There’s something about a hot streak in sport that leaves everyone in a tizzy. It reinforces all the clichés — how winning is a habit, how momentum matters, how we’re the masters of our destiny. The idea that it’s a random sequence of numbers is unacceptable. There must be a pattern, we tell ourselves.
Take, for example, Karnataka. 37 first-class matches without a single outright defeat. During that period, they completed two Ranji Trophy wins, two Irani Cup wins and a victory over Bangladesh A. Sure, Karnataka weren’t invincible, but they came pretty close.
How does it stack up against other unbeaten streaks in India’s domestic circuit? Wisden India presents a list of the most consecutive matches teams have gone without an outright loss in Indian first-class cricket*:
Streak: 56 – Bombay
Start: V Gujarat, December 5, 1958
End: V Maharashtra, November 5, 1966
Loss: V Rest of India (Irani Cup), November 25, 1966
The cast of characters that were a part of this legacy reads like the who’s who of India’s heroes of the era: Madhav Apte, Ramakant Desai, Polly Umrigar, Subhash Gupte, Dilip Sardesai, Bapu Nadkarni, Ajit Wadekar, Farokh Engineer, and so on. The run included eight Ranji Trophy titles. It eventually ended in a six-wicket loss to Rest of India in a four-day clash in the 1966-67 Irani Trophy, with Erapalli Prasanna and BS Chandrasekhar grabbing a four-for in either innings to take down Bombay.
Streak: 49 – Bombay
Start: V Gujarat, January 8, 1972
End: V Maharashtra, December 10, 1977
Loss: V Gujarat, December 24, 1977
Bombay collected six Ranji Trophy titles during this period, but the streak ended in a 225-run loss at the hands of Gujarat after being bowled out for 83 and 42 in a three-day affair in the 1977-78 season. But such was Bombay’s might, that had it not been for three losses in the 1966-67, 1968-69 and 1971-72 Irani Trophies, the streak would have been a whopping 141.
Streak: 46 – Delhi
Start: V Himachal Pradesh, November 25, 1986
End: V Tamil Nadu, March 27, 1992
Loss: V Rest of India (Irani Cup), September 27, 1992
After Mumbai, it was Delhi’s golden period. By the late 1980s, the competition intensified, but Delhi had enough gas left in the tank to grab two more Ranji titles. Ajay Sharma emerged as a prolific batsman during this time, with a captain’s knock of 175 in the 1991-92 final against Tamil Nadu. However, their run ended in the next game against Rest of India in the 1992-93 Irani Cup as they were flattened by an innings and 122 runs.
Streak: 37 – Karnataka
Start: V Delhi, December 8, 2012
End: — V Delhi, November 26, 2015
Loss: — V Maharashtra, December 4, 2015
Under the guidance of J Arunkumar and Mansur Ali Khan and the captaincy of R Vinay Kumar, the team delivered on its potential. Players like KL Rahul and Stuart Binny earned call-ups to the national side while other players from the state found places in the India A side as well as Indian Premier League teams. However, a lukewarm start to the 2015-16 Ranji Trophy, with players going in and out of the side because of national duty and injury, meant Karnataka weren’t able to complete a hat-trick of titles. In their final game of the group stage against Maharashtra, the side was set a stiff target of 293 to win and secure their passage to the knockouts. It turned out to be quite the thriller as Karnataka fought tooth and nail, but they eventually fell 53 runs short.
Streak: 35 – Bombay
Start: V Gujarat, December 6, 1991
End: V Saurashtra, January 17, 1996
Loss: V Tamil Nadu, February 26, 1996
Sachin Tendulkar had already made his first-class debut a few years earlier and because he was fast-tracked into the national side, he was only available for 18 fixtures for Bombay during this run. Still, Bombay won two more Ranji titles before succumbing to a 153-run defeat to Tamil Nadu in the quarterfinal of the 1995-96 season.
Streak: 35 – Mumbai
Start: V Saursashtra, November 1, 2010
End: V Orissa, December 15, 2013
Loss: V Karnataka, December 22, 2013
Mumbai were on a roll once again in the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, but victory eluded them as Rajasthan ruled the roost on both occasions. But in the 2012-13 season, Mumbai, led by Ajit Agarkar, finally got their hands on the elusive trophy. The team also sent off Sachin Tendulkar in style in his final first-class game in October 2013, in a game against Haryana in Lahli, but there was no happy ending to the season this time around. Karnataka sent them hurtling to a 160-run defeat and, with it, began their own gilded age.
Streak: 28 – Bombay
Start: V Saurashtra, November 21, 1980
End: V Delhi, March 30, 1984
Loss: V Rest of India (Irani Cup), September 7, 1984
It was the beginning of the biggest rivalry in India’s domestic scene — Bombay v Delhi. After losing the 1979-80 Ranji final to Delhi, Bombay roared back in style the following season to reclaim the title. Lalchand Rajput made his first-class debut during this period and went on to become one of the most consistent batsmen for Bombay. The side added one more Rani title to its kitty before Rest of India beat them by four wickets in the 1984-85 Irani Cup.
Streak: 28 – Delhi
Start: V Punjab, November 18, 1977
End: V Saurashtra, February 27, 1981
Loss: V Bombay, March 20, 1981
Overpowered by an experienced Bombay side after reaching their first Ranji final in the 1976-77 season, Delhi absorbed the lessons from the defeat and went back to the drawing board. Two seasons later, the results were there for all to see as Delhi lifted the trophy in 1978-79 and 1979-80. But just as the side seemed set to complete a Ranji hat-trick, Bombay burst their bubble, cantering to an innings and 46-run victory in the 1980-81 season.
Streak: 28 – Mumbai
Start: V Karnataka, November 3, 2007
End: V Karnataka, January 11, 2010
Loss: V Rest of India (Irani Cup), October 1, 2010
Ajit Agarkar, Amol Muzumdar and Wasim Jaffer had already established themselves as the big guns of Mumbai cricket, but the youngsters to watch were Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane. Rohit went on to hit a century in both innings of the 2008-09 Ranji final against Uttar Pradesh to seal a big win, while Dhawal Kulkarni’s all-round heroics secured the side a six-run win against Karnataka in a thrilling finale in the 2009-10 season. The run came to a halt in the 2010-11 Irani Cup when they were beaten by Rest of India by 361 runs.
Streak: 25 – Hyderabad
Start: V Tamil Nadu, November 13, 1984
End: V Kerala, November 22, 1988
Loss: V Karnataka, December 3, 1988
Hyderabad had to endure a long wait before they their second Ranji title, but when the moment finally came in the 1986-87 season, it came against a strong Delhi side, with Arshad Ayub playing the lead role with a masterful 174. For Hyderabad to be unbeatable for four years is quite an accomplishment, considering they’re not as big a powerhouse as Mumbai, Karnataka and Delhi. The run eventually came to an end with a five-wicket defeat against Karnataka.
*Includes abandoned games
**This piece was updated on December 4, 2015 after Karnataka’s unbeaten streak ended.