Champs in making

There was no fairytale ending to a dream run, but once the dust settles and the bitter disappointment dissipates, Karnataka will look back on a wonderful Ranji Trophy campaign with justifiable pride. To have unseated multiple-time champions and domestic powerhouse Mumbai, and wrested the crown for the first time in 11 years would have been the icing on the cake for a young side that made the men who matter sit up and take notice with its exceptional performances as the season unfolded. The die was cast when Rahul Dravid agreed to lead Karnataka whenever free from national duties, and while the inspirational skipper wasn’t around to marshall his young charges in an emotional and heart-breaking title clash, his deeds have clearly rubbed off on a squad not short on hunger and ambition.

A pair of 20-year-olds best illustrated the brand of cricket Karnataka have displayed all season. The season’s leading run-scorer, Manish Pandey, and the country’s highest wicket-taker, Abhimanyu Mithun, will don national colours sooner rather than later. Pandey brought flair and entertainment in equal measure, thrilling fans across the country with his unique style of batsmanship which yielded him an astonishing 882 runs. Mithun, in his first first-class season and relatively unknown even within the state some three months back, terrorised batsmen and wowed audiences with sheer pace, picking up 47 wickets to finish just ahead of his mentor R Vinay Kumar.

Remarkable as individual performances have been, Karnataka’s campaign has been noteworthy for how well the individuals have jelled as a unit, and how members of that unit have learnt to enjoy each other’s success. Dravid’s contribution was undoubtedly enormous, but no less influential was the selectors’ decision to plump for youth, and first-season coach K Sanath Kumar’s man-management skills and tactical nous. The plethora of youngsters, several in their first full season, was made to feel secure and comfortable. The likes of Ganesh Satish and Amit Verma with the bat and S Arvind with the ball responded admirably, helped along by the greater experience of Robin Uthappa and Sunil Joshi, as Karnataka ticked along like a well-oiled machine until they ran into Mumbai. The signs are most promising, and if Karnataka build on their gains and successes of this season, it won’t be long before they begin to stack up titles, again.

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