CHENNAI:Only four of the 28 teams in the three Elite Groups of Vijay Hazare Trophy had failed to register a single win in their first five matches. Team Rajasthan was one of the three — others being Jammu & Kashmir and Assam — from Group C on that list. But on Monday, Rajasthan decided to change their fortunes and ended their winless run by beating Assam by 56 runs at MA Chidambaram Stadium.
There were two talking points from the match from Rajasthan’s point of view. Firstly, their batsmen batted 50 overs for the first time in this tournament, courtesy Manender Singh’s 101. And they posted 217, after having averaged 116.6 in the first five games. Secondly, four seniors players including skipper Ashok Menaria were dropped for the rest of the tournament before this match. Back from the Asia Cup, Deepak Chahar was asked to lead the side.
According to coach Amit Asawa, the senior players — Menaria, Aniket Choudhary, Ankit Lamba, Robin Bist — were dropped because of below-par performances. But Aniket, who captained the side last season, can consider himself unlucky as the left-arm pacer played only against Jharkhand and did not bowl a single delivery until the match ended just 15 overs into the second half.
“When the team doesn’t do well, there are bound to be changes,” says Asawa. “We felt the combination was not right and hence we could not win even a single match. This doesn’t mean the players who were dropped are not good. It’s just that they were not in form and we thought we should give opportunities to others. We wanted to test our bench too. Also, when you have a player like Manender, he can be used anywhere in the batting line-up. He opened the innings in the last match and today, we sent him at No 3 and he scored a century.”
The four players called in were Abhijit Tomar, Yash Kothari, Salman Khan and Rajesh Bishnoi. All of them had little to no experience of playing as a regular. While opening batsman Tomar made his List A debut on Monday, left-arm spinner Bishnoi was called back after a year. Though Asawa cites not finding the right combination was the reason why they revamped the side, Rajasthan’s message to the players was simple: perform and hold on to your spot. Even if it is for senior players.
One of the other aspects that the coach felt was the reason behind their win was Chahar’s approach. “Deepak is very supportive as a captain. After coming back from the national team, he shared his experience and told players to take one game at a time. Obviously, there will be a difference when he says and when I say. He has gained some exposure at the international level and I think his words had an impact on the players’ mind.”With new faces determined to erase the past, Rajasthan will look to carry this momentum into the remaining matches and look to cause an upset or two.