Mumbai: It has been a good week to be R Vinay Kumar. The Karnataka captain took a five-wicket haul, scored a century, climbed the charts to be the joint-highest wicket taker in the 2014-15 Ranji Trophy, and became the first captain from his state to win two successive Ranji Trophy titles.
His feat of a fifer and a ton meant he became only the second player - and first captain - to do so in a Ranji final. And Karnataka's innings-and-217-run thrashing of Tamil Nadu on Thursday (March 12) brought them an eighth Ranji title, one more than Delhi, who have now slipped to third place in the number of trophies won.
After prolonged celebrations that followed the final wicket at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, Vinay was in excellent spirits. "The best part of our team is that there is no pressure at all. Before this game also, the boys were normal and there wasn't any tension. I told the team that this is the best thing I see in them - that nobody is tense. That is a big positive for us," he said.
Describing the triumph as "a dream", Vinay recalled the importance of the tournament in his growing years: "When I started playing cricket, we used to always follow the Ranji Trophy. When we started playing it was our goal to win the Ranji Trophy. The seniors would tell us, 'When you win you will know the taste of it'. Winning it back to back is definitely a proud moment for me."
Reflecting on the nature of the wins the previous season and this one, Vinay went back to the 2009-10 final that Karnataka had lost to Mumbai by a heartbreaking six runs. As many as six members of this squad were in the playing XI then - Vinay, Robin Uthappa, Manish Pandey, CM Gautam, Abhimanyu Mithun and S Arvind. "It is many years of hard work, I would say. Last year we won the Ranji Trophy, we worked really hard as a group. When we lost to Mumbai in Mysore, that was a bunch that was growing as a team. Confidence level and maturity wise, everything came good in the last season, and winning the Ranji Trophy really helped us motivate ourselves. Our goal was to try and win every game and that made the journey easier. This is the result," he said.
Vinay took 48 wickets in the tournament, level with Shardul Thakur, but had a better average. However, the leadership group he formed with J Arunkumar and Mansur Ali Khan, the batting and bowling coaches, was as crucial to Karnataka's success. In the final, the defending champions opted for a four-man seam attack with Mithun, HS Sharath and Arvind backing up the skipper. "We wanted to go with the extra seamer because we thought that they (Tamil Nadu) will definitely struggle against the seamers because they were playing on turners (in Chennai earlier on)," explained Vinay. "They don't play on the kind of pitches that have extra bounce or swing. That was why we played with four seamers."
Tamil Nadu had reached the final largely because of bonus-point wins at home in Chennai, and with Karnataka winning the toss and bowling first when the pitch was at its liveliest, the ploy worked to a nicety.
Abhinav Mukund, the Tamil Nadu skipper, contended that there was nothing to be ashamed of in losing to a side at the top of its game. "I don't think there is any shame in losing to them. They are a really good side who played really good cricket over five days," said Abhinav. "Obviously there are areas that we have to work on, but there is a ray of hope that I can see in this Tamil Nadu team. Youngsters are coming through and there are lots of positives. We will come back stronger next season."
Tamil Nadu looked flat on the field and while bowling early on in Karnataka's eventually gargantuan total of 762, built on the back of big knocks by Karun Nair (328) and KL Rahul (188). But Abhinav contended that the bowlers had tried everything they could. "I think it was a lot easier to bat on the second day, but that doesn't take the credit away from the two batters. I think we gave it our best shot, to be honest. We went out there and tried every single plan that we had, and we failed. I don't think there is any harm in saying that, we tried our best and we failed," he said.
WV Raman, the Tamil Nadu coach, said that apart from L Balaji, the other bowlers had to step up. "We need to work hard on our bowling. There is a lot of work that needs to be done on our side. Bala has been around for a long time, and it is unfair to expect him to take the role all the time," he said.
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