Kanitkar out of next game due to calf injury
Instead of celebrating Diwali - and his 38th birthday - at home, Hrishikesh Kanitkar chose to prepare for Rajasthan's next Ranji Trophy game, against Madhya Pradesh at the KL Saini Stadium in Jaipur from Saturday.
However, instead of celebrating his birthday with his team-mates, Kanitkar had to rush to a hospital and get an MRI scan done on his left calf, which he had injured during a fielding session on Wednesday. The results confirmed on Friday what Kanitkar and the Rajasthan camp had feared - he would be unavailable for the game against MP.
He has led Rajasthan to back-to-back Ranji titles and has been the in-form batsman for his team, having scored a century against Mumbai last week. Coincidentally, even last season, after scoring a century against Mumbai, Kanitkar missed the next game due to an injury.
His absence is a big blow but the Rajasthan camp is hoping to derive positives from the "uncontrollable" incident. "Hrishi bhaiyya's absence is a jolt no doubt, but we are treating it as an opportunity for Puneet Yadav," stand-in captain Vineet Saxena, who will be leading Rajasthan for the first time in a Ranji game, said on the eve of the game. "It is up to Puneet to cash in on the chance that is presented to him and try and minimise the impact of his [Kanitkar's] absence."
Yadav has been on the fringes of Rajasthan's side, and has featured in six first-class games, though he hasn't yet been able to establish himself in the side. And if the wicket at the KL Saini Stadium remains as green as it was the day before the match, he will have a challenge ahead.
But more than banking on Yadav, Saxena hoped that the rest of the Rajasthan batsmen would perform consistently in order to at least gain three points for the first-innings lead. The likes of Robin Bist, last season's highest run-getter, and young batsman Ashok Menaria have failed in Rajasthan's opening game against Bengal, and though Saxena and Kanitkar batted well against Mumbai, their bowling performance hurt them.
"We have discussed the need for being consistent in all departments," Saxena said. "Our batsmen and bowlers have clicked once in two games so far, but if the team has to do well, it should happen collectively. All that we have been discussing is if every individual performs his designated role, it will help the team in a great way."
While Rajasthan have been pondering over how best to fill Kanitkar's absence, MP will be hoping their seasoned players do the job for them. Captain Devendra Bundela, a veteran on the domestic circuit, was banking on Naman Ojha, the only international in MP's line-up, Jalaj Saxena, and himself, to rise to the challenge against the defending champions. While the experienced players will hope to help MP maintain their position among the top three teams of the group, young Harpeet Singh, who is expected to be included in the team, will be keen to cement his place in the side.
With two points from as many games, Rajasthan need an outright victory to get the campaign on track. Kanitkar's absence makes that target a lot tougher. "It's obviously very disappointing for the whole team, not just him and me," Rajasthan coach Meyrick Pringle said. "For Rajasthan, he plays a formidable role in the line-up of the side. Not only does he play a big role with his batting, but also his captaincy… he is a big hero here. Everybody loves the guy and he adds huge value, so it's a huge loss to the side for this game, especially because we have to win it."
It remains to be seen if Kanitkar's absence ends up motivating his team-mates more than helping MP, a team he represented for two seasons before joining Rajasthan in 2010-11.
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo