The Karnataka-Tamil Nadu rivalry is as old as the Ranji Trophy itself. It has been mostly healthy competition, though acrimony soured the relations between the two teams in the 1990s, leaving a bitter aftertaste that perhaps lingers after all these years. Strangely, though, Tamil Nadu's record in the national championship has been poor and Karnataka's impressive. However, some of their batsmen have reserved their best for Karnataka.
Some of the earliest examples were AG Ram Singh and C Ramaswami, followed by CD Gopinath, AG Kripal Singh and MK Balakrishnan in the 1950s. The sixties belonged to two more sons of Ram Singh - Milkha and Satvinder. The left-handed Milkha Singh, in particular, was at his best against EAS Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar in their prime, with a record of consistency surpassed only by Mumbai's Ajit Wadekar, who once scored a triple hundred against the duo. After years of inconsistent performances, the 1970s were marked by a resurgence in Tamil Nadu's batting, with P Ramesh, Michael Dalvi, Abdul Jabbar, TE Srinivasan and V Sivaramakrishnan scoring heavily against Karnataka.
The first time the two states met in the Ranji Trophy was in the very first match of the tournament - on November 4, 1934 at Chepauk. On a rain-affected pitch, uncovered as was the norm then, Ram Singh, the allrounder, was unplayable. He grabbed 11 wickets for 35 runs as Madras beat Mysore by an innings inside a day, with captain CP Johnstone chipping in with six of the best in the two innings.
Ram Singh and MJ Gopalan were two consistent allrounders who ensured that Madras dominated the South Zone for the first few seasons. Fast bowler CR Rangachari took many Mysore wickets, often in a heap, and Ramaswami, with his sledgehammer blows, scored runs aplenty.
Madras was the undisputed leader among the southern teams throughout the 1930s, with legspinners G Parthasarathi and NJ Venkatesan as well as medium-pacer KS Kannan adding greater variety to the attack towards the end of the decade. It was still spearheaded by Gopalan, Ram Singh and Rangachari. Ram Singh and Gopalan continued to score heavily as well.
Safi Darashah was captain when Mysore recorded their first win over Madras, in 1941-42. Beating their rival by 22 runs, and prevailing over Bengal in the semifinal, Mysore finished runner-up to Bombay that season, losing the final by an innings and 281 runs. In the victory over Madras, K Thimmappiah made 127 in the second innings. PE Palia, BK Garudachar, B Frank and CJ Ramdev were some of the stalwart batsmen of the era, with Garudachar also a very successful new-ball bowler.
Madras took an early lead over Mysore in winning the Ranji Trophy, though they have only won the title twice in the eight decades of the competition, as compared to Karnataka's eight. The first of those was in 1954-55, when Balu Alaganan led Madras to a surprise triumph over star-studded Holkar. A few stars were emerging in the Madras landscape in Gopinath, Kripal Singh and Balakrishnan, though the first title success was the result of an extraordinary team effort in which allrounders MK Murugesh and AK Sarangapani played key roles, besides the captain himself.
The championship was fought on a knockout basis, and Mysore lost to Hyderabad on first-innings lead, thus not getting to meet Madras that season. In the Hyderabad team were two young batsmen, ML Jaisimha and Abbas Ali Baig, of whom much would be heard in the years to come.
The league-cum-knockout system was introduced soon after, with only one team from each zone qualifying for the knockout phase. Madras continued to be the senior partner in their encounters with Mysore, with Kripal Singh, Balakrishnan and Gopinath now joined by young left-hander Milkha Singh in the batting line-up.
The bowling had variety, too. BR Mohan Rai, U Prabhakar Rao and KS Kannan were in charge of the new ball, with MK Murugesh, a top quality left-arm spinner. N Kannayiram and BR Sekhar were two other pacemen to have an impact. The brilliant legspinner VV Kumar, who went on to pick up 599 first-class wickets, and offspinner Kripal Singh completed a balanced attack.
Gopinath's 234 against Mysore earned him a Test cap. Mysore's batting had class writ all over it, too, with B Frank now joined by K Srinivasan, S Nazareth, LT Subbu and some talented youngsters. V Subramanya was not only a leading batsman but also a future captain whose strategic skills were already seen in junior cricket.
The 1960s saw the emergence of the spin combination of VV Kumar and S Venkataraghavan, which matured in the 1970s. They seemed to pose no threat to Subramanya, though. His double-century against the spin twins in 1967 had included over a hundred scored in the company of last man BS Chandrasekhar. In this phase, they seemed to bowl with greater vigour against Karnataka.
For instance, Brijesh Patel, like ML Jaisimha and Tiger Pataudi of Hyderabad, often fell early to the spin pair. Even GR Viswanath was not as prolific as he was when facing other attacks in the country. Other batsmen like VS Vijayakumar, Sudhakar Rao, AV Jayaprakash and Vijayakrishna had to come to the fore.
Prasanna and Chandrasekhar continued to dominate the Karnataka bowling through the 1970s, but others chipped in. Besides B Vijayakrishna, who was a gifted left-arm spinner and an attacking left-hand batsman, a few offspinners stepped up when the senior bowlers were doing Test duty. Of these, Prasannasimha Rao made an impressive debut, while GV Kumar and Suresh Shanbal were also successful against Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad. Kumar wrecked Tamil Nadu innings with 13 wickets in a match and Shanbal did the star turn against other teams.
Tamil Nadu had to wait until the 1987-88 season for their second Ranji title in over fifty years, and are yet to repeat that success nearly three decades on. In the league phase of that season, Tamil Nadu lost by 57 runs to Karnataka. Left-arm spinner Raghuram Bhat, who took 15 wickets in the match, was a constant thorn in their flesh.
The advent of Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid put Karnataka firmly in the driver's seat in their matches against Tamil Nadu. Karnataka beat their arch-rivals twice in 1995-96 - in Bhadravati in the league phase and in Chennai in the final. Vijay Bharadwaj, with 174 and 146, was the leading scorer on both occasions, while Dravid scored a hundred in the final. With first-innings scores of 716 and 620, Karnataka was now setting new records as a batting behemoth, though under Viswanath's captaincy in the final more than a decade ago, the team had crossed 700 in a losing cause.
Dravid, succeeding Anil Kumble as captain, repeated the feat in the 1997-98 season, this time beating Uttar Pradesh. In the league stage, Tamil Nadu put up a handsome display while collecting first-innings points, with the indefatigable left-arm pacer D Vasu and offspinner M Venkataramana doing the damage, and batsmen Hemang Badani, RC Vasant Kumar and WV Raman shining in a relatively low-scoring match. With regular captain Dravid away on international duty, the on-field aggression reportedly spilled on to the dressing room; Hemang Badani and David Johnson were said to have been involved in a tussle.
Karnataka's rock-solid batting has continued beyond the Dravid era, and its two star batsmen KL Rahul (188) and Karun Nair (328) gave a foretaste of their recent display against England, as Karnataka crushed Tamil Nadu in 2014-15 by an innings and 217 runs, after passing 700 yet again in a final. Vinay Kumar, who led Karnataka to their second successive championship, gave a sterling show as bowler in the final as he did in a win over Tamil Nadu in an earlier round.
The fighting spirit seems to have continued into the new season, with Tamil Nadu captain Abhinav Mukund leading by example. The bowling unit, mentored by coach L Balaji, has repeatedly risen to the occasion. Shaking off a defeat in a close finish against Mumbai early this season, Tamil Nadu have progressed well, showing steel and character to mark signs of an upswing.
V Ramnarayan bowled offspin for Hyderabad and South Zone in the 1970s. His latest book is Third Man, Recollections from a Life in Cricket