Sanjay Raul enjoying his second innings

Only three cricketers from Odisha have played for India so far. Sanjay Raul was the second. He had begun well enough, taking a wicket in his first ever over, of one of the modern batting greats – Inzamam-ul-Haq.

“Being a cricketer was not easy those days in Odisha. There wasn’t much of an infrastructure and opportunities were very few.”   -  p. k. Ajith Kumar

Only three cricketers from Odisha have played for India so far. Sanjay Raul was the second.

Like the first, Debashish Mohanty, his moment in the sun too came in the offshore of Toronto, though it was only momentary. The off-spinning all-rounder played just two One Day Internationals, in the Sahara Cup series against Pakistan in 1998.

He had begun well enough, taking a wicket in his first ever over, of one of the modern batting greats – Inzamam-ul-Haq. That was in the second match of the series.

He got only two overs to bowl in the next he game he played, the fifth and final one in the series. Then he was forgotten.

Some 18 years later, he could look back with his misfortune with a smile. “Yes, I felt I deserved more chances, especially after I took one for 13 in four overs bowling at the death, but I have no complaints,” Raul, who is here as the match referee for the Ranji Trophy match between Delhi and Rajasthan, told Sportstar. “I am glad that I could at least realise my ambition of playing for India.”

He added he is proud about the fact that he could do it representing a lightweight like Odisha. “Being a cricketer was not easy those days in Odisha,” he said. “There wasn’t much of an infrastructure and opportunities were very few.”

But with a series of fine performances, both with the bat and the ball, he forced his way into the India ‘A’ team for a tour of Pakistan in 1997-98. “In the previous season, I had made 644 runs and took 37 wickets in the Ranji Trophy,” Raul recalled. “On that Pakistan tour, I had played some good innings; I had a scored a hundred, as well. My teammates included Ajit Agarkar, Murali Kartik, M.S.K. Prasad, Sairaj Bahutule and Rohan Gavaskar. We played against the likes of Shahid Afridi, Aaqib Javed, Basit Ali and Abdur Razzaq.”

Many of them went on to have successful international careers, of course. Raul is happy that he has got to play a second innings in his career -- as a match referee.

“I enjoy my role as a referee,” he said. “It feels nice to be involved with cricket. I also get to meet old friends and to travel across the country. This is the first time I am coming to this ground, though I had heard a lot about it and seen it on television as well.”

Yet, he was surprised. “It is a beautiful ground, with excellent facilities,” he said. “I am pretty impressed with the improved infrastructure for cricket in Kerala.”