(Playing with the reigning Ranji champions Rajasthan, Aakash Chopra
will share his experiences on the circuit in a series of posts,
exclusively on Yahoo! Cricket. This post is the fourth in the series.)
Last year, around this time, as teams in the elite and plate divisions of the first-class circuit primed for another season of top-quality cricket, we, team no. 27 - Rajasthan, last in the tally, only hoped to survive the onslaught. Winning the highest honor - The Ranji Trophy, was a preposterous contemplation, what was realistic was to play smart, if not better than the opposition, and sneak our way to the Elite group. Past the league phase, and once among the Elite teams, each game became a bonus. The final race ought to be between the big guns, it always had been.
What were the chances of Rajasthan winning the title then? I’d say one in a million. Success stories though are scripted differently. After months of hard labor, Rajasthan lifted the trophy that had eluded them for seventy seven years.
Regardless of how tough it was to win the title last year, this year, it'll be tougher to defend it. Respect for Mumbai on that account - they've won the title thirty nine times. While there will be an obvious weight of expectations, for the players from Rajasthan, it'll also be a time to see the world from a different vantage point. From watching the proceedings from the ringside, we'll now be watched, scrutinized and tested.
Season 2011-12 will also be crucial for Deepak Chahar and Ashok Menaria - two youngsters who took the world by storm and caught everyone's eye with their debut last season. The world would be observing their moves closely - would they be marred by the quintessential second season blues or will they continue to deliver the headline making performances? The answer to that would decide their future, largely.
Besides Rajasthan and its players, someone else is all set to receive top billing during this season. Sourav Ganguly is going to play the premier domestic tournament for Bengal, reason enough for everyone to get hooked to the game. Of course, this is no litmus test for him - he has nothing left to prove. But whenever a player of his stature takes field, especially after a prolonged break, it is bound to stir up the proceedings. While some argue if he should play at all - for his inclusion means a youngster warming the bench, there is no denying that it would prove to be a great opportunity for the others in the dressing room to pick a lesson or two.
Players to look out for this season:
Iqbal Abdulla - There's an apparent dearth of quality spinners in India and Iqbal has done well in all three formats of the game so far. This season may just be the watershed season in his promising career. Though scouts must watch out if he's flighting the ball in the Ranji Trophy.
Mandeep Singh - This kid from Punjab made waves in his maiden first-class season and got a place in the North Zone and Rest of India team for the Irani Trophy. Since the selectors have shown so much faith in him, he must make the second season count.
Also in this series: