The agony for the fans of the Karnataka Ranji Trophy team didn’t end in the 1990s. Their famed team gave them a few heartbreaks even after the turn of the century!
They won a few Ranji Trophy titles along the way also, giving joy to their fans. With a bit of luck going their way, Karnataka could have added, at least, five more Ranji Trophy titles to their kitty.
Yet, despite not winning as many titles as they would have liked, and deserved to, Karnataka remains one of the powerhouses of Indian domestic cricket to this day.
Following up on the last article which detailed five heartbreaking losses for Karnataka in the Ranji Trophy, let's look at a few more missed opportunities that continue to haunt their fans.
Pre-quarterfinal vs MP, 1992/93 Ranji Trophy
Madhya Pradesh, led by Sandeep Patil, had posted a huge score of 406, batting first at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium. Despite K Srinath’s heroic innings of 144*, Karnataka managed a score of just 342, and conceded a lead of 64 runs in the first innings.
But, the hosts came back strongly thanks to great bowling spells by their spin-twins. Raghuram Bhat (5/57) and R Ananth (4/50) restricted MP to 173 in the second innings.
This meant Karnataka had to chase down 238 batting fourth on a pitch that had deteriorated drastically. Facing Narendra Hirwani on such a treacherous pitch was a difficult proposition.
Subsequently, the pitch did play its tricks and Karnataka were reduced to a hopeless situation — 150/7. But skipper K Jeshwanth did not lose hope and continued to fight on with his superb 87 on a minefield, along with wicketkeeper-batsman A Vaidya who scored 43*.
Then, with victory just 13 runs away, Jeshwanth got runout in an agonising fashion, and that was the end of it. The last three batsmen who followed him couldn't score a run, and Karnataka fell tantalisingly short by a mere five runs in this Ranji Trophy match.
The impact of this loss was such that skipper Jeshwanth still hasn’t gotten over it, and sulks whenever he’s reminded of this match.
Semifinal vs Hyderabad, 1999/2000 Ranji Trophy
Back in those days, Hyderabad used to be a very strong team in the Ranji Trophy. Karnataka, led by Venkatesh Prasad, and Hyderabad, led by Mohammad Azharuddin, locked horns against each other in the Ranji semis.
Though Karnataka didn’t have the services of Rahul Dravid, Javagal Srinath, and Anil Kumble, they were still a strong unit. Prasad, after winning the toss, elected to field on a beauty of a pitch at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium, and was made to pay the price.
VVS Laxman, with his career best 353, and Azharuddin, with 123, piled on the misery for the Karnataka bowlers. Hyderabad managed an imposing 711/8 declared.
Apparently, Barrington Rowland had dropped a sitter when Laxman was still in the 20s. That dropped catch of Laxman cost Karnataka dearly and they could never recover.
It was one-way traffic from then on. Though the hosts fought bravely and responded with 557 in the first innings, Hyderabad walked away with the first-innings lead and made it to the Final.
The fact that an enviable Karnataka team, went astray after this match, despite all the big names in their ranks, speaks volumes about the impact of this outcome. A year later, this very team had to face the ignominy of being relegated to the plate group of the Ranji Trophy as well.
So, in this context, this game is where it all started — the downfall of the mighty Karnataka team. Though Karnataka never came close to winning this game, the impact it had for years, on the psyche of the players, unequivocally makes it one of the most difficult chapters of the state’s cricket history.
Quarterfinal vs Saurashtra, 2008/09 Ranji Trophy
The Ranji Trophy quarterfinal between Karnataka and Saurashtra in the 2008/09 season was played at a neutral venue — Mumbai’s Brabourne stadium, for the very first time. Captain Robin Uthappa set the tone for the game with his timely 139, and powered Karnataka to a respectable score of 305.
Then, his bowlers did their bit and bowled out the opposition for 189, and secured a healthy first innings lead of 116 runs. Now, all they needed was to bat Saurashtra out of the game, since it was a four-day affair.
But despite sitting pretty, Karnataka’s second innings crumbled and eventually collapsed for a paltry 208. Barring Balachandra Akhil (56) and Rahul Dravid (52), the rest of the batting failed.
