowling was in the gifted hands of Prasanna, the off spin wizard and Chandrasekhar, a leg spinner with the mindset and pace of a quick bowler! Not to forget Kirmani standing behind the stumps, keeping wickets to these masters. Famous cricket stars in the generation before were Subramanya and Budhi Kunderan.
In recent times, Karnataka is best known for the achievements of Anil Kumble/Rahul Dravid/Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad who, together, made a massive impact on Indian cricket. Their career stats are impressive:
- Dravid made 23,000 runs, more than half of these in 164 tests. Only Tendulkar played more test matches than Dravid.
- Kumble, the other giant, took 619 test wickets and 1,136 in first class games.
- Srinath carried forward the tradition of India's fast bowling after Kapil Dev.
- Prasad was an acknowledged master of swing, and the slower ball.
Since their time, and surely inspired by their success, a steady stream of top talent has emerged from Karnataka. The current Ranji team, led by Vinay Kumar, is a batting powerhouse with current Indian stars occupying top positions in the batting order. Accompanying Karun Nair, test cricket's latest triple centurion, are KL Rahul, Manish Pandey and Stuart Binny. Robin Uthappa, another stalwart, has shifted this season to Saurashtra. Mayank Aggarwal and Samarth are two talented batsman, both have already played for India A.
Another sign of Karnataka's all round strength is the large presence of its players (Arvind, Shreyas Gopal, Gowtham, Shivil Kaushik) in the IPL.
Reasons Behind Karnataka's Success
Karnataka's rise is the result of a progressive agenda executed by the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA). Earlier cricket was confined to Bangalore and it had just one turf wicket at the showpiece Chinnaswamy stadium. The KSCA invested in facilities and created infrastructure outside Bangalore, in Hubli, Mysore and Shimoga. This move paid rich dividends and today Karnataka cricket has robust infrastructure spread through the state, reaching out to young kids. The KPL also contributes to cricket's growth as franchise teams search deep and wide to discover fresh talent.
That ex-players have played an important role in cricket administration is a unique feature of Karnataka cricket. Brijesh Patel was the first to switch from cricket flannels to a business suit to head the cricket association. Later, this tradition of cricketers becoming administrators was carried forward when Anil Kumble was elected President of KSCA.
Karnataka cricket has a special position in Indian cricket, not just for supplying talent or being a top Ranji team. Bangalore houses the National Cricket Academy, the main training facility of the BCCI and is the critical hub of Indian cricket.
Players in Key Positions
Karnataka players are much sought after for their hands-on knowledge, skill and experience.
- Selectors from the State: Vishwanath, Roger Binny, Venkatesh Prasad (Chiarman, Junior Selection Committee)
- Coaches from Karnataka: Rahul Dravid (India under 19/India 'A') and Sunil Joshi (Bangladesh’s spin consultant)
- ICC match referees: Vishwanath, Srinath
- ICC Development Officer: Venkatesh Prasad
- MCC Cricket Committee: Rahul Dravid
- ICC Technical Committee Chairman: Anil Kumble
- Brijesh Patel is the highest century maker for Karnataka
- Bowling heroes: Chandrasekhar (1,063 wickets), Prasanna (957), Srinath (533), Raghuram Bhatt (374), Sunil Joshi (615), Vinay Kumar (418), Venkatesh Prasad (361), Dodda Ganesh (365).
- Test matches: Dravid 164, Kumble 132, Vishwanath 81, Kirmani 88, Srinath 67, Chandrasekhar 58, Prasanna 49, Venkatesh Prasad 33, Roger Binny 27, Sunil Joshi 15.
- Vijay Bhardwaj scored 1,280 runs in 1998. Dodda Ganesh took 62 wickets in 1998.
- Karun Nair and KL Rahul have scored triple centuries.
(Amrit Mathur is a senior journalist, former GM of the BCCI and Manager of the Indian Cricket Team. He can be reached at @AmritMathur1)
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