From the Coffee Board End to Hunsur Road End

E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: There are many ways of celebrating Mysore being ranked No. 4 on the list of the must-see places in the world by the New York Times. But can any of them come close to the spectacle of the finals of the nation’s premier domestic cricket tournament being held in our midst?

The finals of the Ranji Trophy, in this the 75th year of the tournament, between Karnataka and Bombay, will be played in Mysore for the first time. Besides the picture postcard venue—the beautiful Gangotri Glades Grounds overlooking a lake against the backdrop of the Chamundi Hills—there is an additional surprise: this is the first time the finals of the tournament is being held away from the homeground of the host sides in 12 years.

What swung the venue in favour of Mysore was Rahul Dravid.

The Karnataka captain, who along with Sachin Tendulkar will miss the match as they will be in Bangladesh doing duty for the country, thought the Mysore pitch offered ‘pace and bounce’ to the young Karnataka pace bowlers—R. Vinay Kumar, Abhimanyu Mithun and S. Arvind—who between them have bagged over 100 wickets this season.

Therefore, Karnataka preferred to play at Gangotri Glades rather than the M. Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore.

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As the Karnataka State Cricket Association’s pointsmen in Mysore—chairman Sunaad Raghuram, secretary Satyanarayana Nadig and convenor R.K. Harikrishna Kumar, and C. Krishna of the University of Mysore—prepare the pitch and oversee all the exacting arrangements that go with hosting a Ranji final,  I remember a couple of anecdotes connected with the Karnataka (then Mysore) Ranji team.

1934: Mysore vs Madras, Chepauk

Captains: C.P. Johnstone (Madras), Major M.S. Teversham (Mysore)

Not too many know that Mysore figured in the first ever Ranji Trophy match played on November 4, 1934. It was a typical monsoon day with the sky heavily overcast and one day was all it took for Madras to beat Mysore by an innings and 23 runs.

Morapakkam Joysam Gopalan better known as M.J. Gopalan, the double international who represented India in both hockey and cricket, bowled the first ball in the tournament; left-arm spinner A.G. Ram Singh captured six for 19 and C.P. Johnstone four for 10 as Mysore batting first on a rain-affected pitch collapsed for 48; five players scored zeroes.

In Madras’ reply of 130, only four batsmen attained double figures, Cota Ramaswami (another double international, who played Test cricket and Davis Cup tennis) top scoring with 26. Offbreak bowler M.G. Vijayasarathi (who later became a famous international umpire) captured six for 23, and Shafi Darashah, in whose name a schools’ tournament was later played, bagged three.

Mysore, facing a deficit for 82, failed again, this time for 59! Ram Singh dismissed half the side for16 while Gopalan claimed three for 20.

The story is told how some people, who had gone to the Bangalore city railway station to read The Hindu newspaper coming from Madras for the cricket news were surprised to see the Mysore team getting down from the train. They must have got the news of the match first hand and in greater detail from the players themselves!

This is for the first time and only time perhaps the only time a Ranji match was over in one day after having commenced at 11 am, the game lastig a little over 100 overs!Gopalan and Ram Singh were the quintessential Madras cricketers of this generation and in time became living legends. Ram Singh’s sons A.G. Kripal Singh and A.G. Milkha Singh too went on to represent the country. Cota Ramaswami attained fame in a different sort of way. He went for a morning walk and never returned and was never found. If alive, he could be the oldest living cricketer today!

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1945, Mysore vs Holkar, semi-finals, 1945

Captains: C.K. Nayudu (Holkar), B.K. Garudachar (Mysore)

The details of this match, held in Rahul Dravid’s place of birth, were narrated to me by B.K. Garudachar, a member of the team who played Ranji for Mysore in the 1940s and ’50s. Mr Garudachar was staying in Mysore colony in Chembur, Bombay, when I met him in 1980.

In Mr. Garudachar’s words:

“Holkar won the toss and started batting. We never knew the kind of leather hunt we were in for. Holkar played for two and a half days and destroyed our attack to score 912 for 8 wickets declared. Six of the first eight Holkar batsmen scored centuries with Mushtaq Ali who rarely ever failed, being caught and bowled for 2!

“Wicketkeeper K.V. Bhandarkar (142), Chandu Sarwate (101), M.M. Jagdale (164), C.K. Nayudu (101) , B.B. Nimbalkar (172), R.P Singh (100) scored centuries. C.S. Nayudu missed out but scored 70 and odd runs.

“I felt, if we had run all the way to Bangalore we would have reached earlier than the time we took running around the field fetching the ball from the boundary!  I took 4 wickets, B. Frank 1 and K.P. Ubhaykar 1.

“We were all out for 190 in our first Innings with Chandu Sarwate claiming 9 wickets for 61 for Holkar.

“Following on, we scored 509 in the second innings and gained some self- respect. I scored 164, Frank scored 80. I will never forget that match”.

P.R. Shyamsundar, elder brother of P.R. Ashokanand, the current vice president of KSCA, did not have a good match, He scored a zero bowled by Sarwate. Y. S. Ramaswamy, in whose name the YSR  shield is instituted, also failed with bat and ball in that match.

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1983, Bombay vs Bangalore, finals, Bombay

Captains: Ashok Mankad (Bombay); Brijesh Patel (Karnataka)

Who can forget the thrilling final when Karnataka chased Bombay’s first innings score of 534 after losing 6 wickets for 293 in the 1983 finals? Roger Binny made 115 and A.V. Jayaprakash 89. But still there was a mountain to climb. That was when numbers 8, 9 and 10 in J. Abhiram (69), Ranjit Kanvilkar (32 ) and B. Vijayakrishna (42) contributed handsomely .

When Karnataka was 526 for nine still 8 runs short, and time for chewing the fingernails, it was left arm spinner and current selector A. Raghuram Bhat who held his nerve and stayed with Vijayakrishna till they overhauled Bombay’s 534! What a thrilling finish it was worth befitting a final!

Kanvilkar, a budding all-rounder at the time, was tragically killed in a train accident.

I am sure there will be a thrilling encounter, as always, between two of the best teams in the country, with no quarters given or taken.

I hope Karnataka will lift the Ranji Trophy for the first time at the Gangotri Glades in Mysore.

That will be a fitting festival gift for fans for Sankranthi.

Photographs: (From top) A combined fish-eye lens view of Gangotri Glades shot from the Coffee Board end; the pitch overlooking the Chamundi Hills, the man standing in the dead-centre of the frame is KSCA secretary Brijesh Patel; and the groundsman responsible for what is now being considered as one of India’s best pieces of turf, Nagaraj (Narayan Yadav/ Karnataka Photo News)

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