A star team rather than a team of stars

Back-to-back champion…the victorious Rajasthan team with the Ranji Trophy at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium.-V. GANESAN

Rajasthan bucked the odds, upset scripts and closed out games. It has not been the most talented of teams — man to man several sides in the Elite division score over Rajasthan — but not many hunt in a pack like Rajasthan does, writes S. Dinakar.

‘All for one and one for all'. That was the theme of Rajasthan's astonishing back-to-back Ranji Trophy title triumphs. “In this team, we enjoy each other's success. And we regret each other's failure. Everybody is equal,” said skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar at the end of it all.

Indeed, Rajasthan's journey upwards from the Plate division last season is of the spirit-lifting kind. The side bucked the odds, upset scripts and closed out games. It has not been the most talented of teams — man to man several sides in the Elite division score over Rajasthan — but not many hunt in a pack like Rajasthan does.

Kanitkar's men looked adversity in the eye. Given up for dead in the league phase, Rajasthan kept the faith. It roared back to outplay Saurashtra and Orissa in its last two matches to qualify for the knock-out phase. “In this side, there is nobody who plays better than the other. You only play better than the other on a given day,” Kanitkar said.

As the fragrance of victory swirled around the team at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium after the summit clash — Rajasthan retained the title on the basis of a massive 326-run first innings lead over Tamil Nadu — the side's work ethics came to the fore. Here was a disciplined side that stuck to its game-plan with fierce focus. Winning the toss is one thing, but out-batting the host in the manner that Rajasthan did is another thing altogether. The team lost only two wickets in the first two days on a surface of low bounce that gradually deteriorated. A total of 621 meant the Rajasthan bowlers could apply the pressure on Tamil Nadu.

This was a season where Rajasthan had several heroes. Robin Bist, a well-organised batsman who comprehends the ebb and flow of a game, became the only player in the Ranji season to make 1000 or more runs. The right-hander with sound footwork notched up 1034 runs from 10 matches at 86.16. Bist has poise and inning-building skills.

Pankaj Singh, the big-built, large-hearted paceman, prised out 34 batsmen in 10 matches at 30.32. He employed his strong shoulders to hit the deck and extract bounce of most surfaces.

Rituraj Singh, with his whippy action and fuller length, is a different paceman from Pankaj. It's here that the two complement each other.

The wiry Rituraj made a distinct impression by moving the ball both ways. He used his wrist to good effect and was nippy off the surface. Given his quick-arm release, the batsmen struggled to pick the direction of deviation.

On a high…members of the Rajasthan team are accorded a warm welcome on arrival in Jaipur.-PTI

Rituraj was the impact player for Rajasthan — he swung games in his team's favour. In just five matches, he picked up 26 wickets at a stunning 15.03. He was able to adjust to the pitches — from the seaming track at Rohtak in the last four where he tormented the Haryana batsman to the one with low bounce in the final.

Vineet Saxena was another standout performer for Rajasthan who was able to adapt to different conditions. The gritty opener made a distinct impression in the semifinals where the pacemen had a lot going for them. On a track that played slower and where the ball kept low at Chepauk in the summit clash, he played out time during his influential 257, occupying the crease for a mammoth 907 minutes.

Saxena has a tight technique and puts a price on his wicket. In 10 matches, he made 897 runs at 52.76.

In skipper Kanitkar, Rajasthan possesses a captain who is both smart and calm. He is a wily campaigner who knows when to apply the squeeze on the opposition. He is patient and can make the rights moves on the field without too many noticing his work.

Kanitkar has also proved to be an able leader of men. He often talks about the unity in the camp which he attributes to the team spending weeks together at the Rajasthan Cricket Academy in Jaipur.

In seniors Aakash Chopra and Rashmi Ranjan Parida, the two other seasoned professional players in the side, Rajasthan had committed cricketers who blended with the younger bunch.

Chopra's 142 against host Hyderabad in the quarterfinals was a crucial effort. The compact opener bailed his side out along with wicketkeeper-batsman Dikshit Yaglik when Rajasthan was struggling at 129 for five on day one. Both came up with centuries and Rajasthan went on to win the match on first innings lead.

Rajasthan's depth came to the fore during the season. Paceman Deepak Chahar and left-handed batsman Ashok Maneria, both key players in the team's triumph last season, missed the crucial phase including the last stretch owing to fitness concerns. But then, Rajasthan was able to find replacements. Among them was the impressive Rituraj.

This Rajasthan team has the ability to retain its intensity levels on the field and build pressure. Even when Dinesh Karthik produced a heroic 150 in the final, the team had the match well under control.

Though the Rajasthan team is without any stars, it packs a punch as a unit.