Depleted sides look to crack the Kotla code


New Delhi: Three matches, three losses. The Kotla has not been a happy hunting ground for the Rajasthan Royals. For their batting sensation from last year, the jinx is two, nay, threefold. That he had that nickname given to him by the man who made real contenders out of the Royals but could not tackle the names of local players (remember "malaria" for Ashok Menaria?) is something Ajinkya Rahane cannot be held accountable for.

Neither can he be faulted for two of those three losses, given that he did not even feature in the Royals' ranks then; in the third, he played but did not finish his part.

Losing cause

Since that moment - last year's near-yet-far outing, carrying his bat for 84 - Rahane has returned to the capital twice, for India on both occasions. And while he missed out against Pakistan in an ODI, not grabbing his chance on his much-awaited Test debut was a much bigger disappointment.

One man who refuses to read too much into his failures against Australia last month is Royals skipper Rahul Dravid. "That he did not score on a bad wicket should not be taken so seriously," said the former India batsman on the eve of the Royals; campaign opener against Delhi Daredevils.

"And it's not as if he has not scored runs - he has scored heavily, that's why he was given a chance."

Not one to "look back at the past", those words, nevertheless, will have a soothing effect on Rahane's frayed nerves. "Rahul bhai is so humble," Rahane had said about his "idol" at an interaction earlier on Friday. "He is still such a good student of the game."

Tricky turf

Saturday, then, will offer Dravid's depleted team as well as Rahane a chance to break the jinx against a side for which home has, over the years, not exactly been a happy hunting ground.

Over the course of five years, the Daredevils have won only 13 of their 29 matches in Delhi. What makes marginally improving their track record an even tougher task is the long list of big-name absentees - Kevin Pietersen, Jesse Ryder, Morne Morkel and Virender Sehwag, who, informed David Warner, has "improved a lot from his back injury but is still a little sluggish".

Perhaps that's why KP, strapped knee and all, was there at the nets. Whether that can boost the morale of the Daredevils, Saturday evening will tell.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.

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