Rajasthan plummet to 35 all out
Railways 39 for 1 beat Rajasthan 35 (Anureet 5-16, Mishra 5-18) by nine wickets
If Rajasthan's build-up to the domestic season, mired in uncertainty due to Rajasthan Cricket Association's internal tussles and those with the BCCI, was bad, then their start to the campaign has been worse.
Rajasthan's one-day form touched a new low on Tuesday as the team was bowled out for 35 against Railways in Nagpur. It was the second-lowest total in India's domestic one-day cricket, after Saurashtra's 34 against Mumbai in 1999-00. However, the duration of the Rajasthan innings, which lasted just 15.3 overs, was the lowest for a completed innings in Indian domestic cricket.
Railways, whose new-ball bowlers Anureet Singh and Amit Mishra had claimed five wickets each, then overhauled the target of 36 in just 5.3 overs, handing Rajasthan one of the biggest losses in one-day cricket. The demoralising loss came on the back of comprehensive losses against Vidarbha and Uttar Pradesh earlier in the tournament.
Despite being disappointed with his batsmen, Rajasthan captain Pankaj Singh wasn't overtly critical of his team-mates. "There is not much one can say when the team suffers from such a huge loss," a dejected Pankaj told ESPNcricinfo. "Obviously everything went wrong with our batting. I would attribute it to lack of application. Both the Railways bowlers bowled well but when none of the batsmen try to apply, then you are bound to be bowled out cheaply."
Railways captain Mahesh Rawat lavished praise on his bowlers. "Yesterday, we played at the same ground and both teams scored in the range of 240-plus. So you can't simply blame the pitch," he said. "The pitch was fine and there were no demons. Our opening bowlers were brilliant from the start. We have young Bilaspur boy Amit, who bowls outswing at a decent pace and we had Anureet, who is a seasoned campaigner at this level.
"The areas that our new ball bowlers bowled was brilliant and it became difficult for their batsmen. They wilted under pressure created by our bowlers."
The first four batsmen in the Rajasthan batting line-up fell for a duck and at 17 for 8 in the 12th over, Rajasthan were in danger of being bowled out for the lowest total in domestic one-day cricket. Robin Bist, the senior-most Rajasthan batsman in the one-day squad, agreed with his captain. "We played very bad cricket," Bist told ESPNcricinfo. "They bowled very well, one or two balls were exceptional but we didn't apply ourselves. Most of us lost our wickets due to poor shot selection."
Rajasthan players were in danger of missing out on the domestic season as late as the first week of October when the court appointed selection committees and directed BCCI to field the team as Rajasthan XI. As a result, after playing a selection tournament before Diwali, the Rajasthan team had a short 10-day camp in Jaipur before entering the tournament.
Still, Pankaj refused to blame a lack of preparation for the recent results. "We had a good camp and some of us played in the Duleep Trophy as well so we cannot say we were not prepared," Pankaj said. "Anyway, traditionally Rajasthan have struggled in the one-day format, so I just hope we can end the campaign with a victory in our last game and learn from our mistakes going into the Ranji Trophy."
The last time Rajasthan qualified for the all-India knockouts of the one-day competition was in 2006-07 when they lost to Mumbai in the final. Since then, despite winning two Ranji Trophy titles, Rajasthan have failed to finish in top two of the Central Zone one-day league.
Even Bist, who along with Pankaj and Ashok Menaria helped Central Zone with their first Duleep title in ten seasons last week, agreed with Pankaj but said that due to a lack of match practice the team was still trying to gel. "The more a set of boys plays together the sooner it gels. Since we missed all the pre-season preparatory tournaments, we are aware that it would take us a little while for this new team to get together," Bist said.
This is the first time in seven years that Rajasthan are entering a domestic season without the services of a professional. As a result, the Rajasthan team is full of new faces, most of whom have been competing for places in the team.
The only positive for Rajasthan during this year's league has been Pankaj's spell of 6 for 50 in their opener against Vidarbha. It was the best bowling spell by a Rajasthan bowler in one-day cricket, bettering Shamsher Singh's 5 for 26 against Vidarbha in 1998-99. "Records and achievements don't mean anything if the team isn't doing well," Pankaj said. "I just hope that we can lift ourselves in the coming season. It's going to be a long season and it's just the beginning. We just have to be positive about our game and give our best."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo