New Delhi: Ajay Ratra, the former India wicketkeeper, has moved across the country several times and now finds himself leading Tripura – his fourth domestic team - in the Ranji Trophy.
Ahead of his adopted side’s tournament opener against Assam in Guwahati starting on Friday, the domestic veteran spoke to Cricketnext about his career and what the new season holds.
You started your career with your home state Haryana then moved to Goa and further to Himachal Pradesh and now Tripura. Why do you keep shifting base?
The former India wicketkeeper is with his fourth domestic team and is confident of inspiring the underdogs, alongside KP Bhaskar and Abbas Ali, to something special this season.
I like to take up new challenges and move out of my comfort zone. I discovered a lot of hidden qualities and traits about myself during the journey. It has been a thrilling and rewarding experience. This year I decided to shift to Tripura as I got an exciting offer and I'm looking forward to do well in the Ranji Trophy season.
Tripura have not done anything of note for some time. How do you see the talent pool in the state and how is the team shaping up for the Ranji Trophy?
It is true that Tripura have not done well in last few years but this time boys are geared up to give their best and put up a spirited performance. The inclusion of Abbas Ali and I in the team has brought a lot of experience and the guys are really eager to learn.
The strength of our team is that all our bowlers are also good decent batsmen. That means we have a string of allrounders in our team which will come in handy. Rana Dutta, Udit Patel and Timir Chandra are resourceful cricketers and the other young guys have the spark to shine.
Our coach KP Bhaskar was a premier batsman of his time and all team really looks up to him. He's a very fine coach and understands the nuances of cricket in great depth. We love to talk about various aspects of batting with him and he always chips in with incisive and insightful remarks.
The Inclusion of three professional cricketers - Aakash Chopra, Hrishikesh Kanitkar and Rashmi Parida - did wonders for Rajasthan. Can Tripura turn the corner after including you and Abbas Ali in the team?
What Rajasthan did is phenomenal. Winning the Ranji Trophy two years in a row is a stupendous achievement and they surely are an inspiration for us, but we are not looking too far ahead. We will take it one game at a time. Our primary objective is to qualify for the knock-outs.
What does captaincy mean to you? Does being a wicketkeeping-captain have some advantages and disadvantages?
It is an honour being captain of the state you're representing and it entails few responsibilities. You are answerable for the team's showing, and not just your individual performance. But I don't take it as a burden. Rather, I enjoy it. But it wouldn't have been mattered to me had I not been the captain.
Being a wicketkeeper, you're in the best position to have a look at the field and where the fielders are standing so this is one advantage. A wicketkeeper must work closely with bowlers to tell them certain things about their bowling and the shortcomings of a batsman they're observing. So, being a wicketkeeper-captain, one is able to synchronize and communicate better with bowlers.
Wicketkeeping is an arduous job and being a captain adds that little bit of pressure but we're seeing many wicketkeeper-captains today, which was a rarity in the past.
You became the youngest wicketkeeper to score a Test century when you hit an unbeaten 115 against West Indies at St. Johns in 2002. Yet you were dropped from the team soon after. Do you feel cut up about it? It is believed that then captain Sourav Ganguly was not in support of you being in the team …
What could I say about my axing? I can't comment whether Ganguly supported me or not but I concede that it did affect me for a while. I was desperate to reclaim my spot in the team and it hampered my performance in domestic matches. Later, I started to focus on enjoying the game and not think too much about selection. I set goals for myself and work towards attaining them. Whatever happened is the past and I've moved on.
Is it difficult to keep the motivation when chances of playing for the country are remote?
Not anymore. As I said earlier I would get twitchy and worked up but not now. MS Dhoni has been doing a very fine job, both as a wicketkeeper and as a captain. He's a very good batsman as well so I've no reasons to grumble.
Which is the most cherished moment of your career?
Scoring a century against West Indies in 2002 was definitely the high point of my career. We were playing in the West Indies and questions were raised about my batting prowess before the tour but I squashed all that by cracking a fine century and won Man-of-the-Match award.
Anil Kumble was hit on the jaw while batting but he returned to bowl, his head swathed in bandages, and captured Brian Lara's wicket. It was a tremendous demonstration of courage by him. I shall never forget that Test match. I enjoyed every moment of it.