Karnataka v Mumbai, Ranji final, Mysore, 4th day January 14, 2010

A parochial plaint

Had allrounder Balachandra Akhil been picked in place of Stuart Binny for the final, the Ranji Trophy would have journeyed southwards to Bangalore
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I belong to a generation in which cricket fans had triple loyalties. My own, in order of preference, were, the Friends Union Cricket Club, Bangalore (F. U. C. C.); the Mysore Ranji Trophy side; and the Indian Test team. Down the decades, these loyalties have remained constant, albeit with slight modifications; Mysore now call themselves Karnataka, and India play more ODIs than Tests.

On the day of the 2003 World Cup final, which pitted India against Australia, I planned all my meetings in the morning, so I could return home in time for the match. The first thing I did when I got back was to ask my son: "Is Anil [Kumble] playing?" The answer was dispiritingly negative. The greatest spin bowler in the history of Indian cricket had been set aside in favour of a man named Dinesh Mongia. The error may have been crucial. When Australia batted first, a promising start was cut short by two strikes from Harbhajan Singh, but then Ricky Ponting and Damien Martyn got stuck into the medium-pacers. These batsmen are both shaky against spin early in their innings, a weakness that the experienced Kumble would have exploited.

The decision to play Mongia ahead of Kumble was indefensible. Sandeep Patil said later it was as if, to impress a distinguished visitor, one had pulled out, from the two cars in one's garage, the Maruti rather than the Mercedes. The Australians, it was well known, could not be contained; they had to be dismissed. Kumble had a fantastic record against them; he had the ability, and guile, to bowl effectively in the first 15 overs, in the middle overs, and at the death. And he was a big-match player.

I was reminded of that fatal error in early January, when Karnataka knocked out Uttar Pradesh [on first-innings lead] in the Ranji Trophy semi-final. In that match, Rahul Dravid scored a double-hundred. However, owing to his international commitments, Dravid would have to miss the final against Mumbai. The question was: who was to replace him?

Before I come to its possible answers, let me explain why this question mattered so much to me. In forty years of cricket-watching, my happiest moment remains witnessing, live and at the ground, Karnataka overcoming Bombay [on first-innings lead] in a Ranji Trophy semi-final that was played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in January 1974. That match was decided when Ajit Wadekar was brilliantly run out by R. Sudhakar Rao, with whom I practiced at the nets of the F.U.C.C, Karnataka went on to win the Ranji Trophy, thus ending a run of fifteen successive years in which Bombay had won the championship.

Akhil was missed as a fielder; missed more as a batsman; and missed most of all as a bowler. Mumbai lost early wickets in both innings, but in each case the lower order rallied because of the absence of support to R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun. With his nagging accuracy and steepling bounce, Akhil could have kept up the pressure while these two strike bowlers rested

Now, when Rahul Dravid was unavailable for this year's final, the choice of his replacement narrowed down to two men. Both were allrounders. One, Balachandra Akhil, played for the F. U. C. C.; the other, Stuart Binny, was the son of a member of several successful Karnataka Ranji Trophy squads (and of the successful 1983 World Cup squad besides). The day before the final, to be played in Mysore, Cricinfo's correspondent wrote that 'the vacancy is between allrounders B Akhil and Stuart Binny, with a decision to be made on Monday morning. Binny, being the better batsman, is tipped to make the XI.'

It appears the correspondent had not consulted the statistics section of his own site. This informed us that whereas Akhil had scored 1810 runs in the first-class cricket at an average of 28.73 (with one hundred and fourteen fifties), Binny had scored 599 runs at an average of 19.96, with only two fifties. Akhil also had the better bowling record--49 wickets at 37.48 apiece, against Binny's 13 at 47.91. Finally, Akhil had 79 catches in 51 matches (against Binny's two in twenty).

However much I wanted Kumble to play in the 2003 World Cup final, I had no means of making my views known. But many years spent watching and writing about cricket in Bangalore meant that, in this case, I could at least bring the facts to the attention of one of the most influential men in Karnataka cricket. Some four days before the final, I wrote a mail to this gentleman, alerting him to the statistics on Cricinfo, which, I noted, demonstrated 'that apart from having a considerably better batting and bowling record, Akhil is also an outstanding fielder.' I added that, in Dravid's absence, Akhil's 'experience and slip fielding may be helpful.'

In the end Binny was picked to play in the final. He batted indifferently in both innings, and was trusted with only seven (wicketless) overs in the match. Akhil was missed as a fielder (several sitters were put down by the home side); missed more as a batsman; and missed most of all as a bowler. Mumbai lost early wickets in both innings, but in each case the lower order rallied because of the absence of support to R. Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun. With his nagging accuracy and steepling bounce, Akhil could have kept up the pressure while these two strike bowlers rested.

The match played between Mumbai and Karnataka in Mysore was a superb advertisement for domestic cricket as well as for five-day cricket. It was one of the most closely-contested Ranji finals in years. At least four young men - two on either side - put forward their claims for higher honours (these are Abhishek Nayar and Dhawal Kulkarni for Mumbai, and Mithun and Manish Pandey for Karnataka.) While celebrating the match for what it offered, I trust I may yet be allowed this parochial plaint. If my club-mate Akhil had been picked in the final eleven, the trophy would have journeyed southwards to Bangalore. And, while we are on the subject, let me remind the non-Kannadigas who read this - if the peerless Kumble had played the 2003 World Cup final, it may actually have been India who won.

Historian and cricket writer Ramachandra Guha is the author of A Corner of A Foreign Field and Wickets in the East among other books

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • hitandgiggle on January 22, 2010, 7:22 GMT

    Mr. Guha,

    I thought you were a just cricket writer. Unfortunately, this article has made me reconsider that. This seems more like a tirade against the selection of Stuart and an unfair elevation of FUCC/Akhil. Neither Stuart nor Akhil deserved to play the final. Both are ordinary cricketers as their record reflects. It is like picking the lesser of the two evils.

    There are a lot of good things that happened in Karnataka cricket in the past year. But a number of bad things continue to happen. The selection of cricketers like Udit Patel and Stuart Binny makes the state selectors look like a bunch of jokers. Having said that, let's focus on the great team performance in the past season and encourage the ones who performed. Please refrain from writing such hogwash.

    Thank you.

  • Hemantrao on January 18, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    Mr. Guha You should stick to your academics instead of this kind of silly hypothesis. As for your club FUCC, enough said. The old man Durai is just another loud mouth who takes out his frustration on the boys. Durai has no foresight and does not know how to promote the right youngsters. He is basically finding ways to spend his retirement.

    First of all Akhil was not an FUCC player all along he used to play for Rajaji nagar Colts. And he is certainly not a good fielder. We have seen that in the IPL. Akhil has been given enough opportunity by KSCA so please stop whining.

    Some one commented above that Udit Patel is in the squad, to keep Appana out. That is not true Appana spot is taken up by old man Joshi and the undeserving Udit Patel has taken Ryan Ninan's spot. Btw Sudhakar Rao another arrogant fellow like Brijesh Patel was also from another club earlier so stop wit your FUCC claims.

  • anubhav.sarathy on January 16, 2010, 7:15 GMT

    dead right when you say anil kumble should have been picked ahead of dinesh mongia. i m sure , looking back at the finals now, dinesh himself feels the way about it.....

  • sewd on January 16, 2010, 5:29 GMT

    Sir' I am a fan of your writing skills but your above quote "In forty years of cricket-watching, my happiest moment remains witnessing, live and at the ground, Karnataka overcoming Bombay [on first-innings lead] in a Ranji Trophy semi-final that was played at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in January 1974. That match was decided when Ajit Wadekar was brilliantly run out by R. Sudhakar ..." I thought for every Indian cricket lover the 1983 World Cup victory was the pinnacle even if it was on TV/radio/newspaper/word of mouth.

  • Paddle_Sweep on January 16, 2010, 3:57 GMT

    Oh...and also Australia won because they were better than India and no other reason.I think we seem to be coming up with some excuse or other when we lose and this is not a healthy trendy.Instead let's try to address the real issues.

  • Paddle_Sweep on January 16, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    I beg to differ with you.We can all say if so and so played the result might have been different.Let's give the credit to Mumbai for wining the trophy and not come with an excuse for Karnataka's defeat. If Akhil was present and Karnataka lost the match you would have said if only Dravid was present in the team. Yes,I might agree with you,the team selection may have been bad but that's not the reason Karnataka lost. They lost because they crumbled under pressure while chasing.

  • SatishHaldan on January 15, 2010, 14:55 GMT

    I do not agree with you that if so and so players were included in the Karnataka XI, the result would have been different. If Akhil and Dravid were in the team, in that case one should allow the same luxury to Bombay to inlcude Tendulkar and Zahir Khan. Leaving this point aside, it is not easy to beat Bombay, what an awesome record they have in the Ranji Trophy and other domestic tournaments. 39 times out of 76, the next best only 8 (Delhi). It will take may be 100 years for other teams to catch up, if at all. The rest of the teams are playing to be the bridesmaids year in and year out. If you recall, in the early seventies, when more than half the Bombay First XI was away on tour and Bombay still won the Trophy, a proposal was made by the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association that Bombay should be allowed to field two teams in the premier tournament. Perhaps, BCCI should have a tournament where Bombay is not a participant, so that other teams can hve the honour of winning something.

  • nakshatrika on January 15, 2010, 13:56 GMT

    I agree with you sir. With the margin of defeat being just 6 runs, Akhil would have definitely fared better than Binny. There is another such shortcut getting created again and again for Udit Patel (s/o Brijesh Patel, Secretary KSCA) to avoid chance to K.P.Appanna

  • RKMarkan on January 15, 2010, 12:23 GMT

    Yes, I agree you can go on.... Please do if that makes you happy. Leave the cricket and the finer points to us

  • Nitin_Sundar on January 15, 2010, 12:12 GMT

    My friends... I agree Ajit Agarkar has superlative stats. So does Vinod Kambli with a 50+ Test average. There are several statistical oddities in this world, and that's why one should always take stats with a pinch of salt. Agarkar has defied any norm on consistency and in my book, is the most infuriating cricketer India ever produced. He had nip enough to be India's Waqar Younis - skidding on to the batsman at great pace, moving old and new ball both ways etc. But you cannot become Waqar unless you want to. Agarkar did not seem to want to - 2 boundary balls every over is inexcusable. On the rare day when he was in the mood, he could bring the world to its feet.. with bat and ball.. So? Such days were rare as hairs on Harsha's head! Ajit has no big match temperament. And crumbles like a cookie under pressure. Remember the last ball he bowled to Sarwan in a 2001 ODI? 3 to win.. 1 ball.. a rank fulltoss outside offstump which Sarwan gladly drove to cover to win the match.. I can go on...

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