Srinath, Dravid and Kumble felicitated May 9, 2004

Karnataka toasts its heroes

KSCA rewards one of its favourite sons for all those years of hard work © Neil Lane
While their Ranji Trophy fortunes are in desperate need of a revival, there's been plenty for Karnataka cricket to smile about in recent months. Rahul Dravid, as good a candidate as any for the tag of the world's best batsman, and Anil Kumble - career resurrected by magnificent bowling that produced 39 wickets over five Tests in Australia and Pakistan - have been at the forefront of India's remarkable progress as a team over the past six months, and on Saturday, a proud Karnataka State Cricket Association rewarded them for their efforts. To their credit, they hadn't forgotten the third Musketeer - Javagal Srinath, who had announced his retirement just before India embarked on that tour of Australia.

Brijesh Patel, now back in the pink of health after the heart scare that forced him to relinquish his post as India's chairman of selectors, presided over a function where the big three were honoured, along with those who had excelled in the league matches organised by the KSCA. Srinath was given a purse of Rupees 1,000,000 as recognition of his services to the game, while both Dravid and Kumble took home Rupees 2,50,000 for displays that had been in keeping with the best of Karnataka cricket.

Fortunately for those in attendance, this was an evening that was about far more than speeches and financial emoluments. Dravid, Kumble and Srinath ventured in a while after the last speech had been made, and the last prize given away, only to be quickly surrounded by the usual media posse, and league cricketers thrilled to share the same space as those they idolise.

With strains from a concert that had been organised on the Chinnaswamy Stadium turf drifting in through the long windows, and the beer bottles being popped open, it was time to catch up with old mates. Roy Dias, in town with his Nepalese wards, walked in and was flagged down by another legendary top-order batsman - Gundappa Vishwanath. Unlike Vishwanath, whose talent graced the big stage long enough for him to be remembered with genuine fondness by the game's connoisseurs, Dias's quicksilver ability was rarely showcased to the world at large in an era when Sri Lanka were babes in the international cricket wood.

Those that watched him in his prime reckon that he was among the best three batsmen that the island has ever produced, along with Mahadevan Sathasivam - the Wesley College old boy who made more than 150 centuries - and Aravinda de Silva. These days, Dias is the mentor for a team that has impressed many in recent months. "The facilities in Nepal may not amount to much yet," he told us, "but the talent that these boys have is tremendous."

While he and Vishwanath shared stories about old times, they were joined by the modern-day greats. Both Dravid and Kumble were dressed in grey shirts and dark trousers, like schoolboys in uniform, and they glanced a trifle sheepishly at each other before posing for pictures. At the other end of the room, Srinath was engaged in some banter with Vijay Bharadwaj, whose star shone all too briefly for India in a one-day series in Kenya several years ago.

Out on the balcony, away from the clamour and the foamy heads of beer, Dravid's wife and mother shared a table with Kumble's spouse and daughter. And for once, perhaps conscious that everybody needs a break in the off-season, the lenses and microphones let them be.