"We don't want star players. We want performers," Wing commander Deepak Bhaskar, the Services manager, had said before the start of their quarter-final against Uttar Pradesh, when asked about the big-name players in the opposition. Performance was what he got from his players on day one. Leading them was fast bowler Shadab Nazar, a corporal in the Air Force, who routed UP for 134 on the way to his third five-for in his debut first-class season.
Nazar, 25, ironically hails from UP and played age-group cricket for the state. He was part of the same sports hostel set-up in Lucknow where Suresh Raina and RP Singh come from, before he was recruited by Bhaskar into the Air Force. Today, he showed no mercy to his former state-mates as he bustled in with a run-up full of energy and found generous bounce from the Holkar Stadium pitch to claim 5 for 51.
Nazar's been with Services for six years now, but broke into their first-class side only this season, though he played a couple of one-dayers in early 2010. He's already become a potent part of the side's fast-bowling attack, along with Suraj Yadav and Nishan Singh, and has played all their nine games so far in the season to pick up 30 wickets at an average of 23.56.
"It doesn't matter how big the batsman's reputation is. In the end, it is all about putting the ball in the right areas," Nazar said. He added more zip to the Services attack as soon as he was introduced first change and dismissed three of the top six UP batsmen. "My approach was to just keep it on a tight length," he said.
Nazar felt the pitch had eased out slightly after the morning session in which UP lost seven wickets but it was still not easy for the batsmen. Bhaskar said the deliveries that zipped through had decreased in number but were still enough of a threat.
The UP attack has delivered four outright wins in the season and it was quite an achievement for Services to earn a lead of 20 runs by stumps with five wickets in hand. Even more so, considering they had to redo their batting order following the unavailability of the captain Soumik Chatterjee, who hurt his knee while fielding in the deep. Chatterjee was taken for an MRI scan, the results of which were awaited. The seriousness of his injury was evident when, unable to walk, he was carried from the dressing room to the team bus by his team-mates.
What part, if any, Chatterjee will be able to play in the remainder of the match was unclear but for a determined Services side, it is just one of the several odds they have to tackle.