New Delhi Before embarking on his journey for Rajasthan two years ago, Hrishikesh Kanitkar wouldn't have thought that it would bring the best years of his cricketing career. He decided to lead the Rajasthan Ranji Trophy team ahead of the 2010-11 season, having represented Maharashtra from 1994 to 2008 and Madhya Pradesh from 2008 to 2010.
In those two years, Kanitkar used his wealth of experience to help transform a side which previously used to spring the odd surprise but for too long was incapable of performing consistently, into a well-knit unit. He helped a side which had perennially been touted as underdogs, to go beyond every expectation and win two back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles.
But when he was reminded of his achievements, Kanitkar’s reply was most modest – a trait his colleagues and team-mates such as Robin Bist and Vineet Saxena swear by. "It's been something unbelievable. The success we’ve had in the last two years showed that if you perform consistently then nothing is impossible,” the former India batsman told Cricketnext.
The Rajasthan captain believes that his team's consecutive Ranji Trophy titles has shown that they are no pushovers.
"We’ve had a great two years. Performing collectively was the mantra of our success. Some player or the other always came to fore when the chips were down," adds Kanitkar, who has performed exceptionally with the bat, scoring 1346 runs in 19 matches with an average of 56 since he started playing for Rajasthan. "I haven't done anything different. I just used my experience and played the innings required in those situations and that worked."
Talking about the upcoming Ranji Trophy season, Kanitkar said the team’s preparations have not been any different from what they have been doing in the last two seasons. "Like in previous years, we are focusing on the basic aspects of the game as that's ultimately makes the difference at the end. Instead of feeling any extra pressure after consecutive titles, we are in fact feeling quite light this time around. Now we know what is required to win at this level and we are quite aware of our strengths and weaknesses," he said.
With back-to-back Ranji Trophy wins Rajasthan have also thrown in some exciting talents. With the two best seasons of his career, Bist has taken his game to a new level, while rookie fast bowler Rituraj Singh was the find of the 2011-12 season. Bist finished the highest run-getter last season, with 1331 runs at an average of 74, and Rituraj picked up 27 wickets at 18 in five matches.
Acknowledging that Bist and Rituraj were the notable contributors last season, Kanitkar said there were others like Saxena, Ashok Menaria and Sumit Mathur whose performance at key moments changed the direction of their campaign. "Vineet, Menaria, Mathur and others too played crucial roles. It's been a real team effort and we would like to continue that in the new season as well.”
How Rajasthan copes with the absence of Aakash Chopra, who too played a significant role in the past two years before he decided to join Himachal Pradesh this season, is a matter of concern that Saxena has addressed. Kanitkar too knows that the team will miss Chopra. "Aakash was inspirational to the boys. He not only played some crucial knocks for us, but his presence in the field would give extra energy to the boys. We will miss him, but we also wish him good for his new assignment,” he said.
The Rajasthan captain is also not taking Bengal, their opponents in the first match of the season, lightly. "They are strong side. Some of their players are knocking on the doors of the national side.So we will try to be at our best against them," he concluded.