But, Karnataka were still favourites to win the game as the target for Saurashtra was a huge one, on the fourth day. Chasing 325 runs against the likes of Vinay Kumar, Sunil Joshi, and Sreenath Aravind, was a tough ask.
As expected, Vinay wrecked havoc with three top-order wickets as Saurashtra seemed gone for all money at 13/3. But what followed was a performance for the ages — a comeback against all odds.
A young and unheralded Cheteshwar Pujara (112*) and Sitanshu Kotak (87) initially steadied the ship with a partnership of 163 runs for the fourth wicket. Later, another future star, Ravindra Jadeja (55), and Jaydev Shah (55*) kept their team in the hunt, and eventually saw it home.
To add to Karnataka’s pain, a few close calls had gone against them. On another day, those umpiring decisions could well have gone in their favour. But that day, it was not to be.
Saurashtra, from a hopeless situation, managed to pull off a miracle and win the quarterfinal comfortably by 5 wickets. Though the scorecard at the end suggests that it was an emphatic win for Saurashtra, in reality, the game was very closely fought. Karnataka were robbed of a victory by some inspired batting from the Saurashtra batters.
Final vs Mumbai, 2009/10
The Gangotri Glades Cricket Ground in Mysuru was jam-packed for all the four days of the Final, which was a riveting contest. A rejuvenated Karnataka side under Rahul Dravid had won the most number of games by any team in the season, and were considered favourites, especially on home soil.
Though Dravid was off for national duty, Karnataka had enough firepower in them to win. A young Robin Uthappa led in his absence. On the other hand, Mumbai, captained by Wasim Jaffer, also had all the bases covered.
Batting first, the guests had to face some probing quality seam bowling by the hosts, on a track that was doing a bit. Mumbai had to settle for a moderate 233, in their first innings.
Karnataka’s reply was a rather lackadaisical one. Aavishkar Salvi’s fifer saw their innings fold for 130 — with a deficit of 103 runs. In cricketing parlance, it was a meek surrender.
Now, the pitch was changing its colours, and the huge lead Mumbai had achieved seemed to be a decisive one. But Karnataka repeated their first innings heroics with the ball and restricted Mumbai’s second innings to 234.
Abhimanyu Mithun with a six-fer was the wrecker-in-chief. Apparently, a mind-blowing catch by Manish Pandey in the deep, to dismiss Abhishek Nayar, enthralled the home fans to the fullest. This unbelievable catch is still regarded as one of the best ever in domestic cricket.
The target for Karnataka was a daunting one. 338 runs on a wearing day-4 track, against the quality of Ajit Agarkar, Ramesh Powar, Dhawal Kulkarni, and Salvi was never going to be easy.
As was expected, the second innings started on a sombre note. The top order was out cheaply and, at one point, the home team were in a precarious situation, at 46/3.
Then, in walked a 20-year-old Manish Pandey who joined Ganesh Satish in the middle. After surviving the initial period of his innings, Manish started to play some audacious shots while Ganesh held fort.
With every over, the 209-run partnership went from strength to strength and piled on the runs. Manish left no stone unturned to keep Karnataka in the game. He cut, pulled, drove, and swept. He played some cultural, and a few agricultural shots, but all of those came off — it was his day!
With Satish’s painstaking (75) and Manish’s belligerent 144 off 151 balls, Karnataka were back in the game and looked like pulling it off. Ganesh played his role of second-fiddle to perfection. But against the run of play, Manish got out and then, in a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose as the hosts’ innings was derailed.
Though the lower order played a few shots and took the team to a touching distance, they fell short by just six runs. The exuberant local Mysuru crowd, that was all-over the place — in the ground, outside of it, on trees around — was stunned when the last wicket — Arvind, caught and bowled by Agarkar — fell.
Mumbai’s celebrations after such a high-voltage game rubbed salt into the wounds of the people present at the ground, who were sobbing and sulking in pain.
Almost all the Karnataka players who were a part of this game, at some point of time in their careers, have confessed that this Final loss continues to haunt them. They haven’t been able to completely get over it even after a decade. Such was the trauma the fans and the players endured for a long time.
It was a case of so near, yet so far for Karnataka. On a different note, after this game, Karnataka have had the upper hand over Mumbai in their Ranji Trophy encounters.