Youngsters play ball for Rajasthan
"I just wanted to get it done with," says Robin Bist, when asked about the miscued pull that ended a determined innings on 99. His cheeks turn red momentarily, the way they did when that one lapse in concentration cost him a maiden first-class hundred, as he looks down at his feet. "It was a silly shot, but batting in the nineties is so very tough that it seems like you're stuck there for ages and you just want to get past the hundred."
For nearly five hours Bist had defied Karnataka, weathering two mini-collapses and displaying maturity beyond his 20 years, but getting out one short of the deserved landmark was tough for the rookie to digest. Slamming his bat into the ground with a yell, Bist stood alone for a lonely minute before walking off. "I couldn't believe it. I had played well to get there and it feels bad. Hopefully more chances will come."
The way Bist batted, it seems they will. Bist was one half of a defiant fifth-wicket partnership that overcame a collapse on day one, after a 120-run opening stand between debutant Manish Sharma and Vineet Saxena. Bist lost his overnight partner Rohit Jhalani for 62 early in the day, but didn't err in his task of consolidating Rajasthan's position. At 288 for 7, Karnataka, favourites on experience and Ranji form, had a prime opportunity to skittle out the tail, but Bist shepherded the tail.
"I've always been an aggressive batsman, it's my style, but here the situation was different and the pitch wasn't easy to bat on." Short and compact, Bist tackled the pace bowlers and spinners with aplomb, getting right inside the line of the ball and picking the gaps like a seasoned pro. His major scoring shots were the flick and cut, and he used these aplenty against a jaded Karnataka attack.
Impressively, his strokeplay was matched by an ability to bat with the tail. With medium-pacer Pankaj Singh, he crafted a 46-run eighth-wicket partnership. Effortlessly, Bist kept hold of the strike until he became confident of Pankaj's abilities. "Pankaj can bat, he's an aggressive allrounder. He got a half-century last season, but I just told him to stay at the wicket and not think about scoring that much. 'I will handle that,' I said. We were in a tough situation and I asked him to just support me."
That partnership inspired Pankaj to dig further, and with his captain, veteran Mohammad Aslam, he added a further 52 to frustrate Karnataka. "393 is a good total, but I feel we could have gotten more," says Bist, his eyes focused on the 22-yard strip in the background.
Rajasthan's batting has let them down this season, and with no points from three games they languish at the bottom. Bist, with 234 runs at 33.42 in his fourth game, is one of the three youngsters who have contributed in this game. "Most of this team is made up of youngsters, such as Manish [Sharma], Rohit [Jhalani] and I, all in our first season. We're all positive and ready to learn from seniors, like Gagan Khoda. We believe we can do well for Rajasthan."
The belief may not be the answer to Rajasthan's worries, but it's a positive start. Watching Rajasthan wind down after play offers a glimpse into the mentality of a young and inexperienced side. During a modified version of volleyball, played with a football and a row of plastic chairs, every player cheers and at the same time, has a dig at his team-mates, with coach and assistant coach involved. Laughter fills the cool Mysore air and the camaraderie can be seen.
"This all started last season, after we became Ranji one-day finalists," says Bist. "We lost [to Mumbai in Jaipur] but we were all so enthusiastic that it became something of a superstition for us. We're all so young and want to do well, that we make sure to laugh both on and off the field. It's very important to be happy."
KP Bhaskar, a former Delhi captain who took over as Rajasthan coach this season, believes youth is the way forward. "The game has changed; there's so much evolving and more is expected of the players. It's good to have youngsters like Robin and Manish do well. We've got a core group of young players we've identified as key going forward. Youngsters put pressure on seniors, which is a good thing. At the same time they have so much to learn from experienced players.
"I'm here as part of a plan, and I'm confident we can develop Rajasthan cricket. It's going to be an interesting journey."
With youngsters like Bist on the way to becoming the aces that Rajasthan so badly need, Rajasthan seem headed on the right track. There will be bumps along the way, but it will be interesting to see if what's important for the youngsters today stays important.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo