Champions are not made overnight. They strive hard to be the best and want to show the world that they are here to stay. This is the story of the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy champions, Rajasthan.
It all started in last season, when they came from the nowhere to win the title and went on to successfully defend it by outdoing Tamil Nadu in the final this year.
When the 2011-12 season started, Rajasthan looked scratchy. Maybe they were burdened by the expectations to defend the title or put themselves under pressure to perform from match one. That showed in their players' performances. They were trying too hard and things were not going their way.
Halfway through the season, the defending champions were at the bottom half of their group table. In five consecutive matches neither did they lose or win, but managed to bag five points going into the last matches of their Elite Group.
Then things looked bright with the arrival of young 21-year-old Rituraj Singh, who was handed a debut in Rajasthan's match against Saurashtra in Jaipur. He claimed four wickets and in the team's first win, against Saurashtra, and followed it up with 6 for 75 as Rajasthan thrashed Orissa to progress to the knock-outs.
But in the quarter-final against Hyderabad he was dropped as the conditions were favourable for a spinner. Rituraj was rightly included in the semi-final against Haryana in Lahli with conditions ideal for seam bowling. He played a key role in Rajasthan's win and his figures instantly brought the spotlight on him.
Rajasthan were all out for 89 on day one and went into the second day hoping for a miracle to happen. It was Rituraj who did wonders with the ball using the chilly and windy conditions to the maximum. Haryana were all out for 97 and Rituraj claimed career-best figures of 7 for 45 and in the second innings grabbed 5 for 45 to give his team a ticket to the Ranji Trophy final.
At the summit, Rajasthan batted out Tamil Nadu at Chepauk as the hosts just managed to take two wickets in two days. But when Rajasthan came out to bowl on a batting beauty, Rituraj proved the pitch detractors wrong by taking four wickets and ending the season with 26 wickets from four matches.
An alumnus of MRF academy, Rituraj considers his performance in the semi- final the highlight for him this season.
"I really bowled well in the match against Haryana where the ball swung well and I focused on hitting the right areas, but the wicket was double paced," he told Cricketnext.
For Rajasthan, the pacers turned the tide in their favour, as they bowled to a plan and attacked like a unit. The bowling was led by Pankaj Singh and Sumit Mathur and well supported by youngster Rituraj.
Moreover, Rituraj acknowledged the senior bowlers support and credited them for their role in Rajasthan's success.
"Both of them [Pankaj and Mathur] encouraged and supported me and it was a great feeling to bowl alongside them and we bowled well in tandem," he said.
Another reason for their pace attack to click in the last phase was the short stint by former South African bowler Meyrick Pringle.
"I joined the team mid-season and attended a single session by him, but it helped me as he told me about my strengths," said Rituraj.
Now that the stage is set for the youngster and he is the one who wrote his own success script. From here he can only direct his career for further glories. "It is just the beginning and I consider this as one step on a ladder," he said.