From the bottom of Ranji table to top, a Rajasthan fairytale
Keeping in mind the time-tested formula of 'youth and experience', they roped in domestic cricket's prolific but ageing batsmen — Hrishikesh Kanitkar (36), Aakash Chopra (33) and Rashmi Ranjan Parida (33) — to guide the relatively young but talented bunch of local players.
Five months on, the rag-tag bunch didn't just help Rajasthan take a U-turn but drove the team all the way to the peak to Indian cricket's premier domestic tournament—their first ever Ranji Trophy triumph.
It's an amazing journey that kicked off with the Kanitkar-led team first dominating the lower division to earn the right to join the Elite teams at the quarter-final stage. Their win over Baroda in the final on Saturday—courtesy their narrow 33-run first innings lead—was their third big scalp of the season. Domestic powerhouses Mumbai and Tamil Nadu had been beaten in quarters and semi-final respectively.
A beaming Dixit, on the sidelines of the final at Moti Baug ground here, was elated that the plan had worked. "The players should get all the credit. But as an official I am happy to say that there has been no unnecessary interference from anyone. The 15-man squad has been almost unchanged throughout the season," says the man, who is in charge of an association that had only been in the news because of a bitter power struggle between officials and long-drawn court cases.
Delhi-based coach Sinha, who has produced Indian stars like Manoj Prabhakar and Ashish Nehra, says getting the three veterans to Rajasthan was the turning point. "Kanitkar, Chopra and Parida taught the youngsters how to deal with big occasions. Talent was always there, the old hands guided them," he says.
While Kanitkar, Chopra and Parida raised their game whenever needed, it was 18-year-old Deepak Chahar who set the ball rolling quite literally. The right-arm fast bowler ended up with remarkable figures of 8/10 on his first-class debut as Rajasthan bowled Hyderabad out for a record-low of 21 in their opening match of the season to set up a huge win. It was Sinha who had spotted Chahar in the district of Hanumangad during the RCA's state-wide 'talent search programme.' "Here was an extremely talented fast bowler who almost ended up being wasted. We just had to iron out a few flaws after which he was a complete product," explains Sinha.
Kanitkar and Chopra then took over and, with the rest of the batsmen chipping in at crucial junctures, went about battering their opponents into submission by posting huge scores themselves. Chopra scored his maiden triple-hundred in the Plate semifinals to gain promotion for Rajasthan to the Elite League. Meanwhile, after being overshadowed by his fellow professionals, Rashmi Parida saved the best for the last and was named man-of-the-match in the final.
Besides, taking the correct big decisions, RCA also didn't miss out focusing on finer points. When talented batsman Ashok Menaria suffered a groin injury at the start of the season, the former India under-19 captain was sent to Germany for treatment. A fit Meranria returned to repay the favour. His centuries in quarters, semis and the final— a Ranji record — went a long way in scripting the fairytale this season.
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