After playing his last first-class game in 2016, Delhi stalwart Rajat Bhatia was all set to move on to the next phase of his life – that of donning the selector’s hat for the DDCA. But then he was made aware of the BCCI rule that a player must be retired for five years to take up the job.
Believing that he had a few years of cricket left in him, the 38-year-old allrounder turned out in the Dhaka Premier League this year and led his corporate team Air India to the Gold Cup in Uttarakhand. However, little did he know that his first appearance in the nondescript tournament would revive his cricketing career.
With the BCCI announcing nine new teams for the 2018-19 domestic season, the new associations were on the lookout for domestic veterans. Like many others, Bhatia fit the bill. Moreover, Uttarakhand officials had him play in the Gold Cup and zeroed in on the vastly experienced allrounder.
“I never expected this whole thing to start. When I heard that nine teams are coming into the Ranji Trophy, I never thought Uttarakhand will be one of them,” Bhatia tells CricketCountry. “I played a tournament here, the Gold Cup, and I did well. After coming back, Delhi wanted me to be a selector. I was completely in to it but some rule was there I could not be a selector as there needs to be a gap of five years after retirement, and I was still playing. Then I got a call to take charge [of Uttarkhand] and I said yes.”
Under Bhatia, who played 81 first-class matches for Delhi, Uttarakhand finished second in the Plate Group of the recent Vijay Hazare Trophy.
“I think I still have a lot of cricket in me, and I went in a with an open mind … so far so good. The boys here are very talented and things here have been very professional,” says Bhatia, who took up the Uttarakhand captaincy but stresses that it was never about him.
“I wanted to take it as a challenge, my priority was to see cricket grow here,” he says. “I have a place in Mussoorie since 1989 and I never thought I would be the first captain of Uttarakhand. That is a very big honour for me. I want cricketers here to know what kind of standards you need to have to play cricket at this level, the kind of discipline they need to follow. There are many things other than cricket they need to learn and I am here to show them that.”
Uttarakhand made headlines in the Vijay Hazare Trophy when Karanveer Kaushal became the first Indian batsman to slam a double-century in a domestic List A fixture. Kaushal has shaped up as a key player for Uttarakhand in the Ranji Trophy, but his captain doesn’t want to put extra pressure on the batsman.
“Honestly, I didn’t have any expectations from him before the Vijay Hazare and I it will be the same going ahead,” says Bhatia. “The only suggestion I have for him is to play the normal game. The game is the same, rules are the same and if you can score 200 in a one-day day game, you can do much better in a four-day game.
“We have good side, a talented side and we have been together for the past month. We played a very good Vijay Hazare, just lost one game against Bihar, after that we improved as a team and started doing well. Our plan will be to play according to the situation and everybody in this team is good and are capable for performing well.”
Along with Bhatia, the two other professional players in the Uttarakhand team are two-time Ranji Trophy winner with Rajasthan, Vineet Saxena, and Tamil Nadu’s Malolan Rangarajan.
“They are experienced guys,” he says. “Saxena has played lot of cricket. He knows what it takes to reach the final, and win the final. He is a great performer and his experience has helped us. Malolan may not have played many first-class games, but there are lot of keys points young cricketers take from them and hope that it throughout the tournament.”
Uttarakhand begins their Ranji Trophy campaign against Bihar at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Dehradun on November 1.