The Services captain reflects on a memorable season and hopes his team can up the ante in the knock-outs.
After almost eight years, Services stormed into the Ranji Trophy quarter-finals. Despite a disappointing performance in the second innings against Jharkhand in their last group match, Services qualified for the knockouts on the basis of their good work earlier in the season. Now they will face Uttar Pradesh at Indore on January 6.
Sarabjit Singh, the team’s wicketkeeper, had led Services to the quarter-finals in the 2004-05 season. This year, it is the rookie captain Soumik Chatterjee who has taken them this far. A proud leader, Chatterjee shared this season’s experience with Cricketnext.
What has the road to the quarter-finals been like?
The journey has been awesome. I am really happy with the way team performed. It’s a total team effort. After a span of almost eight years we have qualified for the quarter-finals. I would have been really happy if we had won our last group stage match against Jharkhand, but as we all know cricket is a funny game and anything can happen. Jharkhand took the game away from us. The journey was excellent but going to be really tough now.
How would you rate your team’s bowling? Who were the key players?
Our bowling department was really strong in comparison to our batting. I would like to credit Suraj Yadav, who bowled magnificently. Nishan Singh and Shadab Nazar have really performed well. The trio has performed excellent so far and I hope they keep up the good performance in the upcoming matches.
And what about the batting?
We batted really well in almost all the matches except against Jharkhand. We were short of a few runs otherwise we could have registered victory. Out batting collapsed in both innings. We scored 185 in the first innings but thanks to our bowlers, especially Suraj Yadav who took six wickets to restrict Jharkhand for 120. We had a good chance to bounce back but ended up all out for 152. If we could have scored some more runs, we would have won. Nakul [Verma] and Anshul [Gupta] are our best opening batsmen. Anshul has the ability to give the team a solid start. A lot will be expected from them. Out middle is comprised of experienced Yashpal Sharma, Rajat Paliwal, and Sarabjit Singh. The real battle will start now and we are sure of a good show.
What were the key moments for you in the tournament?
(Laughes) There were a lot of moments. In the first match against Andhra we were tottering at 73 for 5, but cautious innings by Rajat, Sarabjit and [Muzzaffaruddin] Khalid propelled the score. Shadab Nazar made an unbeaten 56 in that match and took the score to 297. That was the magic moment for us and after that we wrapped up Andhra for 251. The match against Assam will be unforgettable as we registered an outright win. We scored 326 runs in the first innings, credit to Rajat’s century. He played a brilliant innings  in that match. Against Jammu & Kashmir, we registered our second win of the season, defeating them by five wickets.
Which was your favourite match?
Every match was a favourite for me but I will rate the match against Assam as the most interesting and memorable as we registered an outright win against them. That match was the key for us to qualify for the quarter-finals.
In 2004-05, Sarabjit Singh led Services to the quarters and after almost eight years you did the job for the team. How is the feeling?
Eight years is a long span. We tasted this victory after a long period. Though we lost the last group match of the season, we are capable of playing in a higher group. But there is a long way to go. The battle has just started now. We will plan differently now. The quarters will be an uphill task for us. The top eight teams will be playing. We will be doing a lot of net practices. We will play our normal game. Our main aim will be put up a good show.
Do you think something lacked in the team’s performance?
Batting is a concern for us. We have to work on that. Our bowlers have impressed with their superb show. Suraj Yadav, Shadab Nazar and Nishan Singh have performed really well.