Anil Kumble backs Karnataka to shine
Former India legspinner and captain Anil Kumble has backed Karnataka, the state side he represented, to shine in the Ranji Trophy final against Mumbai beginning on January 11 in Mysore. Kumble led Karnataka to victory in the Rani Trophy in 1996, and they won the competition for two consecutive years in 1998 and 1999.
"To be a part of the Ranji Trophy-winning team is a really big thing," Kumble, who led Karnataka to the title in 1996, told Deccan Herald. "I remember when we won in Chennai against Tamil Nadu, it was Karnataka's first title win in 13 years. This time also, it's quite similar - our last title came 11 seasons back.
"To be the number one domestic team in the country is a great motivation. When you look back, it is certainly one of the top achievements. To win a Ranji Trophy means you have done consistently well over a period of time, over three months, against every team and in all conditions."
Karnataka qualified for the Ranji Trophy final by way of a first-innings lead against Uttar Pradesh, with Rahul Dravid scoring a double-century. Dravid will be unavailable for the final, for he'll be joining the Indian squad in Bangladesh for a two-Test series that gets underway on January 17. "Rahul (Dravid) being there has been a huge factor, it has certainly helped the team's cause," Kumble said. The greatest thing is Rahul's presence. Everybody looks up to him, and he has pushed the boys really hard.
"To their credit, the younger lot has responded very well. The batsmen have been consistent all through, while the bowling has been exceptional. [Abhimanyu] Mithun and Vinay [R Vinay Kumar] have done brilliantly, [Sreenath] Arvind has been more than adequate and the old warhorse, Sunil Joshi, has been contributing as well.
"It would have been great if Rahul had been part of the final," Kumble noted. "The authorities should certainly have considered advancing the final by a day."
Kumble was particularly impressed with the performance of Abhimanyu Mithun, who grabbed four wickets to help bowl out UP for 208 in the semi-final and is currently the second-highest wicket-taker this season, behind R Vinay Kumar. "What is most heartening is the way Mithun has shaped up," Kumble said. "We all knew he had the talent, he has been a part of the Royal Challengers set-up and he played in IPL II. It was always obvious that he had the pace, but the best part has been that he came in really raw, and has gone out, enjoyed himself and done consistently well. He picked up 11 wickets on debut and once you get those many wickets, the expectations are pretty high. He has not disappointed."
Mumbai, Karnataka's opponents, have won the Ranji Trophy on 38 occasions and have lost just four tournament finals. Kumble admitted they would prove a formidable opposition. They have been there before," he said. "They are a very determined lot, and they play well as a team.
"They know how to come out of tight situations. I remember a couple of seasons back when then they had no points after the first three games, and yet they finished the season most strongly."
However, despite the huge challenge, Kumble advised the Karnataka players to treat the fixture as just another game. Not to think of it as a final, but as just another match," he said. "Stick together, fight till the end. It is a five-day game, you must win every session and make it count.
"It's not just about the first-innings lead. Yes, you can win a game even after losing a couple of sessions because there is time to come back, but you need to seize the initiative early on. And build on it."