The young contenders will come face to face with the champions when Karnataka take on Mumbai in the final of the Ranji Trophy at the Gangothri Glades cricket ground from Monday.
Mumbai beat Uttar Pradesh in last season’s final but their hold over the trophy goes further back, to a point where every time they win it they feel like reclaiming what is essentially theirs. Thirty-eight Ranji Trophy titles in 75 seasons before this, is the kind of supremacy that has few parallels in the sporting world.
The champions also have in their ranks captain Wasim Jaffer, Ramesh Powar and Ajit Agarkar, who have played, and won, such pressure games before. With Rahul Dravid missing the final to be with the India Test team in Bangladesh, Karnataka only have 39-year-old left-arm-spinner Sunil Joshi to combat that sort of experience. The others have never played a match over five days, since except for the final all the other games are four-day affairs.
Given Mumbai’s record, their opponents can draw cold comfort from the past. However, Karnataka, who have won the tournament six times but not in this century, can look to the future with hope because of the way their youngsters have been performing.
They have taken wickets and scored runs consistently to help record four outright wins in the competition — three more than Mumbai. Their only fault has been dropping a slew of catches right through the season.
The key has been Karnataka’s pace attack, Right-armers R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun are top bowlers of the tournament with 39 and 38 wickets, respectively. Mysore was chosen over Bangalore because the wicket here will assist them and left-armer S. Aravind.
All three move the ball and bowl at a brisk pace. Mithun, who is in his debut season, is the fastest and gets disconcerting bounce. Karnataka will bring in either B. Akhil or Stuart Binny to replace Dravid. Both can chip in with some medium-pace. Described as lively and sporting with good bounce, the pitch here sported a green tinge on Sunday.
Surviving the new ball could be crucial and Jaffer said he would open the innings and not bat in the middle order as he had done earlier in the season. The top three of Jaffer, Sahil Kukreja and Ajinkya Rahane have scored the bulk of runs, but the lower order has also contributed, including the two spinners, Powar and left-armer Iqbal Abdullah.
Given the wicket, though, Mumbai may axe one spinner to play an extra medium-pacer.
Karnataka’s young batsmen may have scored runs but they still had to depend on the gumption of Dravid to bail them out a couple of times, including the semi-finals against Uttar Pradesh, where he scored a double century. Now, they are on their own in the biggest match of their short careers.
An intriguing battle is on the cards.