Aakash Chopra insists defending champions Rajasthan are doing their best to keep complacency at bay ahead of their Ranji Trophy semi-final clash against Haryana in Rohtak starting on Tuesday.
Chopra made a crucial 142 in the quarter-final against Hyderabad as Rajasthan claimed the match on the basis of a lead in the first innings. The 34-year-old opener says they are ecstatic to have made their second successive semi-final, but they are keeping their feet on the ground at the same time.
"The confidence is really high in our camp after the match against Hyderabad but we still are a long way from winning the title. We all have been trying to keep complacency at bay. It hasn’t been a rollercoaster ride this season, so we cannot afford to get our hopes up. We are taking one step at a time," Chopra tells Cricketnext.
Rajasthan’s campaign this season started on a dissatisfactory note with only five points coming from the first five matches. They survived a big scare in their opener against Karnataka after following on as the visitors piled up 623 for 6 in Udaipur.
In the next two matches against Mumbai and Railways, Rajasthan failed to protect 500-plus scores, while they conceded almost 600 runs against Punjab. Against Uttar Pradesh, after following on, they came out unscathed thanks to tons from Chopra and their best batsman this season, Robin Bist.
Clearly, matters were going haywire for the title holders.
At that time, a place in the quarter-finals looked a distant prospect. However, the Rajasthan bowlers woke up from their inaction in the last two group matches as the team beat Saurashtra and Orissa by 229 runs and an innings and 56 runs respectively. These wins combined with some desired results from other teams in Group A paved their way for the knockout stages.
"Our first five matches were really tough. Important thing was not to lose them, which we did. It’s not that we were playing badly. We just did not have the rub of the green,” says Chopra. "The match against Saurashtra was the turning point for us. The wins against them and Orissa in the ensuing match brought us back into content_cnion. We also wanted favours from other teams in the group which we got. Everything has fallen into place for us since that match against Saurashtra.”
Bist, the highest scorer this Ranji Trophy season with 841 runs from eight matches at an extraordinary average of 105.12, believes that despite a change in fortune for Rajasthan in the last few weeks they are not looking far too ahead.
"We are not thinking about the title at all. Haryana will be a tough team to beat at home. It won’t be a walk in the park for us, to be sure," the 21-year-old says, while on a personal note crediting a new-found self-belief for his dream season.
"I've improved a great deal in the last one year or so. Last season people criticised me for not getting big scores. I was not able to convert fifties into hundreds. I wanted to prove them wrong.”
Bist also reveals how he was full of self-doubts before the Irani Cup match in October last year.
Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane shredded Rajasthan’s bowling to pieces as Rest of India posted a mammoth 663. Bist made a brave 93 against the likes of Vinay Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Pragyan Ojha but it was not enough as Rajasthan crashed in the second innings to lose the match by 404 runs. Despite the defeat, Bist took a lot from the match.
"That match was the turning point for me. Before that match, I was not very happy with my performance against big teams. I was full of self-doubts,” he says. “I scored 90 odd runs in that match against some of the best bowlers in India. That boosted my confidence. That innings provided me the self-belief I didn’t have earlier. That innings accounts for the brilliant season I have had so far.”
Chopra may not have been as prolific as Bist this season, but he believes the all-important knock against Hyderabad will do his confidence a world of good. "I am really feeling good about my batting. The innings against Hyderabad has come at the right time. I rate it as one of my best innings,” he says. “I spent around eight or nine hours at the crease, and now I am feeling much more confident as a batsman. I hope to continue in the same vein in the upcoming match. You always feel good when you contribute in your team’s success.”