Mahesh Rawat, the former Railways captain, who was controversially dropped at the start of the season on grounds of ‘gross indiscipline’, returns for their penultimate league encounter against Karnataka that begins on Monday. The U-turn by the selection panel does not come as a surprise. The 34-year-old has been recalled to shore up the fragile Railways batting.
In December 2019, Rawat was shown the door on grounds of indiscipline, while medium-pacer Anureet Singh was axed due to poor form. “He (Rawat) went to play club cricket in England during the off-season, and did not inform the team management. Even after he returned to India, he never bothered to inform us about his whereabouts. So, we have decided to look beyond him,” selector Kulamani Parida had said back then.
While Anureet later took a NOC (No objection certificate) and moved to Baroda, Rawat remained under the radar. On Saturday, Rawat returned to training, after he was informed about his recall. “Yes, he was dropped at the start of the season. But we never said that his career is over or that he would not be in our scheme of things in the future. At this stage, with the qualification for the knock-outs on the line, we feel that we can use Rawat’s experience,” Parida told The Indian Express.
On Sunday, there were doubts about the veteran’s participation in the upcoming match. “His name features in the 15-member squad. Now, it’s up to the coach to decide if he wants him in the playing XI tomorrow,” Parida added.
The niggling issue was his match fitness. All those doubts were put to rest after Rawat cleared the yo-yo test and coach Yosuf Ali Khan asserted: “He will be playing tomorrow.” The man in the spotlight looked extremely poised and said that he was ready to give his team a helping hand. “I had never gone anywhere. This is where I have played most of my first-class cricket. They have selected me for this match…dekhte hain, kya hota hain. I’m always there to lend them a helping hand,” Rawat said, before adding: “Trust me, I was never tempted to take a NOC and play elsewhere because deep in my mind, I was sure that I had not done anything wrong.”
Disastrous batting implosions
Railways’ calamitous batting implosions have caused a considerable strain in the dressing room, so much so that it has undone the collective efforts of their three medium-pacers—Amit Mishra, Pradeep Poojar and Himanshu Sangwan —who have picked 68 wickets between them. Just to illustrate this point further, 270 is the highest score registered by the Railways in the six league matches so far. What’s even worse is that during crucial stages when their batsmen were asked to stand up and shoulder more responsibility, they failed miserably.
There are numerous instances like the second innings in their duel against Saurashtra, when they folded up for an abysmal 141 to hand Jaydev Unadkat’s team a comprehensive inning-and-90-run win. Similarly, against Baroda, their pacers set up the match beautifully after shooting them out for 201 in the first innings.
In reply, their batsmen could collectively accrue just 200 runs (101 and 99) in both their innings. There were complaints about how treacherous batting was on that Baroda track, nevertheless, that was still no excuse for such underwhelming performances. Things came to a tipping point during the subsequent home match against Madhya Pradesh when their diffident batting approach left them six runs short of the 211-run target on the fourth day.
Rawat is a veteran of 113 first-class matches. Against Karnataka, he will feature in his 100th Ranji Trophy fixture. In his landmark game, Rawat has an arduous task ahead of him.
Red bails stumps groundsmen
On match eve, referee Sanjay Verma put forward a strange request that stumped the local curator and his harried groundsmen at the Karnail Singh Stadium. Verma asked them to paint the bails red.
“Since this is not a televised match, the stumps and the bails are of the same colour. We have asked the groundsmen to apply a red coating of lacquer so that the television umpire can differentiate between the stumps and the bails for run-outs and stumpings,” Verma quipped.
This request, however, got the groundsmen scampering, since it was Republic Day, a national holiday when most shops in Delhi remained shut. After frenetic scouting, a Railways official finally procured a tin of paint from nearby Connaught Place. All’s well that ends well.