Services v UP, Ranji Trophy Quarter-Final, 2nd day January 7, 2013

Paliwal, Chatterjee symbolise Services' resolve

An Air Force man and a would-be Sergeant took contrasting routes to show how much the Ranji knockouts matter to the men in uniform

"We are soldiers first, players later… A soldier remains a soldier, till he is no more." These words from Wing Commander Deepak Bhaskar, the Services manager, sum up the attitude of the side that comprises cricketers from the Indian armed forces.

When you hear these words, you begin to appreciate why Services captain Soumik Chatterjee, barely able to walk with a badly injured knee, dragged himself to the middle at No. 11 despite his team already leading Uttar Pradesh by 129 on a difficult pitch. You begin to appreciate why Chatterjee risked doing further damage to the severe clotting on his knee, and was bitterly disappointed when he lasted one ball. You begin to appreciate how much a rare Ranji quarter-final appearance means to Chatterjee's team, which still values and respects domestic first-class cricket in this age of IPL contracts.

Chatterjee's struggle to reach the pitch moved the UP players enough for a few of them to walk up and pat him on the back. His struggle to reach the dressing room moved UP coach Venkatesh Prasad enough for him to walk up, take Chatterjee's bat in one hand and support the Services captain with the other. Like a tough senior officer, though, Bhaskar was nowhere to be seen near Chatterjee at that time.

"Even if he could have scored 10 runs, it could have made a difference to the game," Bhaskar said later of Chatterjee's decision. "It is a big match, a Ranji quarter-final. If we fail here, it means that all the efforts we put in through the season, through the first eight matches, would be in vain."

While Chatterjee's has to be one of the most heroic one-ball innings in the game, young Rajat Paliwal, in only his second season, did his best to see that Services' efforts in topping Group C weren't in vain with an aggressive unbeaten 112 off 133 deliveries.

Paliwal, who hails from Sonepat in Haryana, joined the Air Force in early 2011 and debuted for Services in 2011-12, averaging 23.44 in five games. He had to later go through the rigorous military training all Services recruits have to, and has so far made 741 runs this season with four centuries at an average of 82.33.

Paliwal's gloves were battered today by the UP fast bowlers, who kept up their short ball barrage throughout the morning session. A huge, bulging blister on the tip of his right forefinger did not deter Paliwal from hooking and pulling with total control on his way to his century, which could have yet taken the game away from UP.

Paliwal, who will be promoted to a Sergeant soon, said that with the pitch providing help to the fast bowlers, there was little point in hanging around and defending, so he decided to attack. At no point was he reckless, though.

A finely balanced hundred and a brave first-ball duck. Paliwal and Chatterjee took contrasting routes to show how much the Ranji knockouts matter to the men in uniform.

Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo