A team that could beat the best of Bombay
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).
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.
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