Ahead of its Ranji Trophy semifinal clash with the mighty Mumbai, history is surely against Services. Even its future over the next five days looks gloomy. But the present certainly belongs to these gallant men in uniform.
If topping Group ‘C’ in the league phase for a place in the knock-out stage was not commendable enough, Services went on to end Uttar Pradesh’s campaign.
The heroic manner in which skipper Soumik Chatterjee, braving a seriously injured knee, batted virtually on one foot and gave the finishing touches to a famous five-wicket victory over Uttar Pradesh is the kind of stuff legends are made of.
Chasing 113, Services was tottering at 54 for five when the soldier in Chatterjee took command. He limped his way to the crease, joined first-innings centurion Rajat Paliwal and took Services through within the next hour.
However, the gallant skipper will miss the clash against Mumbai. The knee injury that warranted a surgery has put him out of action for three weeks. Though Soumyaranjan Swain takes over the reins, the team members would draw inspiration from Chatterjee, who hoisted the winning six against UP to signal Services’ ninth entry into the semifinals, and the first since 1965.
For the statistically inclined, it was host Mumbai which stopped Services that year. Those were the days when the former was virtually unbeatable.
However, Mumbai’s aura of invincibility has been missing so far this season. The 39-time champion managed only one outright victory — stopping a resurgent Madhya Pradesh by seven runs during its chase of 310.
Even without Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma and the injured Zaheer Khan, Mumbai could prove more than a handful for Services.
“We start as the favourite against any team,” says Mumbai skipper Ajit Agarkar.
“This may sound arrogant, but we have been the champion 39 times. Services has done well enough to reach this far and we respect that.” Sachin Tendulkar’s presence has enthused Mumbai as well as the organisers.
The 39-year-old returns to the Palam ground for the first time since attending a five-day preparatory camp ahead of the 1997 Sahara Cup.
Tendulkar, looking to sharpen his skills before the Test series against Australia, has played two Ranji matches this season, hitting centuries against Railways in the opener and Baroda in the quarterfinals. Another century will help Tendulkar match Sunil Gavaskar’s Indian record of 81 centuries in first-class cricket.
Services, firmly confined to figuring in the league stage and later the Plate division of the championship for years, has everything to play for. None expected the team to reach this far. Now playing against Mumbai and Tendulkar will be an experience remembered and recalled often by every member of the team.
At least on one count this season, Services stays ahead of Mumbai. It has scored three outright victories. But, adding to that number looks improbable.
The teams (from): Services: Soumyaranjan Swain (capt), Anshul Gupta, Nakul Verma, Pratik Desai, Rajat Paliwal, Yashpal Singh, Sarabjit Singh (wk), Abhishek Sinha, Suraj Yadav, Shadab Nazar, Penta Rao, Shakti Malviya, Mohammed Khaleed, Nishant Singh and Soumik Chatterjee.
Mumbai: Ajit Agarkar (capt), Wasim Jaffer, Kaustubh Pawar, Hiken Shah, Sachin Tendulkar, Surya Kumar Yadav, Abhishek Nayar, Aditya Tare (wk), Javed Khan, Dhawal Kulkarni, Vishal Dabholkar, Ankeet Chavan, Nikhil Patil (Jr), Shardul Thakur and Sushant Marathe.