After a sensational unbeaten season, which saw the team win six matches and draw two, Uttarakhand face unenviable task of taking on defending champions Vidarbha in the quarter-finals of the Ranji Trophy starting on Tuesday.
The already tough task will be made even more difficult as Uttarakhand will miss the services of regular captain Rajat Bhatia – who will be flying to Hawaii to complete his course on human biomechanics.
“I wanted to play but this was something I had committed to long time back and told the team also, it’s sad I will be missing the game but I will stay in touch with the boys and just want them to give their best without worrying about the result,” said Bhatia, talking about the prospect of facing Vidarbha.
Bhatia was the top scorer for the team with 700 runs and one of the few players with prior experience of big matches, like the one Uttarakhand find themselves in right now.
“Influence of experienced players like Rajat Bhatia, Vineet Saxena cannot be undermined,” coach KP Bhaskar tells Cricketnext.
“Bhatia’s captaincy was a big factor which helped the team unite. It’s not easy to come and adjust in Ranji Trophy cricket, most of these boys are playing their first season. To keep them together as a unit, we needed a seasoned campaigner like Bhatia. Not to forget the valuable middle-order runs he scored,” says Bhaskar.
But the Uttarakhand side has already achieved its objective and will be playing with the big boys, after securing a promotion from the plate group. The skipper just wants his team to continue doing what they have done throughout the season.
“We just have to do our homework, no matter who the opponent is, the key will be to back our strengths and play as a team. Vidarbha is an experienced side with the likes of Wasim Jaffer, Faiz Fazal but if we play to our strengths, we can get a favourable result,” says Bhatia.
The season has been nothing less than a fairytale for Uttarakhand, who started the domestic season with a comprehensive five-wicket defeat against Bihar but the team only improved after that.
“We didn’t have much time together and constant rains in Dehradun meant we hardly got any outdoor practice, but what I did know was that these guys had played a lot of white ball cricket outside the state, so they had fair idea about the match temperament and my job was only to guide them,” says Bhaskar.
But this is where his prior experience with Delhi and the elite academy came in handy.
“In the nets I could see that we had some really clean hitters of the ball, my focus was then just teaching the importance of shot selection and trusting their defence. The boys also deserve credit for responding to the talk and delivering on the field,” adds Bhaskar.
Uttarakhand have been aided by the performance of their fast bowlers, including young Deepak Dhapola who ended the group stage with 44 wickets in seven matches. In fact, Bhatia had seen the quality of fast bowling in the team and felt grateful that most of the team’s fixtures had shifted from to Rajiv Gandhi stadium.
“I knew our pace attack was better than most of the other teams. I kept that in mind and we planned accordingly. We were lucky that some of the matches shifted to the Rajiv Gandhi stadium in Dehradun, which has a green track,” he had said in earlier interview.
Uttarakhand were also one of the more consistent teams when it came to selection, and kept almost the same 15 in all the matches. They delivered for them throughout the season and will hope to repeat the performance once again come the quarterfinals where the odds are stacked against them.