Jalaj Saxena: Kerala's go-to guy

Jalaj Saxena, best all-rounder in the Ranji Trophy for last two seasons, is proving to be a great signing for Kerala.

Jalaj Saxena, who powered Kerala to a significant victory over Jharkhand last week, would be key to the team's chances of qualifying for the knockout stages.   -  P. K. AJITH KUMAR

Jalaj Saxena was chosen as the best all-rounder by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in the Ranji Trophy for the last two seasons. He has indicated that he would be in contention for another Lala Amarnath Award, as he powered Kerala to a significant victory over Jharkhand at Thiruvananthapuram last week. He took 11 wickets with his off spin and scored a half century that was worth its weight in gold in a low-scoring match that was over within three days.

He is delighted that he could play a key role in Kerala getting off to a dream start. “This was something what I wanted to do for Kerala when I decided to join the team after playing 11 years for Madhya Pradesh," Saxena, who has made 4951 runs and took 229 wickets in first class cricket, told Sportstar. “We were really keen to win our first match of the season, though we were playing against a strong side that had reached the semifinals in the last edition.”

About his fighting innings, which helped Kerala gain what would prove to be a crucial lead, he said he was determined to keep his wicket. “It wasn’t an easy track to bat on, but I got excellent support from wicket-keeper Mohammed Azharuddeen and the tail,” said the 30-year-old, who has played for India A.

“The batting of the lower order was something we had worked a lot on in our preparations over the last couple of months. As for the bowling, I enjoyed combining with left-arm spinner S. Monish.”

He said the team could learn a lot from training under Dav Whatmore, who guided Sri Lanka to a World Cup victory in 1996. “He has brought in a lot of positivity,” Saxena said. “It has been a privilege working with him.”

Kerala's next match is the against reigning champion Gujarat, starting at Nadiad, some 50 km from here, on Saturday. “They are a very formidable side of course, but we don't think they are unbeatable, even at home,” he said.

“Our aim is to qualify for the knock-out stage.” He is happy that his decision to play for Kerala has proved right. He had done well with the bat and the ball in his maiden season. “It was disappointing though that we could not win a game last year,” he said.

He said he was disappointed that he wasn’t picked for the recent India A teams despite becoming the best all-rounder in domestic cricket. “I was a bit upset initially because of that, but now I have come over it. I am hopeful of an international career yet.”

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