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Battle begins for final honours

Rajasthan are back to where they belonged, in the Elite Division of Ranji Trophy after having made it to the Plate Division final this season. But their mission is only half accomplished.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 23:44 IST
G Krishnan

Rajasthan are back to where they belonged, in the Elite Division of Ranji Trophy after having made it to the Plate Division final this season. But their mission is only half accomplished. The Ajay Jadeja-led side is setting its sights on the trophy when they take on hosts Saurashtra in the five-day final starting here on Thursday.

Jadeja's presence has had a huge impact on the side that was bereft of any big names except Gagan Khoda. Jadeja has led by example, scoring runs whenever required and has extracted the best out of the players who were struggling in Plate Division for the last two seasons. He has scored 200 runs more than the second best batsman, Nikhil Doru (290 as against Jadeja's 533).

In the first two seasons of its inception in 2002-03 when the national championship was being played under the Elite and Plate format, Rajasthan were among the 15 Elite teams but lost their way gradually, having been relegated in 2004-05. While the batsmen scored, bowling was one area they were found wanting. They addressed this issue by roping in Sanjay Gill from Delhi. The medium-pacer emerged the highest wicket-taker with 28 sticks from six matches, strengthening Rajasthan's chances of dismissing the opposition twice.

However, Jadeja is unhappy with his batsmen. "The team as a whole has delivered but still the batting department needs to raise its standard. The likes of Khoda and Rahul Kanwat need to score more. It clicked for Rajasthan because I scored at crucial situations. That was only my job," he said.

Saurashtra, on the other hand, are banking on their collective strength. There have not been eye-catching individual performances from their players, the poor quality pitches that they were made to play in the league phase resulting in low-scoring games. However, one player who stole the show was medium-pacer Sandeep Maniar, whose 33 scalps have helped his team post three wins in the league phase and clinch the first innings lead in the semi-finals.

With their maiden entry into the Elite, Saurashtra have given West Zone a pride of place in the national championship next season. With Mumbai, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Baroda and now Saurashtra, all the teams from West Zone will be represented in Elite Division, something that makes other zones look with envy.

Saurashtra are rejoicing for the fact that they have entered the final. But, they will not take the final lightly. The Plate final has some significance and the two teams are raring to go.

The pitch looks a sporting one with equal scope for all the skills of the game to come into play.

Teams

Rajasthan: Ajay Jadeja (captain), Gagan Khoda, Nikhil Doru, Mithun Beerala, Rohit Sharma, Rahul Kanwat, Naresh Gehlot, Dishant Yagnik, Rohit Jhalani, Sanjay Gill, Pankaj Singh, Shailendra Gehlot, Vikrant Yadav, Afroz Khan, Md Aslam, Shamsher Singh.

Saurashtra: Jaydev Shah (captain), Sitanshu Kotak, Kanhaiya Vaghela, Prashant Joshi, Benson Songavkar, Rakesh Dhruv, Haresh Dhabi, Nikhil Rathod, Feroze Bambhaniya, Kamlesh Makvana, Sandeep Jobanputra, Sandeep Maniar, Sendhil Natkana, Pratik Mehta, Sagar Jogiyani.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 23:44 IST