Making my Ranji Trophy debut was a dream come true because as a child, I always wanted to start with first-class cricket. I had just finished playing Under-19 cricket and had had a good season. I scored a double-hundred, two centuries and an 80. On the basis of those performances, I was selected for the Ranji Trophy that year.
I had previously captained the U-17 Indian team that went to England and had also represented India at the U-19 level. That year was massive for me because I was batting really well. The selectors told me that they were keeping a close eye on me and asked me to continue doing well. Luckily, that year, I got the chance.
I was training with the school team when I got the news. Amiya Ray, who was my senior, congratulated me, saying I had been selected. I was very excited as I was hoping I would get through that year in Ranji Trophy. Ranjib Biswal was the captain at the time and he gave me the cap. It was a great feeling. Both Ranjib and Amiya were from my club and I had been training with them for a long time.
More than nervous, I'd say I was excited. My captain said it's a bit different from U-19 but asked me not to change anything and just enjoy the four days, so I just trusted my technique and ability. I had the confidence because I knew even if I failed, the management was going to back me.
When I walked out to bat, there were three slips, a gully and a short leg. I don't think they sledged me, but when you are making your debut at 17 or 18, there will obviously be a lot of noise around. It was just a matter of taking that out of your mind and focusing on the ball; I had been through a similar phase in the U-19s as well. So I had to focus really well for the first 10-15 balls. Once you get through that phase, you know what to expect from the bowlers and how the wicket is behaving. The outfield was barren and really quick, so I knew once I timed the ball, it would race away to the boundary. All I had to worry about was spending time at the wicket.
I remember Narendra Hirwani was playing for Madhya Pradesh and I was excited to play against a Test player. They had an experienced attack that had been doing well all season. At the Ranji level, bowlers hit consistent lines and good areas, so it was a matter of playing them out.
I was batting well before I got out in the first innings. It was a short ball, outside off-stump, and I tried to play a backfoot drive to a spinner. The ball spun a bit and I edged to the slips. It was not a ball to get out to. I was disappointed not to get runs because the pitch was really good. A couple of seniors came up to me and said there is nothing to worry about.
But, luckily, I did really well in the second innings. The key was to get a good start again and break down the innings into installments of 10 runs. I remember batting with Sushil Kumar, who was a very jolly guy. He was cracking jokes and calmed me down a lot. After crossing 15-20 runs, I knew if I stayed around for two-three more hours, given that it was quite humid and hot, the bowlers weren't going to bowl long spells.
When I scored my 98th run, they brought the field up. There was a forward short leg, a backward short leg and a silly point. The ball I got out to was well outside off stump. I offered my pad, but it came back in before brushing the flap and lobbed onto my stump. I was shattered to have missed out on the century. But I told myself that I had at least got to bat these many number of overs and had played well.
I could not make the next match (quarterfinal against Maharashtra) as I had to appear for my exams. Those days, the Ranji Trophy was a big deal for us and getting into the side and competing against the best players in India was a big deal. And I was lucky to have had the great senior players of our side around -- Ranjib, Amiya, Prasant Mohapatra - when it happened. To get an opportunity that early in my career helped me a lot.
As told to Akshay Gopalakrishnan
Akshay Gopalakrishnan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo