Services, the team of the armed forces, has been consistently performing well in all formats of cricket in the last few years. Since 2017-18, when it lost six matches out of six in the Vijay Hazare Trophy, it has been consistently challenging the teams within its group without quite making it to the knockouts.
On Wednesday, however, the barrier was broken as it overcame a strong Kerala to make it to the semifinals of the Vijay Hazare Trophy for the first time. Assertive with the ball and pragmatic with the bat, the team took apart its much-fancied opponent without much ado at the K. L. Saini Stadium here.
After the win, Rajat Paliwal, the captain, underscored what the result meant for his side.
“We are never covered much by the media,” he told Sportstar.
“We were never winning tournaments but a spot in the knockouts or the semis was eluding us by small margins. The team gelled well as a group and performed well, but we weren’t able to break a barrier: there was something missing. But this time, by God’s grace, we got the support (sic). If you look at our performance this season, no one individual stood out, but everyone has been chipping in with their contributions,” he said.
Paliwal said that the fact that his team’s bowling unit had become quite strong in recent years helped it skittle Kerala out for 175 on a good batting surface.
“Diwesh Pathania and I have been playing together for Services for seven-eight years. He’s also performing consistently. Just as a batter takes responsibility to see his side through till the end, Pathania has been performing a similar role for us with the ball for the last seven-eight years. And with the addition of spinners Pulkit Narang and Rahul Singh, our bowling unit has become quite strong. They’ve done well throughout this season as well as in the previous season.
“So that somewhat helped us in our contest today. The pitch was very good to bat on but we still restricted them to a low score,” he said.
And to chase down the total, the opening batters had decided not take risks in the first 10 overs. Basil Thampi and Manu Krishnan were on top with the new ball, but the situation eased up after the spinners started operating.
“There is always the additional pressure during the chase. Kerala had to come hard at us and they did get a couple of wickets. Chauhan and I decided to break our partnership into small chunks to have a good chance of chasing down the total,” Paliwal said.
Paliwal was part of the team which reached the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy in 2012-13, and he observes that hardly a few of the other players have tasted such success.
“The stage is big, and we’re feeling good. It was in 2014 (2013-14) that we last played a quarterfinal, and a year earlier (2012-13) we had played the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy. So there was a big gap. Now there’s almost an entirely new lot of players with us. We’re hopeful that we will continue our good run. We will make our best efforts,” Paliwal concluded.