March 10, 2017

A team that could beat the best of Bombay

An all-time Karnataka XI, featuring one current batsman and several legends of Indian cricket
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c Dravid b Kumble: a dismissal combination that could have been record-breaking for Karnataka if the two hadn't gone on to achieve the heights they did in international cricket © Getty Images

With eight Ranji Trophy titles and six Irani Trophy wins, Karnataka are second only to Bombay in terms of their prominence in Indian cricket. (A faraway second, one might add, as Bombay/Mumbai have as many as 41 Ranji titles - just one less than all other winners combined.)

As I found on undertaking the exercise of compiling an all-time Karnataka XI, such a side will hold its own against Bombay's best (it's arguably better balanced and has a superior bowling attack) and might give even international teams a run for their money.

My openers would be KL Rahul and (a bit of surprise here to some, no doubt) Budhi Kunderan. While Rahul's fledgling Test record is already quite impressive, his first-class average of 56.59 from 51 matches and aggregate of over 4300 runs put him among Karnataka's best by some distance.

Kunderan was the original dasher, anticipating the likes of Virender Sehwag and David Warner by decades - an opener who went hell for leather from the word go. While some may cavil that Kunderan played mostly for Railways, the fact is that he was a Kannadiga and born in Mysore state. Moreover, he played three full Ranji seasons for them in the late 1960s (before leaving India for Scotland at 29 - a casualty of politicking by India's cricket establishment).

India's 1967 tour of England featured four players who played for Mysore. Back row: V Subramanya and Bhagwath Chandrasekhar (first and second from left), Erapalli Prasanna (extreme right). Front row: Budhi Kunderan (second from right) © Getty Images

In his brief Ranji career for Karnataka, or Mysore as it was known till the early-1970s, Kunderan racked up some huge scores as an opener, and sometimes at one-drop, and even captained the team on one occasion. As had happened in his Test career, where he was locked in tight competition with Farokh Engineer for the wicketkeeper's slot, here he was vying with the young Syed Kirmani. Sometimes Kunderan kept wicket and at other times he played purely as batsman. The same was true of Kirmani in the period of their overlap. For any doubters still out there, Kunderan opened India's batting in 21 of his 34 Test innings and averaged 41 while doing so.

At the crucial No. 3 slot comes Rahul Dravid, and at No. 4 is Gundappa Viswanath. Since the former may well be a lock for that spot in India's all-time greatest XI and the latter perhaps second only to Sachin Tendulkar in his claim for his place, I think these two selections brook no argument.

While there were many contenders for the No. 5 position - Sudhakar Rao, Sujith Somasunder and Vijay Bharadwaj come to mind - Brijesh Patel's mountain of runs in domestic cricket easily secures him the spot. With close to 12,000 runs (37 centuries and 55 half-centuries) at 45.63, his Graeme Hick-like first-class record allows one to overlook his less-than-stellar Test figures. His superlative fielding is a bonus.

You ideally want an allrounder at No. 6 and there were quite a few to choose from. I would have loved to have gone with V Subramanya, who batted in a cavalier fashion (over 4200 first-class runs at 31.48), bowled useful legspin (70 wickets at just over 44) and had one of the most astute cricketing brains of his time (mid-1960s- early 1970s). Later stars like Viswanath, Patel and Kirmani attributed their success to Subramanya's mentorship, and Karnataka's 1974 Ranji triumph was largely credited to the team he built (though by then he too had left India). However, his nine-Test career never really got going despite flashes of brilliance, including when batting against genuine pace.

A personal favourite of mine from that era was B Vijaykrishna - an explosive, hard-hitting left-hand batsman and orthodox left-arm spinner. While Vijaykrishna's bowling record was formidable (194 first-class wickets at 27.30), his 2297 runs in 80 matches at 25.80 are just below par for a No. 6.

The allrounder's spot ultimately goes to Roger Binny, whose 27 Tests got him 47 wickets at a healthy (for an Indian medium-pacer) average of 32.63 and 830 runs at 23 per innings. Not the greatest Test numbers, but Binny's first-class record was very strong: over 6500 runs at an average of 34, and 205 wickets at 36 each. Besides, like Patel, Binny was a world-class outfielder in an era when Indian cricketers were famous for escorting the ball to the boundary rather than intercepting it.

At No. 7 is Kirmani - handy with the bat when it mattered and peerless behind the stumps, especially to India's spinners.

Following him at No. 8 is possibly India's greatest spinner ever: Anil Kumble. I think there will be little argument about either of these selections.

At No. 9 is a man who, at his peak, was one of India's few genuine quicks, who found a way to get wickets even on the lifeless tracks of India: Javagal Srinath.

Roger Binny is the allrounder in this almighty side © Getty Images

Erapalli Prasanna, the connoisseur's idea of the perfect offie, and the member of the famed spin quartet with the best strike rate, comes next. It's delightful to think of Pras bowling in tandem with Kumble.

Which leaves one final spot - and two men with strong claims to it. Chandrasekhar was a genius and epitomised all that is best about Karnataka's cricketing culture: gentle, sporting, and yet fiercely competitive when it came to his craft. But with Kumble in the side, it's hard to justify Chandra's inclusion. The other claimant for that final slot is Venkatesh Prasad.

