CHENNAI: The last time Karnataka enjoyed unparalleled domination in the Ranji Trophy, Rahul Dravid was batting at No. 4, Javagal Srinath opened the bowling and Sunil Joshi was the lead spinner.
It was this triumvirate that led the State to its fifth Ranji title in 1997-98. Dravid scored 215 (346b, 26x4, 2x6) in Karnataka’s huge first -innings score of 617/9 declared. Uttar Pradesh, needing 483 to even make Karnataka bat again in the final, failed to set a target.
Srinath (2/24) and Sunil Joshi (4/37 & 3/112) were the other star performers in the final. But it was Karnataka’s current coach, J Arunkumar, who set the ball rolling with a fine century on the second morning.
He also played a key role in Karnataka’s title defence the next year as it was his 147 in the third innings that helped Karnataka beat Madhya Pradesh by 96 runs. “It was a great feeling for all us,” he said. “We needed eight wickets in the final session to win that game and it was very satisfying to pull it off,” Arunkumar fondly recalled the eventful last session.
On his centuries in two successive finals, the right-hander replied with a smile. “It’s good when you make runs in the final because it gives you the chance to enter the history books,” he opined.
It’s been sometime since the likes of Dravid and Srinath wore Karnataka-tinted whites but the State has again become relevant after a few barren years. What does he put this down to?
“The likes of Vinay (Kumar) and (Abhimanyu) Mithun are giants in domestic cricket. Sometimes when you have to win domestic tournaments, you don’t need big international cricketers to do the job. The likes of Vinay and Mithun... they are all match-winners,” he explained.
They are slight favourites to retain the title, a feat only five sides including Karnataka (Rajasthan, Mumbai, Delhi, Maharashtra being the others) have done.
Does Arunkumar think they can do it again when they face Tamil Nadu in the 80th installment of the tournament from March 8? “When you win it the first time, it just happens with the flow. But defending it is a lot harder. There are expectations and the pressure is high.
“And it (the match against TN) will be equal competition. I feel we have a slight edge in bowling but it will be a matter of who bats well. I am looking forward to it.”
Karnataka, like most good Ranji sides, have had a set modus operandi. Take the first innings lead, not lose a lot of games and advance. However, they seem to have developed a new ethos in the last 18 months. Go for the jugular. Win games outright.
They have won 12 out of the last 18 Ranji affairs (for the record, TN have won five of the last 18) and how did Karnataka achieve it? “There was no set plan really. Winning builds camaraderie and confidence and then we start trusting each other. It’s more than the sum of all things. Not just a few things.”