Slowly but surely, Rajasthan's boys find their feet
Their draw against Karnataka at Mysore's Gangothri Glades gave Rajasthan their first points in the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. And it's a start, though one delayed, they hope to capitalise on.
With an average age of 25, lacking star batsmen and under a new coach, Rajasthan are a side in transition. Three losses from four games is hardly the ideal start but there's no lack of positivism in this side. Speak to any of the players, rookie or veteran, and you can see the shared enthusiasm and friendship.
The main worry has been the batting. Rajasthan have crossed 300 only twice all season, their best of 393 coming in this game. "Yes, our batting has let us down," says KP Bhaskar, the coach. "It's something that needs addressing. With a young group the good thing is that the boys are ready to learn. There's a lot of pressure on us, but what people tend to see is just a scoreboard, which says Rajasthan lost. We've had some decisions go against us."
Bhaskar, a master of the domestic circuit in his day, is in his first term as coach and has inherited a mixed bag of players - the likes of 20-year-old newcomer Robin Bist, with 242 runs at 30.25, and debutant Manish Sharma, Gagan Khoda, at 33 in the twilight of his career and Nikhil Doru and Rohit Jhalani, in their mid-to-late twenties.
He says he's excited at the prospect of helping a talented group of players achieve their best. "I was given a brief by Lalit Modi [president of the Rajasthan Cricket Association] about my role and what was expected of me. We have plans in progress and it's only a matter of time before those materialise. Working with Greg Chappell [advisor to the RCA for its Centre of Excellence] is sure to be a great help for the team. The boys can only benefit."
Speaking of boys, Bhaskar took positives from the performance of the youngsters. "With Gagan ruled out [for this game], it was good to see youngsters like Robin, Manish and Rohit [Jhalani] step up. We've got a core group of young players we've identified as key going forward. A major part of my role is to inspire the youngsters and tell them what needs to be done. Being a former player I hope to pass on valuable advice.
"Fitness is another important factor. Training methods in the game have changed and you need to be up to mark to ensure players are fitter and stronger."
As was Bhaskar's batting style during his playing days, patience is the key. "Results won't happen overnight. This is a side in transition. But we have a positive group."
For Bist, four matches have been a learning curve. "One thing we've learnt is that you need more than 300 to force a result, or at least earn a draw, in Ranji Trophy cricket," said Bist. "It makes it easier on the bowlers. They need something to defend."
|With an average age of 25, without any star batsmen and under a new coach, Rajasthan are a side in transition. Three losses from four games is hardly the ideal start but there's no lack of positivism in this side|
33-year-old Mohammad Aslam, Rajasthan's captain, concurred. "It's tough for the bowlers. Bowling day in and day out is not easy. Our batting hasn't clicked yet. We need to correct that. But now we're on the board [in terms of points] and we'll fight harder."
"It's only been one game, and I'm just glad to have been able to contribute," said Sharma. "I have a long way to go." Sharma was handed a maiden cap due to Gagan Khoda's viral fever, but as he put it, "If I make the team, good; if not, I'll go back and work hard at the nets."
This season there have been six state sides depleted by the advent of the Indian Cricket League, with its seemingly bottomless coffers tempting players to flock to the 20-over tournament. As Aslam says, the lure was there but state came first for the entire Rajasthan team. "We were all approached by ICL officials but every one of us turned it down. Of course, money is important but who's to say how long such a tournament will last. We consulted with seniors and made our decision. There's pride in playing for your state."
What Rajasthan lack in experience, they hope to make up for with spirit.
Jamie Alter is an editorial assistant at Cricinfo