Vinay Kumar reached the double of 2,000 runs and over 350 wickets in the Ranji Trophy, only the second Karnataka player to do so after Sunil Joshi. © Getty Images

As a captain, I need to ensure that it all comes together and have a proper team goal and that is to win the Ranji Trophy. That kind of thinking is working for us.”- R Vinay Kumar © Getty Images

Over two years have passed since Karnataka last lifted the Ranji Trophy, and the hunger to lay hands on the coveted title is writ on players’ faces.

The eight-time champions came into this season with plenty of professionalism, planning and positivity, and the arrival of a new coaching staff, with PV Shashikanth at the helm, has only brought the team closer in this process.

“They are all mature. They could see what was going wrong in the last two seasons,” said R Vinay Kumar, the skipper, on the eve of Karnataka’s fifth round Ranji Trophy 2017-18 match against Delhi.

“They have rectified it themselves. As a captain, I need to ensure that it all comes together and have a proper team goal and that is to win the Ranji Trophy. That kind of thinking is working for us.”

With all the pieces seemingly fitting without glitches, Karnataka have risen to the top of the Group A table with 20 points from three games. Coincidentally, they didn’t fare much too differently last season, until they ran into and slipped up against Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinals.

One of the reasons cited for their exit was the constant changes made to the squad during the course of the season. While injuries had a role to play, players being called up for national duty too altered the combination a fair bit. When Karnataka arrive at Alur (2) grounds on Thursday (November 9), they will be making a couple of crucial changes, welcoming KL Rahul and Manish Pandey to the side while leaving out Kaunian Abbas and Pavan Deshpande.

The return of Rahul and Pandey would seem perfectly brilliant as Karnataka get to bolster their batting, but often, a minute change in personnel alters the vibe of a dressing room. Sometimes it uplifts, sometimes it doesn’t. Vinay didn’t mind either way.

“Frankly, I love three or four cricketers going and playing for India,” he said. “A lot of players who are sitting out will get their opportunity. If the India players come and play here, we do become stronger. In case they are playing for India, others will get their opportunity. So we are very flexible in that. I am okay with both.”

While they have been quite remarkable with their batting and bowling, Karnataka’s fielding has left a lot to be desired. Though they have taken some spectacular catches this season, they have also dropped a fair few and have been especially slow to the ball after the first session.

“We are improving,” offered Vinay. “We used to drop one or two catches. It’s a day(s) game and there will be lapses. We are also human. But we are working hard. In the last game against Maharashtra, we were very good. We dropped a few in Shimoga because we couldn’t sight the ball well. But we are getting better.”

Going by the names on paper, one can’t be blamed for assuming that Karnataka are all about their batting might, and they wouldn’t be off the mark to a degree. But going into a game with an inexperienced bowling department, irrespective of the opponent, is a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, Karnataka don’t have that issue with Vinay leading the way and Abhimanyu Mithun turning the tide, finally. With S Aravind, the left-arm seamer, apparently rested, Vinay and Mithun are the ones sharing new-ball duties. Ronit More is the third seamer and Stuart Binny chips in with his delicate seam-ups. Surprisingly enough, four games into the season, none of the seamers have shown any signs of wear and tear. Perhaps, their new approach to nets has something to do with that.

“This time around we are practising more during the game than the nets,” revealed Vinay. “We have only one net session. See, seamers need the break to recover. Even for batsmen, we used to have two sessions, but now we have one proper session and one optional. I think that is one of the reasons why our players have looked fresh this year.”

Even as Vinay offered lengthy answers — a tremendous improvement from his earlier days as the skipper — with a straight face, Rishabh Pant smiled a lot and resorted to as many cliches as possible to avoid any slip-ups in his first media interaction as a skipper.

“When you get responsibility, you have to take the responsibility of the team also,” said Pant, who has been made captain in place of Ishant Sharma. “I am giving confidence to those who are not feeling that great. I just tell them to be positive.”

When asked about Gambhir, who wasn’t present at Delhi’s practice session, Pant said: “He will be arriving today. Also, we have no injury concerns, not yet (laughs).”