RANJI TROPHY 2018-19
It’s a happy situation for Rajasthan that they have a bunch of seamers competing for slots in the side. Even in the absence of Khaleel Ahmed, one of the frontline bowlers will have to sit out. © Getty
Amit Asawa could have a feeling of deja vu as Team Rajasthan prepare to take on Karnataka in their Ranji Trophy quarterfinal match in Bengaluru from Tuesday. After all, nine years ago he had gone through a similar stage as the team’s coach when Rajasthan surprised everyone by making it to the last-eight in the tournament. It is another matter that they went on to win their maiden title.
Back then, Rajasthan had risen to the top from the Plate group. This time too, the team which had been dismissed as no-hopers, have risen from the Group C. Asawa smiles when reminded of that. “We are taking one game at a time,” is all he would say. Karnataka are a tough opponents, particularly in their backyard. Asawa, however, is unfazed. “We are the underdogs,” he told TOI on Friday. “The pressure will be on them.” He expects a sporting wicket, which should start with help for seamers and end with offering some turn. Given that Rajasthan’s strength is their seam bowling, does he expect a track that will dent their edge? “I don’t think that will happen, particularly with clear guidelines from the BCCI on the kind of wickets to prepare from domestic matches. Moreover, Karnataka also have some good seamers. It will be an interesting contest.”
Self-belief, Asawa feels, will hold the key from here on. “I can’t think of any particular area we need to focus on,” he said. “We have produced quite a balanced performance so far. But then, the quarterfinals is a different stage altogether. Believing in yourself is crucial in this stage, more so against a team that is considered among the best sides in domestic cricket. Our boys are quite confident and we just need to play the way we have doing so far. There is no need for any change in our plans.”
It’s a happy situation for Rajasthan that they have a bunch of seamers competing for slots in the side. Even in the absence of Khaleel Ahmed, one of the frontline bowlers will have to sit out. Aniket Choudhary, Deepak Chahar, Tanvir-Ul-Haq and Nathu Singh all have delivered. That would seem there is too much pressure on the lone spinner Rahul Chahar. Asawa is sure that the leg-break googly bowler can soak in it. “He is more of an attacking bowler as he is always on the lookout for wickets,” the coach said. Of course, there is also the stock option in skipper Mahipal Lomror, whose left-arm orthodox stuff has often proved useful.
Bowlers have consistently done well for Rajasthan over the past few seasons, but this time it was the batting that has stood out. There has been someone who has been putting on runs. If in the beginning it was the openers Amit Gautam and Chetan Bist, towards the later part of the league, Ashok Menaria and Robin Bist took charge. Menaria, given his talent, has been under-performer over the years and a lot of Rajasthan’s failures have revolved around him. This could be his moment at redemption. “Don’t forget that it was from the quarterfinal stage that Menaria blossomed in the 2010-2011 season,” Asawa reminded. Three back-to-back centuries had made the Udaipur left-hander a contender for a Team India slot. “It’s not over for him yet,” Asawa said. “He still has the fire to succeed. I don’t think we can write him off yet.”
On contrary to what was being feared, the seniors in the side have rallied well around young Lomror. “Players like Aniket, Ashok, Robin and Rajesh (Bishnoi) are always there with advice,” Asawa said. “There is no ego in the side.” It was team spirit that had seen Rajasthan win two titles, and this time too the dressing-room bonding could well be the mantra for success.