While his 96 Test wickets at 35 each don't set the pulse racing, they aren't bad at all for an Indian medium-pace bowler. Prasad's first-class record is far more impressive and gets him into the side: 361 wickets at only 27.75 apiece.

Which leaves us with one more issue to decide: the captain. There is a surfeit of brains in the side, but for me it comes down to either Dravid or Kumble. I always felt that despite his stellar record, Dravid wore the crown rather wearily, while Kumble was an amazing leader but came to the job too late in his career.

And so, to redress that regret of many fans, we'll go with Kumble as captain of this Karnataka side.

With six cricketers who might arguably walk into an all-time Indian XI (Dravid, Viswanath, Kirmani, Kumble, Prasanna and Srinath), this Karnataka team looks remarkably strong. Not quite Barbados, perhaps, but certainly (more than?) a match for Bombay.

Sankaran Krishna is a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu. @SankaranKrishn

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Haggan.Paad on March 21, 2017, 7:30 GMT

    @REVERSEPADDLESWEEP

    Karsan Ghavri as a bowler .. are you serious ... He bowled at 112 Km per hour and was used primarily as a shine remover before the ball was handled to spinners You actually saying that Srinath and Prasad are not better than Zaheer Khan and Ghavri ??Poly Umrigar is the one who got his skull cracked by a medium pacer from West Indies. Really !!! He is a great in your opinion.

    Kumble, Bhadwag Chandra, Dravid, Srinath, Prasad, Gundappa, Kirmani, KL Rahul, Vinay Kumar, Buddha Kunderan, Roger Binny, Sunil Joshi, Sujit Somsundran...

    Dude you must be living in denial ... In case you don't know Karnataka second tier RANJI team has annihilated Australia test squads and Karnataka test squads in 4 days practice match.. teams that have S Waugh, M waugh, Damien Martin, Gillispie, Warne, Gilchrist, Hayden, Langer, McGrath in thier ranks... Karnataka humiliated them in the 2000's . Similarly they have humbled NZ with Stephen Fleming, Chirs Cairns, Maccullum, Adam Parore..

  • PrasenjitKBasu on March 21, 2017, 4:51 GMT

    Picking Venkatesh Prasad over Bhagwat Chandrasekhar is ludicrous. The new ball is already being handled by Srinath and Binny (who was at least as good a bowler as Venky Prasad, and a much better batsman and fielder). Whether at home or overseas, Binny would be the ideal foil to Srinath -- and in England or New Zealand, he would have been deadly (as we saw in 1983 and 1986 on England tours, plus the 1985 WCC in Australia). Chandra and Kumble were very different leg-spinners, so there should be no taboo to them playing together. Kumble developed a beautiful googly late in his career, but Chandra had that and the top-spinner throughout, and his leggies at pace made him very difficult to play. I would also pick Prasanna as captain: he, after all, took Karnataka to their first and second Ranji triumphs, ending Bombay's long monopoly. It was quite inappropriate for him to have been denied the India captaincy.

  • cricfan36376197 on March 17, 2017, 9:23 GMT

    Had there been a provision of Man of the Match in earlier days, Vinoo Mankad would perhaps won the award in each of India's first five test victories.

    He took ten-fors in first two, a fifer in third & scored double century in each of next two.

  • Seshadri.Venkat on March 15, 2017, 16:59 GMT

    I would agree with Cherry. Not having Chandra is blasphemous. He would walk into any all greats India cricket team. You may want to check with any Indian cricket captain.

  • Nampally on March 15, 2017, 13:34 GMT

    @CHERRYWOOD-CHAMPION: "Mumbai rarely produce a world class spinner" ? Subash Gupte & Vinoo Mankad both played for Mumbai. These 2 were the finest spinners of their kind in the World. They dominated the world cricket 1950's. Sobers rated Gupte to be finest leg spinner he ever played against. Subash's younger brother Baloo was nearly as good a leg spinner but never got a chance to play for India. Similarly Shivalkar had to take a second place in the side. Bombay was like a production factory for Cricketers in early days if Indian independence. Ashwin & Jadeja look pale in comparison to these 2 greats!

  • ajitjdsouza on March 14, 2017, 14:02 GMT

    Very good article!. Batting strength would be 60-40 in favor or Mumbai, and in bowling it would be 90-10 in favor of Karnataka. So, in a test match contest between the two, Karnataka will easily take the honors.

  • Voleti Srinivasa on March 14, 2017, 12:37 GMT

    If the pitch were to take spin I prefer Chandra to Binny .

  • cricfan36376197 on March 14, 2017, 9:23 GMT

    Virat Kohli: Captain of proposed Delhi team

  • kp.vasant on March 14, 2017, 9:21 GMT

    I feel R Vinay Kumar with his stellar domestic record deserves a slot in the 12 if not in the playing 11. His test carrier may not be worth remembering (for vinay himself) but his rich haul in the domestic games should get him in top 12.

  • cricfan36376197 on March 14, 2017, 9:18 GMT

    Great article.

    I propose the All Time XI of Delhi as: Sehwag, Gambhir, V. Kohli,S. Amarnath, M. Amarnath, Ajay Sharma, Madan Lal, Manoj Prabhakar, S. Khanna, R. Shukla, B.S.Bedi

    Twelfth Man: Chetan Chauhan

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