Local players made the difference
While the feeling is yet to sink in completely, the big question has already popped up : what was it that catapulted "Team Rajasthan", bottom till the previous year, lost in the abyss of oblivion, straight up to the topmost honour of bagging the Ranji Trophy? After all, creating history isn't expected of underdogs. Perhaps, that's exactly what worked in our favour: the surprise element, and our reputation.
Even though the professionals came in handy, it was the local talent in Deepak Chahar, Ashok Menaria, Pankaj Singh and Vivek Yadav, that came to the fore and made all the difference. Yet, Rajasthan's resurrection wasn't just about a bunch of young lads with fire in their belly. The dream was in the making for the past two years.
The regime change under Sanjay Dixit brought in path-breaking changes that were meticulously conceived and executed with cricket as the top most priority. Cricket think tank, Tarak Sinha, whose Sonnet Cricket Club has produced more Test and first-class cricketers than the number of cricket academies thriving in the capital, was then roped in to head the academy. While his technical fluency helped the game grow, his guidance helped the academy find its long lost perspective.
Instead of doing anything fancy, Rajasthan went only as far as Mumbai for inspiration and adopted the system which worked wonders for them i.e. organizing days' matches at all age-group levels, among other steps. While most states were busy promoting their domestic T20 leagues, Rajasthan quietly put their house in order to prepare the kids for the longer format. It doesn't come as a surprise that Rajasthan's Under-16 team has also reached the semi-finals - another first in their history.
The emergence of Chahar and Menaria isn't a mere coincidence either. Chahar was ignored by Greg Chappell and it was Sinha who brought him back into the fold. Menaria's season was as good as over after his groin injury, but RCA didn't leave any stone unturned to get him up and running in double-quick time. Batting professionals in Hrishikesh Kanitkar, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, and myself, were then brought in, much to everyone's surprise. But they had everything sorted well in advance, for batting was the real bane. Fortunately, everything fell in to place just right.
And it wasn't just the cricket we played in the last two-and-a-half months which brought us here, for we had spent both quality and quantity time in the off-season to get rid of the chinks in our armoury. Rajasthan had identified both its personnel and their roles way back in August while most teams were not even thinking about the season yet. You would be surprised that the squad which defeated Vadodara in the Ranji finals is almost identical to the one which played in the Buchi Babu tournament in August. This shows consistency in the selection process which not only provides continuity but also stability. Due credit should be given to president C P Joshi, who allowed things to run its course and never interfered.
In the end though, it was the dressing room that made all the difference. This is one of the happiest I've ever been a part of, with players not only looking after each other but also feeling genuinely happy in each other's success. The camaraderie, the self belief which grew with every game and the deep desire to make it happen sealed the deal in Rajasthan's favour. The season which could have well finished in five games has lasted twice as many.