Last week, when Rajajinagar Cricketers won the KSCA (Group I) first division competition and took home the Sir Mirza Ismail Shield, it was the unlikeliest of champions. It had gained promotion into the top division just three years ago and had a relatively young and inexperienced team.
But the side’s performances through the season belied its status as it won 10 out of 11 matches, that included stunning wins over heavyweight outfits such as Swastic Union CC (1 & 2) and Social Cricketers.
“No one had any expectations from us,” said skipper Nihal Ullal, 28. “Myself, Kranthi Kumar and H.S. Sharath were the only senior cricketers and many hadn’t played for even the State u-23 team. But we won 10 out of 11 games, a difficult record to beat. We fought through all situations and surprised a lot of big teams. Now everyone knows we are champions and we have to live up to it.”
It was a fine team effort. Nihal, with 427 runs, was among four batsmen in the team who scored nearly 350 runs or more (S. Nithin 433, Kranthi Kumar 388 and Farhan Magi 347 the others).
Paceman Nischith N. Rao was the tournament’s second-highest wicket-taker with 21 scalps and was closely followed by senior fast bowler Sharath with 20. Teenaged debutant off-spinner S. Bhargav chipped in with 17, including three four-wicket hauls, the most for any bowler.
“Youngsters learnt very quickly and grabbed their chances well,” said Sharath, 28. “This is my maiden win at this level and the feeling is special. I came from a different team but mingling with the new bunch proved pretty easy. It was enjoyable and we had great fun.”
Club secretary R. Kumar said that the side’s achievement was all the more noteworthy because of the prevailing circumstances, with COVID-19 disrupting schedules and practise routines.
“Usually, we get a couple of months’ time to plan and prepare,” Kumar said. “But this time the team was split up and we asked them to practise wherever they could. We trained together for just ten days. Credit goes to the seniors and the youngsters showed the hunger to win.”
The likes of Sharath, who played the last of his 28 First Class matches for Karnataka way back in 2015, Nihal, who was part of the Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy squad two seasons ago but is yet to make his senior debut, and Kranthi Kumar, who played three T20 matches in 2015, are hoping that the triumph will get them closer to the senior State team.
“Every season I have hope,” said Sharath. “I do the hard work. But luck is something I have lacked. I have concentrated on my fitness, and improved. This is my peak and I feel I have another four to five years of cricket left. I am confident this time.”