Rajasthan’s road to success in Ranji Trophy 2011-12
Mumbai, Sep 19: Rajasthan’s journey in India’s premier domestic competition, the Ranji Trophy, is an inspirational tale of determination and diligence. In the first season under Hrishikesh Kanitkar, the team rose from the plate group to lift the trophy for the first time, in 2010-11. And then, they repeated the feat in 2011-12. In the process, they became the fifth team after Mumbai, Maharashtra, Delhi and Karnataka to win the coveted title in successive seasons.
Under the guidance the veteran Kanitkar the team gained confidence and fought tooth and nail to retain the trophy. Playing in the elite group for the first time, [back then the Ranji Trophy was divided into elite and plate groups] they scrapped through to the quarter-finals on run quotient, and from there on beat Tamil Nadu to retain the trophy.
After successfully defending their Ranji Trophy title, Rajasthan now get yet another chance to lift the Irani Cup when they take on Rest of India at Bengaluru on September 21, 2012. The side has gained immeasurably from the experience of the professional cricketers in their ranks. However, they will be without the services of veteran cricketer Aakash Chopra, who along with the captain has helped shape Rajasthan’s success.
Their road to the Ranji Trophy title in 2011-12 season was tougher than in the previous season as they battled to hold their own while playing in the Elite group.
The league phase
This time around the defending champions were playing in the Elite Group A, while they had played the 2010-11 season in the Plate group. Playing against former champions from the very first round, Rajasthan were struggling to stay in the race. Facing Karnataka, Mumbai, Railways, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab early on, they managed to garner only four points from their first four games. Towards the business end of the league phase, their chances to make it to the knockout phase seemed bleak. But in their last two league games, Rajasthan played out of their skins to register wins and make it to the quarter-finals on run quotient.
Centuries by senior cricketer Vineet Saxena and Puneet Yadav in the first innings, after being asked to bat by Saurashtra, set the tone for Rajasthan in their penultimate league encounter. Led by Pankaj Singh the Rajasthan bowlers then helped their team to a 131-run lead and gave them a chance to pull off a victory. Adding 241 runs in the second innings, Rajasthan set Saurashtra a target of 373 runs. Sumit Mathur then rattled the opposition in the second innings. Claiming six wickets for 33 runs, the bowler helped his team win and pocket five points from the game.
Then in the last league game, Rituraj Singh put up a stunning performance to help Rajasthan secure six points with an emphatic victory against Orissa to stake a claim for a berth in the quarter-finals. Playing in only his second first-class game, the medium-pacer took six wickets for 75 to bowl Rajasthan to victory.
Powered by Bist's unbeaten century, Rajasthan amassed over 400 runs in their first innings. And after Sumit Mathur (five wickets) and Pankaj Singh (three wickets) skittled out Orissa for 134, Rajasthan’s skipper enforced the follow-on in the quest to register an innings victory. This could fetch them the bonus point necessary to keep their chances for a place in the knockout stage alive. Although Subhrajit Sahoo (55) and Biplap Samantray (82) put up a decent fight, their effort wasn’t enough to overcome Rajasthan's pace attack. Rituraj Singh and Pankaj Singh helped wrap up the opposition for 233 in the second innings. A win by an innings and 56 runs significantly increased Rajasthan's chances of making it to the quarter-finals for the second successive year.
The win took them to 16 points and helped them hold on to the third spot in the group. Although they had the same number of points and outright victories it was the better run quotient that helped Rajasthan pip Saurashtra for a place in the quarter-finals; Rajashtan's quotient was 0.984, while Saurashtra'a was 0.925. To push Rajasthan out of the race, Uttar Pradesh needed to beat Karnataka, which they couldn’t. Rajasthan, therefore, qualified for the knockouts.
1st Quarter Final: Hyderabad vs Rajasthan
Upon gaining confidence from their performances in the last two games, Rajasthan took on Hyderabad in the first quarter-final of the season at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium in Uppal.
Propelled by experienced campaigner Aakash Chopra’s 142 at the top of the order and Dishant Yagnik’s 101 lower down the order, Rajasthan posted a formidable total of 421 in the first innings after opting to bat first. The Rajasthan bowlers then pulled together to bundle out the home team for 144. After Pankaj Singh gave them their first breakthrough, the rest of the attack stepped up the pressure and struck at regular intervals. Left-arm spinner Gajendra Singh claimed a four-wicket haul, while Sumit Mathur and Vivek Yadav picked two wickets apiece to take the game away from the hosts. Hyderabad came back strongly, piling on 431 for two wickets after following on, with both openers scoring mammoth centuries to set Rajasthan a 155-run target. Batting patiently the Rajasthan openers ensured a draw and a place in the semi-finals based on their first innings lead.
1st Semi Final: Haryana vs Rajasthan
Rajasthan’s semi-final clash against Haryana was a battle of nerves at the Bansi Lal Cricket Stadium in Rohtak. Asked to bat first, Rajasthan capitulated for a paltry 89 runs in the first innings. With eight wickets for 34 runs, Haryana pacer Harshal Patel was Rajasthan’s main foe in the first innings. More drama unfolded as Rajasthan took the field and Rituraj Singh, back in the side after missing the quarter-final, claimed seven for 47 to skittle out the hosts for 97 in the first innings.
On a difficult track, the Rajasthan batsmen then applied themselves and put up a better show in the second innings. Vineet Saxena (58) and Robin Bist (44) helped the visitor’s post 192 runs on the board. With 184 runs to defend, the Rajasthan pacers once again did the job for their team. Rituraj claimed a five-for, while Pankaj Singh picked four scalps and Sumit Mathur chipped in with one wicket to bowl Haryana out for 120. With a thumping 64-run victory, Rajasthan were through to their second consecutive Ranji final.
Final: Tamil Nadu vs Rajasthan
Rajasthan faced-off against Tamil Nadu in the final with a chip on their shoulder. Led by pacer L Balaji, the team from south sported players with international experience, while Rajasthan’s was a team still finding its feet in domestic cricket. But riding on the skills and application of experienced campaigners, Saxena and Chopra, Rajasthan posted a massive first innings total, which won them the title yet again.
Batting first at Chepauk, Chopra and Saxena added 236 runs for the first wicket, before the former departed for 94. But Saxena anchored the Rajasthan innings with a marathon batting effort that lasted over two days to help them pile on 621 runs in the first innings. The opener scored 257 runs during his 665-ball stay at the crease, before being castled by Aushik Srinivas. In reply TN made 295 with Dinesh Karthik top scoring for the hosts with 150. It was once again Rajasthan’s three-pronged pace attack that put the brakes on the opposition’s batting line-up. Rituraj Singh led with four wickets, while Pankaj Singh and Sumit Mathur claimed two each. Gajendra Singh chipped in with one wicket.
Building on their 326-run lead, Rajasthan added 204 runs, before declaring their second innings. By then the match was already in Rajasthan’s favour. With no possibility of an outright result, the game was called off on the fifth day. Rajasthan had emerged winners on the basis of their first innings lead.