Ranji Trophy quarters: Odisha dares to dream under Rashmi Parida

Odisha finished second in Group C (38 points) behind Jammu and Kashmir, which ended the group stage as table topper with 39 points.

Members of the Odisha Ranji Trophy team strike a pose after entering the quarterfinals.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

After a gap of three years, Odisha has qualified for the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals following a draw against Jharkhand.

It was a remarkable outing for the Subhranshu Senapati-led side as Odisha finished second in Group C (38 points) behind Jammu and Kashmir, which ended the group stage as table topper with 39 points.

Odisha will meet arch-rival Bengal in the knockout at the DRIEMS ground in Cuttack, starting Thursday. This achievement wouldn't have been possible without the influence of former domestic batting stalwart and current Odisha coach Rashmi Ranjan Parida.

"To be honest, it all started with a dream. Our aim was to progress to the Elite Group A & B and to achieve that we had to be among the top two. That was the aim that the boys had and finally we are there. It's a moment of pride and we are happy with our achievement. Having said that, our aim is to reach the semis and then the final. It is not an impossible task," Parida told Sportstar from Bhubaneshwar.

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Odisha began its season with three straight wins against Chhattisgarh, Services, and Uttarakhand. The following games saw the side salvage a draw against Tripura and then pull off a stunning one-wicket away win against Haryana in Rohtak.

"Winning the first three games gave us the momentum and we just rode on that wave. It was a massive boost and beating Haryana in Rohtak was very satisfying. We knew we had the arsenal to win games and pocket full points," Rashmi stated.

However, in its next fixture, Odisha suffered a four-wicket loss at home against Jammu and Kashmir, before bouncing back to beat Assam and Maharashtra.

"It's a long season and I knew we would suffer a loss here and there and that's what happened. But we never allowed the momentum to slip away and came back strongly to record two back-to-back wins. It's been an incredible journey so far and credit goes to the entire team for putting up such commendable performance. There were individual flashes of brilliance but overall it's a team effort," he said.

READ| Ranji Trophy 2019-20 quarterfinal fixtures, venues

Showstoppers 

Top-order batsman Debasish Samantray slammed a brilliant match-winning 195 against Services, while Rajesh Mohanty picked a six-for against Chhatisgarh. Old warhorse Basant Mohanty has been among the wickets and so has Suryakant Pradhan.

"Debasish is a fine player and he is the fulcrum in the batting department. Having said that, the likes of Govind Poddar and Biplab Samantray have come good and the middle-order has made some vital contributions. 

"Subhranshu coming into form is a bonus. In the bowling department, Basant has spearheaded the attack and he is the reason behind the success of Rajesh. Basant has been around for a long time and he guides the youngsters and tells them how to bowl in crunch situations. It's a pleasure to have seniors like Basant, Biplab and Govind in the team and it lends the balance. Overall the composition was perfect this season."

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The 2016 knockout

During the 2016 quarterfinal, Odisha lost to Gujarat, with rival opener Samit Gohel scoring an unbeaten 359 and breaking the world record for the highest score by an opener carrying his bat in first-class cricket. Gujarat qualified for the semifinal based on first-innings lead.

Asked how his side is preparing for the high-pressure match, Rashmi said, "Look it's all about mental strength and the boys are ready for it. Except for Basant, Biplab and Govind the rest haven't played a knockout. So it's a chance for them to express themselves and create something special. Bengal will come hard but we are ready for it. Quarterfinal has its own charm."

Rashmi, himself a two-time Ranji Trophy champion with Rajasthan, shared how his side went on to win the title in 2011. Rashmi with two crucial half-centuries was the player of the match. 

"Rajasthan was in the Plate group but we qualified for the quarters. That was the first step. Then beating Mumbai in the quarters boosted our morale and then we went on to beat Tamil Nadu in the semis. In the final, we beat Baroda. Nobody gave us a chance but we did it. That is what I want the boys to do. Instil the belief that they can beat any side by playing good, competitive cricket," he said.

Current coach Rashmi Ranjan Parida poses with the Ranji Trophy after winning with Rajasthan in 2011.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

 

Green Top

The track at DRIEMS has traditionally favoured fast bowlers and Rashmi insists on having a green strip.

"Definitely a green top and bowling is our strength. Each of our bowlers has taken 30-35 wickets this season and we would want a track that would support fast bowlers. I am sure our batsmen can handle Bengal's attack. We know the conditions better than the opposition and we will take it as just another game."

Odisha cricket went through turbulent times - from Michael Bevan leaving the team midway to former India players Debasish Mohanty and Shiv Sundar Das taking the mantle as head coaches. However, the team struggled to put decent performances and that was the time when Parida was given the charge.

READ| Ranji Trophy 2019-20: The road to the quarterfinals

"Coaching is not new to me but yes it was challenging. The first thing was to put this team together, get in youngsters at the same time make the seniors realise their potential and extract their vital game experience and make sure they pass on the knowledge to the youngsters. My aim now is to ensure players graduate to the next level. Play for India A and make them dream about donning the India jersey. There is so much potential and I am sure the road ahead is brighter."

The facilities weren't great and there was just one pre-season camp before the season started. From practising in the indoor hall to setting a quarterfinal date with Bengal, the Rashmi Parida-coached side has come a long way.

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