When brothers collide
What are the odds of two brothers finding themselves pitted against each other on sports fields beyond the backyard battles of childhood? What, then, are the chances they represent teams with as storied a rivalry as the one between Tamil Nadu and Karnataka?
Karnataka went on to win the match, in Chennai, by virtue of a huge first-innings lead, and the brothers themselves had a decent outing. After Vijay Bharadwaj and Rahul Dravid amassed hundreds, Sriram, batting at No. 7, scored 37 before being run out. His elder brother by four years, Srinath, was Tamil Nadu's opener, and he top scored with 85.
The siblings, though, have vivid recollections of the match that spill over the contours of statistics. "By the time we beat Delhi in the semi-final, we were told that Karnataka had also come through," Srinath, who has been an umpire in the BCCI panel since 2008, remembers. "There were no mobile phones then, and so there were only a few phone calls from friends reminding us that we were going to be playing against each other."
Both Srinath and Sriram were born in Madurai, but had moved to Bangalore as children and had played junior and senior representative cricket there. Srinath, turning out for Karnataka from 1991 to 1994, moved to Tamil Nadu after getting a job with Indian Bank. He subsequently qualified to play for Tamil Nadu by virtue of being born in the state.
"It was a strange feeling being on opposite sides. We had played club matches against each other, but never at this level. Matches between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu were like India-Pakistan. Both teams have been powerhouses for a long time, and there was also the familiarity factor," says Srinath, who has played 24 first-class matches and scored three hundreds.
Sriram says he had never dreamt of coming up against his brother in the Ranji final of all games. "There was so much banter going on. Javagal Srinath was standing at slips and I was at silly point when my brother was batting against Anil Kumble.
"Srinath, being the prankster he was, was prodding me to sledge my brother. He joked, saying: 'Yeh Sriram kuch baat hi nahin kar raha hai jab gaddaar Srinath khel raha hai (why is Sriram so quiet when his traitor brother is batting?). I was sh***ing in my pants. I had to sledge him. It was very competitive, but good fun," laughs Sriram, a BCCI level-two coach, who is an employee of Canara Bank.
The Srinath-Sriram face-off would have happened earlier, if not for the former's injury. "Sriram made his debut against us when we played at Bhadravati in the league phase," says Srinath. "He scored 174 in that game. I could only watch from the sidelines."
The brothers had caught up for a quiet lunch on the eve of that game. "I wished him luck when we met. You obviously want your brother to do well, but not at the cost of your own team's success," says Srinath.
"Even between the semi-final and final, he kept talking to me. My son was born only 15 days earlier, and Sriram kept coming up with suggestions for a name for him."
Their parents, Sriram says, didn't quite root for either of the two. "My dad was a cricketer himself, but he hardly watched the both of us play. He was really excited that we were playing against each other though. My elder brother was reserved and I was quite the opposite," he says with a laugh.
Anil Kumble's brother had come down to watch the final, and the two pairs of brothers bonded over dinner. "We have practically grown up with Anil and his brother, and it was wonderful to get together like that."
That match was the last time Srinath and Sriram played against each other. Srinath, who retired from playing in 1997, says: "We were professional about the whole thing. The match was also telecast live on TV and, looking back, there are some very good memories of it."
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo