Rajasthan find another big promise in Rituraj Singh
Rituraj Singh has found the best way to emerge from the fringes and demand the spotlight be turned in his direction. In his debut first-class season for Rajasthan, Rituraj has taken 22 wickets in his first three matches, his 12-80 in the semi-final against Haryana at the Bansi Lal Stadium in Lahli earning him his second Man-of-the-Match award. This time though, Rajasthan must find a way to ensure that the immediate consequence of this award does not end up like the first one had.
In Rajasthan's final Elite group match versus Orissa in Jaipur, Rituraj's 6-75 in the second innings helped Rajasthan earn both an outright victory and the extra bonus point they needed to have any chance of progressing into the knockout round. Even though that was achieved, Rituraj was dropped for the next game, the quarter-final against Hyderabad. The need to play two spinners in Uppal meant that legspinner Vivek Yadav had to be brought into the eleven along with senior bowlers Pankaj Singh, Sumit Mathur and slow left-armer Gajendra Singh.
Rituraj's return to the playing XI however was inevitable given the conditions around Rajasthan's semi-final against Haryana. It was to be held in the depths of north India's winter in Lahli, outside Rohtak, on a new strip being put to use for the game. A swing bowler whose biggest strength is his accuracy and parsimony could not have asked for better conditions and Rituraj led Rajasthan's bowling in the final again.
Sent in to bat, Rajasthan were all out for 89, on day one, but it was Rituraj who brought them back into the match, making maximum use of the moisture in the wicket, a wobbling ball and a north-south breeze. "I could have gotten carried away at a time like this," Rituraj said after the Rajasthan victory, "but my captain and my coach stood in front of me telling me what to do and what not to do." The message was a simple one with a few "controllables" about good areas thrown in, and Rituraj turned out both obedient and composed.
In the first innings he dismissed both openers and his third wicket, bowling Prateek Pawar, was his favourite, "It's a bowler's dream ball, pitching in line and hitting the top of off stump." Haryana were all out for 97 the next morning, with Rituraj taking 7-45. With Haryana set 195 to win, Rituraj broke the innings open yet again, with Rahul Dewan's wicket, finishing with 5-37.
He said later, "It was a good performance by all of us but it's done. It's history. For me the best way to treat this performance is that it's just one step for me."
Twenty-one and enrolled in a B.Com degree course in his hometown Jaipur, Rituraj has taken many small steps on his way to the Ranji final. He began playing cricket at the age of 7 with the man he calls coach and mentor Anil Sinha. He has been at the MRF Pace foundation for the last two years and has played in the national under-22 competition. "Two five wicket hauls" he says proudly.
Late last year, Rituraj, along with Ronit More, was sent as part of MRF's exchange programme with the Australian Institute of Sport to be a part of the AIS team for the 2011 Emerging Players Tournament in Australia.
Kanitkar said that Rituraj's perfomances in the Under-22 had been noticed. The emergence of Deepak Chahar last year meant Rituraj had to wait for his first-class debut. "This year Deepak has been injured and Rituraj has come out and proved himself at this level." The encouragement given to seaming wickets in Rajasthan has ensured that there is a steady feeder line of fast bowlers coming through, and with Meyrick Pringle of South Africa being signed on as their bowling coach.
Rituraj's 22 wickets this season have come at an average of 14.31, figures that in the 1990s would largely have belonged to a spin-bowling teen prodigy. He could even pass off as one. Just under 5 feet 9 inches and whippet-like, Rituraj is a complete physical opposite of his bowling companions Pankaj Singh or Sumit Mathur or indeed most new generation Indian quick bowlers. But his repertoire will always require more flexibility rather than bulk. His bowling begins with a tearing sprint to the wicket and the ball is delivered with a whirlwind of the arms. He may well be a work in progress, but for Rajasthan, Rituraj is working just fine for the moment.
Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo