The grim faces of the Hyderabad team presented a striking contrast to the joyful mood in the Jharkhand camp as the latter qualified for the Ranji Trophy knock-out phase by virtue of its 10-wicket win in the last league match here on Friday.

Former Jharkhand cricketer Rajiv Kumar Raja has been successful as a coach in his first Ranji season.

“The target since the start of the season has been to not just qualify but win Ranji,” says the delighted coach even as the players were celebrating their second entry into the knockout phase after three years.

‘Had a tough start’

“Things were really tough at the start when we lost two away games in difficult conditions. But, in a way it was a learning process, the hard way no doubt,” Rajiv recalls.

“The indifferent start to the season was good for it also helped in team building and also making a critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses and make some corrections,” he said.

“The best part was the players never gave up. Showed great fighting spirit,” says the Jharkhand coach pointed out. “The strong points were obviously the team work, self-belief and the willingness to look ahead and keep improving,” he said.

‘Win against Kerala was significant’

“The first win of the season against Kerala was a big thing for us in terms of getting back the confidence. Yes, when we prepared a turner against Goa at home it backfired,” he said.

“Importantly, the momentum was back after we took the first innings lead against J & K,” he added.

“Obviously, three big wins which fetched seven points each against Tripura, Himachal and now Hyderabad are proof of the boys capabilities.”

Jharkhand’s under-19 cricket Kaushal Singh says that the biggest contribution of the new coach is the way he brought in camaraderie in team and also the bonding amongst the players.

Questioned whether there was any pressure on Jharkhand as it was in a must-win situation against Hyderabad in the last game, Rajiv mentioned that the decision to put the home team in to bat after winning the toss was a big gamble. “Well, honestly we did not expect Hyderabad to be bowled out for 145 but were looking at a total of about 300. I think my bowlers showed great discipline on a flat pitch here,” he said.

Dhoni’s influence on Jharkhand

What sort of influence does the biggest ever cricketer from Jharkhand, M.S. Dhoni, have on this Ranji team? “It is massive. Every time he was at home, he always made it a point to come to the practice sessions, mingle freely with the players and give them the invaluable tips,” Rajiv revealed.

“He is massive inspiration for all of us. The warmth and the way he keeps the boys in the comfort zone is something really special. Such a cool personality despite achieving so much,” said Rajiv.

“We hope to keep going as there is a gap for the knock-outs (scheduled in February) after the Vijay Hazare one-dayers and the T-20 games.”