An innings of 34 off 54 balls which includes five boundaries and a six is not a statistic that will grab your attention, but when you understand the significance of those runs you are made to sit up. That is what Services’ captain Soumik Chatterjee scored in the second innings against Uttar Pradesh in the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals, and it is worth taking note of.
Not because he scored those runs with a badly injured knee; not because his crucial contribution helped his team enter the Ranji semi-finals for the first time in 44 years; but because the innings showed the resolve, grit and passion for which one plays cricket.
In Services manager Wing Commander Deepak Bhaskar’s words, “This win will change the way people look at the Services team and a new era has begun for us.” For Chatterjee, this is the biggest win of his life and something he will cherish for the rest of his life. “No doubt this is the biggest win for us and personally I will remember this victory for a long time,” he says.
The Services captain also feels Rajat Paliwal, who scored a match-winning 112 against Uttar Pradesh, is a class apart.
Befittingly enough, it was Chatterjee who hit the winning runs in a five-wicket chase of 116 with a hoist over mid-on. The captain had lead from the front rather heroically. According to Bhaskar, Chatterjee is a fighter. “It was his decision to go out and bat even though he was not able to bend his knee. I do not think any player would have taken the step to go out and bat, or any team would have agreed to that, but we he did and we supported. He definitely is a fighter.”
The 24-year-old captain, however, feels the real fighters are Services’ pace trio of Suraj Yadav, rookie Shahdab Nazar and Nishan Singh. “Our medium-pacers are the real fighters of the team. Without them we could not have won the match and all throughout this season they have performed exceptionally. Yadav, our bowling spearhead, has been consistent and has been very accurate. We expected Shahdab to perform and he has delivered and even Nishan has taken upon the supporting role with ease.”
Against heavyweights UP, Nazar picked up a five-for in the first innings to bundle the opposition out for 134 and in the second innings, the team’s highest wicket-taker, Yadav, ran through the UP batting line-up with 7 for 71. Nishan supported the in-form bowlers even though he had a sore back; Yadav too had a niggle in his ankle. “This was the biggest match of my career and when you are representing your team at such a big stage these niggles do not matter, you just play through the pain and focus on giving the best to the team,” said the 26-year-old medium pacer after the match.
Chatterjee was in excruciating pain as he dragged himself to the middle in the first innings. He got out to the very first ball. UP coach Venketesh Prasad, impressed by the captain’s resolve, helped him to the pavilion. “Going in at No.11, the only thing in my mind was that whatever I score would be valuable for the team. One, two or five or ten would be a bonus. But I got out, I was not able to move my leg at all at that time,” recalls Chatterjee who had twisted his left knee on day one and had to go for an MRI scan.
Even after taking the upper hand, Services had found themselves down and out at 97 for 5. It was the crucial 97-run stand between middle-order batsman Rajat Paliwal and veteran Sarabjit Singh that tilted the game in Services’ favour. Paliwal’s 112 against a rampaging was praised by one and all. Battered and bruised by the short stuff, both Paliwal and Sarabjit hung.
Paliwal, who scored his fourth hundred of the season, has been Services’ last line of defence anchoring his team out of trouble. “Rajat has always performed under pressure. He has an amazing capability of handling pressure. He is a real matured batsman and such innings are a sign of much higher level batsman. He has his four centuries, all of them when the team needed the most,” says Chatterjee.
In the second innings, Services were 54 for 5 when Chatterjee joined Paliwal in the middle. “I had told Rajat that we have to play out the first five or six overs as they have the momentum. If we added 20-30 runs, Sarabjit would come in next and find it easier to knock off the runs.” Chatterjee had walked into bat at No.7, still dragging himself to the crease to the utter disbelief of his team-mates and the others present. “No one believed that I would be going into bat or be able to bat. Chasing 116, I thought it would be a rest day for me and I was in team tracksuit, not even in the whites. But as soon as the fourth wicket fell, I just started padding up. I knew what I was doing.”
Chatterjee sure did know what he was doing and finished the job in style. “Going into the match the team had to get their cricketing attitude right”, he says. “In the team meeting ahead of the match we discussed that we have to get our cricketing attitude right, we have to play positive, attacking and offensive cricket. That was the only way we could have won the match. No matter, at any given point, we were not defensive nor we had a negative mindset. Our approach was thing that matter. It was a very big win for the team and beating UP outright that too in less than three days. We have got a lot of confidence and are looking forward for the semi-finals.”