After leading East Zone to successive Duleep Trophy titles, Odisha skipper Natraj Behera wants his team to break into the knockout stage of the 2012-13 Ranji Trophy season. The 24-year-old spoke to Cricketnext about the start to Odisha's season and what lies ahead. Excerpts...
Odisha registered an outright victory after four years. How important was this win for the team?
Actually the whole team is pleased after this win and more importantly we badly needed one win. Luckily it happened. Everything went well right from the toss and it was the bowlers led by Basant Mohanty, Alok Mangaraj and Deepak Behera who gave us the advantage on day one by dismissing Haryana for a low score. I hope this win will set the momentum for us in the next matches.
You have been leading Odisha from the last Ranji Trophy season. Are you enjoying the role of captain?
To be honest, it's a tough job to captain Odisha as there is always some kind of pressure and expectation to perform. But I'm lucky to have a good team and support staff, who make my job a bit easier.
What are your goals as a player and captain this Ranji season?
As a team we have set high goals for us and want to graduate to the knockout level, which we have failed to achieve in earlier seasons. I also want that either a bowler or batsman makes an impact this year and ends up on top.
You scored a crucial 44 in the first innings against Haryana. How difficult was it to bat in Lahli?
When I came out to bat at first down the conditions were difficult, but I played patiently and didn't try to rush into things. My aim was to take the first innings lead and when Biplab Samantray joined me at the crease, I started to play more freely.
Bowling seems to be the strength of Odisha, but batting looks to be the weak link. Your thoughts on this?
No doubt the bowlers have done a great job and I'm confident they will do well in the future. However, our batsmen are not able to convert their starts and they need some big knocks which will change things for us.
Do you agree that Odisha is a young side that lacks experience?
Nothing like that. We have couple of guys who have been around for few years and also it is a great opportunity for youngsters like Abhilash Mallick and Alok Sahu to show their potential.
Veterans Rashmi Ranjan Parida and SS Das are playing for other states. Do you think their experience would have helped?
Surely their experience would have come handy for us, but it is the team management and Odisha Cricket Association's call and I don't have a say in this matter.
You have led East Zone to two successive Duleep Trophy titles. How different is it to captain Odisha?
It was an honour for me to lead East Zone and I'm lucky that under my captaincy we won two successive Duleep Trophy titles. Like I said earlier, it is always a challenge to lead a side and you are under some kind of pressure be it East Zone or Odisha.
Last year you scored a double-century to deny Saurashtra a win. Your memories of that knock?
The wicket at Cuttack was an ideal wicket to bat and after Saurashtra's Ravindra Jadeja scored a triple-century, I was determined to play a long innings and bail my team out. This season also I aim to play such innings and contribute for my team.