Baby banks on 'brave cricket' against Gujarat

Kerala qualified for the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals for the second season in a row, this time courtesy its victory in the final Elite Group B match against Himachal Pradesh.

Sachin Baby strokes the ball square on the offside in Kerala's last Elite B fixture against Himachal Pradesh.   -  Akhilesh Kumar

Kerala had to wait till the last league match to ensure a quarterfinal berth in the Ranji Trophy. The Sachin Baby-led side defeated Himachal Pradesh on Thursday to storm into the last-eight stage.

As it gears up for its important fixture against Gujarat, Kerala captain, Baby is confident of the team’s chances. Playing at home in Wayanad, he feels the team will play fearless cricket against Gujarat. The captain spoke to Sportstar on Friday before flying out to Bengaluru from Delhi.

Excerpts…

When Kerala made it to the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy last season, many termed it as a one-off thing. But your team has managed to reach the last-eight stage again. How do you see that?

Last year, we prepared very well and reached the quarterfinals. Though we lost that game against Vidarbha, it was a learning experience for us. It was our first-time, so, there was pressure.

People think that Kerala is more comfortable with the shorter format of the game, but last year, we ensured that we also played well in the longer format.

This time around, we worked really hard from the beginning. We had so many camps in Chennai, then we played the KSCA [Karnataka State Cricket Association] invitational tournament, where we did really well. In the Vijay Hazare Trophy also, our team did well.

Our team has done quite well in the Ranji Trophy league stage also, all our players are are regaining form and are contributing at the crunch moment. Our fast bowlers, Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi, have been bowling well and then there was Jalaj Saxena. So yeah, the group stages have been good.

But your hopes of making it to the quarterfinals were hanging till the last group match against Himachal Pradesh. Were you concerned about any particular department?

The only concern was our batting. They were not coming in a group. We also had problems with opening, we tried a lot of them but none were clicking. (KB) Arun Karthick was also not in a good mix. But I am happy that P. Rahul scored a century against Himachal. He has made every chance count.

What has been the problem with your batsmen?

All our batsmen have scored but they have not been consistent. In the last few games, only one batsman scored a century but in the game against Himachal, everyone contributed. So that’s a good sign before the quarterfinals.

Your key player, Jalaj Saxena, missed out on the last match due to injury. What’s the update on him?

Jalaj has problems with his ankle but we are hoping that he recovers. I think he should be available for the game. We want him to play. Another player, Rohan Prem was also injured, but as we gear up for an important match, I hope they are available.

The quarterfinals will be a home fixture for you. How do you rate your opponent Gujarat?

In the quarterfinals, we are playing Gujarat. That’s a good thing because we have played Gujarat in Nadiad last year, so we have a fair idea about the team. It will be tough but if we can play some brave cricket. Look, if you are playing in the Elite group, every match will be tough. We played some of the best teams — Bengal and Punjab, among others — but all were interesting games, and we managed to play well. So, we should play good cricket in the quarterfinals.

Half way into the tournament, your side looked lost. At that time, did you actually feel that the team would qualify for the quarterfinals? 

We really wanted to be in the top-five and play the quarterfinals. (I agree that) there was little hope till the last game. But we were bit unlucky as well. In the first game of the tournament, we had the upper hand, but with rain stopping play on the third day, we lost important points. We missed out on a good chance. Otherwise, we would have been safe after five-six games. The last match was a do-or-die game for us, and I am happy that we pulled it off.