It seems that everything that the R Vinay Kumar-led Karnataka team touches is turning gold this season. After annexing the Ranji Trophy, they went on to clinch a unique treble of winning the Irani Cup against the Rest of India and the Vijay Hazare Trophy 50-overs title in the same season.
Their latest silverware came when Karnataka won the Vijay Hazare Trophy in Kolkata in the Sunday's final with a four-wicket win over Railways in a low-scoring game. The secret to Karnataka's success, besides the core group playing together for a couple of years now, is that their bonding has been phenomenal.
By virtue of their winning the Vijay Hazare Trophy, Karnataka now make up as one of the three teams in next year's Challenger Trophy.
It is small things that they have done together consistently that has taken them farthest in the competitions this season. Their batting coach J Arun Kumar said: "The main idea is that cricket is after all a game, it is not your life. We made clear that there was no point in playing with so much pressure. If you don't enjoy, you don't give your best. Ninety per cent of the pressure was self imposed. The idea was for the players to go out, give their best and see what happens. The attitude was good. We did not think the opposition can win."
JAK, as the coach is fondly called, said that the roles played by the seniors like Robin Uthappa, captain Vinay and batsman Manish Pandey contributed to the team's success.
"The way Vinay captained the side, Robin took the lead in the one-dayers and also did the same in Ranji Trophy, Manish was very supportive, the seniors were always around the juniors. Each senior would go with three-four juniors for dinner and the bonding became very strong. We did certain things that we cannot explain but they contributed to the team's bonding," said JAK.
Karnataka's most prodigious batsman Rahul Dravid said the team's successes this season were because of team effort. Dravid said: "We have had very successful teams in the past and they have been made up some really big stars with the likes of BS Chandrasekhar, EAS Prasanna, GR Viswanath in the earlier generation, and (Anil) Kumble, (Venkatesh) Prasad, (Javagal) Srinath and myself in the next generation. In this generation, they are actually a lot of young, upcoming players. They have not established themselves at the international level. They do have Robin and Vinay as seniors who are doing a great job of guiding them and performing at critical times.
"But they are also a crop of really good players who have come up through the system, who have come up by playing the U-19s, the U-23s, U-25s for Karnataka. There are some really good young talented players. It is a question of getting more opportunities and performing at the next level. The Duleep Trophy and the Irani Cup games, that's where you want to see the likes of KL Rahuls, Karun Nairs, Shreyas Gopals and others, of guys coming and performing at the next level as well. And if they do that, I have no doubt they will be recognised."
JAK did stress that one of the main aims of bonding together was that it would give the players a chance of playing for the country. "We made it a point that for one to play for the country, one should start winning as a team. Otherwise, individually it would not be possible," JAK said.
One of the finds for Karnataka has been their 20-year-old leg-spinner, Shreyas Gopal, who made his first-class debut this season. Dravid only had praise for this youngster.
"For someone who started as a batsman who could also bowl, he has bowled really well this season. I have not really seen much of him, I must admit. I saw bits and pieces on TV and what I saw I liked. And one of the good things for Shreyas is that he is going to spend two months with Anil Kumble at Mumbai Indians in the IPL. And that is a good result for him to happen.
"I told him that the best team he could have actually gone to is Mumbai Indians because you get two months with Anil Kumble, that is priceless. For a young leg spinner, what more can you ask for."
Hard work over several months is yielding results. As JAK put it, "I know the boys are jaded as we started 10 months ago. It is the passion that these guys that has seen us through. It was very important to be self-motivated. When we make our cricket and the tours enjoyable, it doesn't matter if cricket on the field is tough. Everything has now fallen in place, it has taken time for everybody to adjust with each other."
The season, through for Karnataka is not yet over. They are eyeing one more silverware, the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. And for the brand of cricket they have been playing this season, it should not be far from their reach.