Rajasthan bank on Bhatia to revive campaign
Rajat Bhatia, the former Delhi allrounder, has found a new home. Starting with the Group A Ranji Trophy match against Maharashtra in Jaipur on Thursday, Bhatia will represent Rajasthan, which is being run by a court-appointed ad-hoc committee.
For a player to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) in the middle of the season is not a routine event, but it has prevented Bhatia's whole season going to waste, and has given a young Rajasthan team an experienced hand, which they have often drawn from professionals.
With four points from three games, Rajasthan are placed eighth in the nine-team pool, and face the risk of relegation. They played the first game at home, and shot Delhi out for a low score on the first day, but couldn't convert that into an outright win. After that they travelled to east India to lose to Assam and concede a first-innings lead to Bengal.
How Bhatia would have loved to make this transition before the first round, and play a team that has hurt him, Delhi. He is still not happy with the treatment he got. "I was sure my season was gone," he said. "I thought maybe after the first game. Maybe after the next… but it was clear they were not going to pick me. This match, looking at the Delhi side, I can't agree with the statement that I don't fit in the XI.
"I asked the selectors as to what was the reason for not picking me. I have not been dropped based on performance, or based on fitness. There was no explanation. They just said sorry. I don't like to believe it but I have heard that the selectors wanted to pick me, but Gautam [Gambhir] didn't want to."
Gambhir, the captain, of course told the selectors that Bhatia does not fit in his XI, so the selectors said they didn't want to bench such a senior player. Given all that, Bhatia is thankful he wasn't picked at all. "It's a blessing in disguise that they didn't pick me under some sort of pressure," he said. "What if they had given me one game and then benched me? Then I wouldn't have had this opportunity too.
"I am thankful to the BCCI and to Rajasthan that I have been given this opportunity even after the deadline. That they saw that this experienced player sitting at home, so if he is available for Rajasthan, why not?"
Bhatia has a prior association with Rajasthan. He was picked by Rajasthan Royals at the 2014 IPL auction after Kolkata Knight Riders didn't retain him. Bhatia is the most capped Indian non-international in the IPL. Even though he turns 36 the day he makes his first-class debut for Rajasthan, he is a valued workhorse on the domestic scene. If he plays all the five remaining matches he would have played 100 first-class games. He has scored 5394 runs at 48.16 and has taken 119 wickets. Rajasthan hope his inclusion will bring some stability to their middle order, while his handy seam-ups provide a foil for Deepak Chahar's swing and Nathu Singh's pace.
Rajasthan are hopeful of playing on a lively track that assists their quicks. But they are also mindful of being up against a settled Maharashtra batting line-up boasting of Kedar Jadhav, Rohit Motwani and Harshad Khadiwale. Maharashtra's penchant to play attacking cricket will add some life to the contest.
Rajasthan, though, can't afford to take lightly the Maharashtra attack of Domnic Muthuswamy and Samad Fallah, who can be dangerous in these conditions. Having taken the first-innings honours against Haryana and Odisha, Maharashtra are placed fifth, a point behind defending champions Karnataka.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo