Ranji Trophy offers brief respite for run-hungry Ankit Kalsi

Playing domestic cricket after a frustrating two years, Kalsi led the run charts for Himachal Pradesh but oversaw a lukewarm team performance.

Kalsi will head to Liverpool, U.K., to play club cricket in the summer months.   -  FILE PHOTO/ AKHILESH KUMAR

Ankit Kalsi, like numerous others, played domestic cricket for the first time in two years when he played the Ranji Trophy. Known more for his expertise as a patient accumulator of runs in first-class cricket, Kalsi’s wait to make a mark with the bat and make a case for higher honours ended when Himachal Pradesh took the field against Punjab at the Arun Jaitley stadium here on February 17.

Within a month, it was over. Although his team’s overall performance was lukewarm, his personal returns with the bat were good: he topped the run charts, scoring 316 runs in five innings.

These runs were scored after three months of strife. Just days away from participating in his first domestic T20 tournament – the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy – Kalsi suffered a grade-three muscle tear and was ruled out. His wait to play domestic cricket again after a lengthy break due to COVID-19 extended, a break which had ended his bat sponsorship. And now he couldn’t bat or bowl or field for the next three months.

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“I have been having a very good training regimen for the last 1.5-2 years. Everyone was very impressed with the fitness, so everyone was really surprised to see that I have got injured. Maybe it was because of the wet ground; we were going a sprint on the wet ground [at training],” the Himachal Pradesh captain told Sportstar, reflecting on his injury and rehab.

The Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association asked him to undergo rehab at its rehab facility in Dharamsala, and Kalsi tried his best to recover before the all-important Ranji Trophy. He said the period of recovery made him a “better person.”

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“It was a very difficult period personally for me; even my family was worried. Before the season, you do all the hard work, and suddenly when the season comes, you get injured. It was very difficult to digest,” he said.

Surprise 

He eventually made it to the inter-district tournament in the State, representing his home district of Una. Since the domestic team was busy playing the knockout rounds of the Vijay Hazare Trophy, most of the players likely to play the Ranji Trophy missed the red-ball practice. With an inspired performance with bat and ball, captain Rishi Dhawan led the team to its maiden title, beating heavyweight Tamil Nadu in the final in Jaipur.

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So when Kalsi was appointed captain again – he served as the captain in 2019 – two days before the Ranji Trophy was set to begin, he was surprised, as he thought Rishi would continue to lead the team in the longer format of the game as well.

Himachal made a promising start, scoring 354 in the first innings against Punjab, Kalsi scoring 88. But thanks to Punjab’s mammoth first-innings score of 526, only one point could be gained. With an innings win against Tripura – Kalsi scored 147 – the team was well in the hunt for a quarterfinal spot, but a loss in the final round quashed the hopes.

“They had prepared rank turners [in Palam]; it was difficult to make runs there,” Kalsi said, reflecting on the third-round match against Haryana.

“The pitch had been under-prepared and deteriorated from day one, so whoever got the opportunity to bat first had a big advantage. We had to bowl, and our bowlers let us down; Haryana scored more than 300 runs and so were always behind in the match.

“All in all, I would say our performance wasn’t very good but not very bad either. Rishi was injured for the last game, and Prashant [Chopra], too. It was very unfortunate; they both had to undergo surgery.”

Not having qualified for the knockout rounds meant Kalsi and the rest of his team have hardly any cricket to look forward to this season. Kalsi will head to Liverpool, U.K., to play club cricket in the summer months, having signed up as a professional for Formby CC.

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