The mother of all Ranji Trophy finals:

Even as all the hullabaloo surrounding Virat Kohli’s temper dies down and the World Cup drags on with the group stage matches, the attentions of two Indian states will be firmly fixed on a showdown of their intense rivalry. Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, though culturally similar in many ways, have quite a history of differences (for all too familiar reasons). And come March 8th, the famed Wankhede stadium of Mumbai will be the stage for the Ranji trophy summit clash between the reigning champions and hands down favourites to lift the trophy, Karnataka and two-time Ranji champions Tamil Nadu. Coming into the finals on the back of contrasting performances, Sunday will mark the second instance of these two Cricketing sides battling it out for top Ranji Trophy honours, the first being the 1995-96 season. Following is a lowdown on some integral players of the Karnataka side that has been dominating the domestic circuit in recent times, players who I think will have a big role to play if Karnataka have to reaffirm their tag of the country’s best Cricket team.

Ranganath Vinay Kumar (C):

The leader of the pack also leads my list of players who matter for Karnataka. The medium pacer who hails from the benne dose town has been a constant thorn in the flesh of the opposition’s batting with his ability to move the ball both ways. His proactive captaincy and useful contributions down the batting order have helped the side come good from many precarious situations.

The skipper’s 6-wicket haul was instrumental in dismissing erstwhile champs Mumbai for a paltry 44 runs in the first innings of the semi-final, thus paving the way for a berth in the final. With 41 wickets from 9 matches so far at 20 runs apiece, Vinay Kumar is the 3rd highest wicket-taker in the 2014-15 season, with one more match to move up the list.

Robin Venu Uthappa:

One of the most recognizable names in the Indian domestic Cricket scene, the Karnataka opener has lived up to his fame, scoring runs by the bagful this season. Leading the run charts (by quite a margin) with 912 runs at an average of 53 with 2 hundreds and 5 fifties to his credit, the Kodava will be looking to cap off the season by breaching the 1k mark, and, in the process, help his side clinch the title for the second successive season.

He may also have to don the wicket-keeping gloves in the absence of C.M Gautam, as he did in the semis – something, despite being an ardent Uthappa fan, I feel should be avoided!

Manish Krishnanand Pandey:

Languishing at number 35 in the list of top run-scorers, you might be surprised that Manish Pandey figures in this list at all. Why, even KL Rahul who has played less than half the number of matches as Pandey has scored more runs! But haven’t we seen enough of Manish Pandey to know better than to count him out. There is something about big matches that bring out the best in this middle order batsman (the last IPL final where he scored 94 is a case in point). The catch he took in the outfield to dismiss Abhishek Nayar during the 2009 -10 season final at Mysuru is the stuff of legends.

Abhimanyu Mithun:

This well-built medium pacer is a captain’s dream. Everytime he is called into action, he steams in and delivers the ball at raw pace, enough to unsettle most batsmen. Always ready to give his hundred percent, Mithun is no bunny with the bat either. I believe the 89 runs he scored after walking in as a night-watchman in Karnataka’s second innings was the decisive factor in the semi final match against Mumbai. With ample Ranji trophy experience behind his back, Mithun will be looking to combine with his skipper and left-arm pacer, Sreenath Aravind to make life difficult for the Tamil Nadu batsmen.

Shreyas Gopal:

The last but far from the least of the key players is Shreyas Gopal. All of 21 years old, Shreyas has already cemented his position in the champion side. A leg-spinner is always an asset in a Cricket team, but when the leg-spinner doubles up to become the second highest run-scorer for your team, you know you have a potent weapon in your arsenal.
Though only 5 players figure in this list, on a given day, any of the 11 players can step up to the plate and do what’s required for the team in that situation – a quality that has made Karnataka the top Cricket side. So with all the momentum from recent seasons of domestic Cricket, and the possibility of support from the sizeable Kannadiga population in Mumbai, Vinay Kumar’s men would be upbeat about retaining their Ranji Trophy.

Team for the Final:
Robin Uthappa, KL Rahul, Manish Pandey, Vinay Kumar (C), Karun Nair, R Samarth, Shreyas Gopal, A Mithun, S Aravind, KC Avinash, Abhishek Reddy, Udit Patel, HS Sharath & Shishir Bhavane.