'I've been mentally prepared' - Rajat Bhatia
When he was coming through the age groups, Rajat Bhatia was regarded, by people who know a thing or two about the game, as an exciting prospect for the future. This was not because he had express pace or exaggerated swing, or because he was a naturally talented batsman. He was widely regarded as being mature beyond his years, and that he had a sensible, practical approach to playing the game.
There was always the hope that he would grow taller than his eventual 1.74 metres, because with his steady line, he could have been a more than handy customer if the bounce and pace came along. But after playing his under-16 cricket in Delhi, he moved to Chennai, where he played his under-19 and under-22 cricket, and turned out for MRF in the corporate league. His two seasons at Tamil Nadu, in 2000-01 and 2001-02 were filled with potential, but somehow he never broke through to the next level.
When his under-22 days were finished he returned to Delhi, the city of his birth, having picked up a job with Indian Airlines. After a year out of the Ranji Trophy circuit he has since been playing for Delhi. Chhotu, as he is popularly known in both Chennai and Delhi, ran into problems with a bad back, and this meant that he had to cut down on his run-up, which some thought was unusually long, and even bowled off-spin, both in the nets and in matches, for Delhi.
So, when this season began, his primary focus was to return to full fitness and get back to bowling his mediumpace in the manner he knew best. "I've worked very hard on my fitness this year. I've been in England and doing a lot of work with a view that I should score right from the start of the season," said Bhatia after ending the third day unbeaten on 101, an innings that took Delhi to the doorstep of a first-innings lead. "I've got runs, but the job isn't done yet. The first task is to score the runs we need tomorrow morning and take the first-innings lead."
Bhatia had already made one telling contribution in the game when he broke the 127-run partnership between M Vijay and S Badrinath. But equally there was a blot, when he dropped Badrinath off the bowling of Ashish Nehra, with the batsman only on 27. But Bhatia said that miss was not on his mind at any point in the day when he batted. "If you're going to keep things like that in mind how will you play the remaining three days in the match? These things happen, they're a part of the game," said Bhatia. "I normally don't stand in the slips or gully, and I just happened to be there for an over because I had my shin-pads on. That's a mistake I'm never going to make again," explained Bhatia, with typical forthrightness.
Looking back at the last season Bhatia homed in on injury concerns as the one thing that held him back. "Most of my concentration was towards my back rather than my batting," he said, and hoped that a return to full fitness would translate into runs. "I've been mentally prepared for the challenge of making runs consistently. When I went out to bat today they were bowling well, but I knew that the result would come if I worked hard."
Bhatia, one of the few grafters in this team of strokemakers, adopted a safety first approach and it paid dividends. "I don't think the spinners are getting any help from this wicket. And I knew that Tamil Nadu were playing with two specialist seam bowlers," he said. "So I just wanted to stay at the wicket. My plan was to concentrate hard against the fast bowlers and just allow the runs to come."
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo