New Delhi: Rajasthan opener Vineet Saxena, whose marathon 15-hour-and-seven-minute 257 in last season's Ranji Trophy final was instrumental in his team retaining the title, is confident of replicating his 2011-12 form into the current season. Aakash Chopra’s move to Himachal Pradesh after two successful seasons with Rajasthan has left a gaping hole at the top, and while Saxena was wary of the effect it could have on the defending champions’ fortunes he was hopeful that they had enough firepower to do well.
"Scoring a double-century in the Ranji final was a huge morale booster for me. It was my highest score to date and scoring that many runs in a final gave me great confidence. I am hoping to repeat the achievement this season," Saxena told Cricketnext. "I am satisfied with my preparation for the Ranji Trophy this year, and consider myself lucky to have been able to play in the Irani Trophy and Duleep Trophy as these tournaments help me judge where I stand before the season begins. I am sure that playing these games will help me perform better in our opening match against Bengal."
Though he did not manage to score many runs in these three matches -- just 73 in five innings including two 0s – Saxena took confidence in getting starts of 33 and 22 for Central Zone in the Duleep Trophy. He did admit, however, that being ignored for the India A squad that toured the West Indies and New Zealand, despite having finished second in the 2011-12 Ranji Trophy run charts beyond team-mate Robin Bist, played on his mind as the season began.
"I felt I batted well on the domestic circuit and those performances should have been counted. This was probably there in my mind during the Irani and Duleep Trophy matches as I wanted to prove the selectors wrong. Unfortunately that went against me and stopped me from better performances. It was an added pressure," said the 31-year-old.
While overjoyed with his Rajasthan captain Hrishikesh Kanitkar's influence on the side – "he's an exceptional leader, very calm and collected" --Saxena does worry that Chopra’s departure has left too big a void. Chopra’s replacement as opener, the 20-year-old Ankit Lamba, made 29 and 4 in the Irani Trophy. Prior to that, during the Safi Darashah tournament in August, Saxena and Lamba featured in opening stands of 16, 0 and 61.
"Chopra's exit has affected our team and I really hope it does not do so once the season begins. Ankit and I could not provide good starts in the Irani Trophy whereas previously Akash and I used to see off the new ball," said Saxena. "However, as a team we are confident of doing what we know how to. I believe we can continue our good run in the Ranji Trophy because we have been playing together as a team for a while now."
Ahead of Rajasthan's match on November 2 at Eden Gardens, Saxena was confident of the defending champions’ prospects in the new Ranji Trophy format. "We are focused. We have been doing this as a unit for two years, we know what is required," he said. "Personally, my preparation starts three or four days before a match and I do not think about who is in the opposition team. Bengal have Ashok Dinda and some good bowlers. Mentally I start working on my game against them much earlier. Once I go into bat it is just the ball and how I play, nothing else".