For all the three days, Services never allowed Uttar Pradesh to breathe. Now, they were closing in on an unthinkable win. They had to knock off 113 on a green top to move to the Ranji semis, a feat Services last achieved in 1968.
UP skipper Mohammad Kaif sensed some taut nerves. “This is not Palam,” he remarked. Services knew what he meant. Palam was a mock reference to their ‘home’. That is where Services have their camps, train, live together, and win even if occasionally.
Not that the comment hurt. Over the years, Services have lived with nastier barbs and crueller times. Coming from the Plate Group, they’re known to make up the numbers. Who ever took them seriously? Maybe, now they will. Rajat Paliwal and skipper Soumit Chatterjee composed a 62-run stand in a chase they’ll forever cherish.
It’s been the most enduring story this Ranji season. Their captain batted on one leg in both the innings.
It’s not known that their two fast bowlers, Suraj Yadav and Shadab Nazar, bowled on one leg too. Yadav had injured his right ankle, Nagar his knee. Try even walking with a strapped leg.
Services middle-order batsman Yashpal Singh said: “Every time Yadav and Nazar were given a bowl, they ran in manfully. I’ve heard of Malcolm Marshall bowling with a broken thumb and dismissing England virtually on his own. In this match, I saw our boys bowl with bruised legs. We played like true faujis (soldiers).”
Unlike Rajasthan, they can’t hire professionals. The Services team is essentially a conglomeration of air force, army and navy personnels.
Two years back, they served a ban for forfeiting a game against J&K. Many a career was on the verge of getting derailed. As one of the players said, they weren’t sure where they were heading.
The team didn’t even have a physio this season. “It’s a privilege not granted to us. Imagine fast bowlers having to fend for themselves,” another Services player said. “The government funds us; we are not direct beneficiaries of the BCCI’s grants.”
So what was different this season? Somehow everything fell into place. They would have been content with three points against J&K but got six. Whenever they needed lift, someone raised his hand, be it Suraj Yadav’s dream spell (7/71) in the second dig against UP, or Rajat Paliwal’s (21) two match-winning knocks: 167 against Assam and a vital 112 against Kaif’s men.
“We did the basics right,” Yashpal said. “We never looked back once we got the first-innings lead in our opening game against Andhra Pradesh. After the outright win over Assam, we sensed we could be in for something special. We started our pre-season camp in Palam in July-August itself.
We lived as a team and bonded well. We are of the same age group. New guys like Anshul Gupta (an opener) gave us a new fund of energy. This season we were a happy side.”
Boy! didn’t it show?