It’s a momentous week in history, but there’s only one really noble reason as far as Bangaloreans should be concerned. This December 7, a rivalry bigger than the Ashes – give or take – will celebrate its platinum jubilee. It’s King Kong v/s Godzilla; Jaeger v/s kaiju; alien v/s predator. It’s a contest so big it deservers its own teaser trailer with big BRAAP BRAAP sound effects. At least, it would if I had anything to do about it.
75 years ago, in the Ranji Trophy tournament, India’s premier domestic cricket competition, a team from Bombay crushed one from Mysore in three days, by an innings and 281 runs. It was March 1942. The Nazi war machine was running rampant through the Soviet Union. The Japanese imperial navy commanded the Pacific. The tournament, named for Ranjitsinhji, the dashing cricketer-prince even the British made heart-eyes for, was just sixteen teams wide and seventeen games long. Mysore became Karnataka, and tried thrice more, in vain, before they bested Bombay, a team so good that it picked up twenty Ranji trophies in the intervening years, without looking like it was trying all that hard.
To many Bangaloreans and Mumbaikars in the new millennium, domestic cricket may mean the vuvuzela siren of the IPL. Yet Mumbai v/s Karnataka has raised blood pressure readings in both regions for decades before annoying ringtones were invented. These days, for a Karnataka fan, the Cauvery derby against Tamil Nadu raises more passions, but the match against Mumbai is the true test of the team’s steel. More importantly, over the last three-quarters of a century, we’ve become the one team that makes Mumbai fans most crabby and nervous. Some things are just worth the effort.
There are Ranji games no fan of either team will forget, even if they took place before we were born. There’s the story of that run out of Ajit Wadekar when Mumbai looked all set to overhaul Karnataka’s total in the 1973-74 semi-finals (Wadekar and Mumbai fans will insist he slipped because of new shoes). There’s the one about how Sunil Gavaskar batted left-handed in 1981-2 semi-finals to neutralize Raghuram Bhat’s wicked left-arm spin out of the rough, and then switching to his regular stance when Vijaykrishna came to bowl his right handed off spin (just to avoid outright defeat). There’s Manish Pandey’s breathtakingly spectacular running and diving catch to get rid of Abhishek Nayar in 2010. Having seen only one of these things I will still be speaking about this fifty years from now as if I was there.
I certainly felt like I was. That particular face-off in 2010, at Mysore’s gorgeous Gangotri Glades ground, was also one of the best Ranji games of all time. Karnataka fell an agonizing seven runs short of an epic chase of 338 on the final day, as the young Pandey and Ganesh Satish threatened the impossible against a bowling attack of Ajit Agarkar, Dhawal Kulkarni, Avishkar Salvi, Romesh Powar and Abhishek Nayar (all of whom played for or would play for India). I, running from case to case at the Supreme Court of India in those pre-WhatsApp days, followed the game with over-by-over SMSes from my father. It changed me forever.
Since that excruciating, exhilarating day, Karnataka have put it past Mumbai twice, notching up their first ever outright win in Bengaluru in 2013. Alas, we haven’t done it again. The BCCI’s new policy mandates that all knockout games in the tournament will be played in venues “neutral” to both sides. It may afford us the cold comfort of knowing that our team doesn’t have to put up with the attentions of Mumbai’s historically nasty fans, but it’s not much fun to think of them playing to empty stands in Nagpur, either.
More exciting is the thought that for the first time in many years - probably ever - it is Karnataka who come in as favourites, and Mumbai as the underdogs. Karnataka has won four of their games in the tournament so far, and made it to the quarterfinals without breaking a sweat. Mumbai, on the other hand, just scraped past Andhra to make it out of the group stages. Of their big names – you’ve probably caught them in the IPL – they’ll miss bowler Shardul Thakur and batsman Shreyas Iyer. Karnataka, to be sure, will probably miss our own KL Rahul. If you haven’t been following along so far, don’t worry: the blazing form of our opening duo, Mayank Agrawal and Ravikumar Samarth, means that he may not be even missed.
So while you go about your week, remember that some of your fellow Bangaloreans will be doing so with an ice pack pressed to our faces. This is the third glorious generation of Karnataka cricketers in the state’s history – the last time, we had Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid – and with its record, possibly the greatest Karnataka Ranji team ever. The 2010 defeat at Gangotri Glades has long been avenged, but the expectation is such that anything less than the trophy this year will be a failure. I guess this is what it feels like, for once, to be a Mumbai fan.
Alok Prasanna Kumar is a lawyer and cricket hipster from Vyalikaval. Follow him on Twitter at @alokpi.
Mumbai v/s Karnataka begins at Nagpur on December 7, 9.30 am. You can follow the game here.
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