As he wraps up his kit, pads neatly tucked, bats in place, shoes dusted before being returned to the kit, Rajat Bhatia looks every bit the professional that he has been. Not the one to waste time at the ‘nets’, the 34-year-old, now into his 13th season, comes across as one of the most committed cricketers in the Delhi dressing room.

His career graph reads 84 first-class matches and 4924 runs, with 13 centuries. The statistics is not the point. The point is his tenacity and consistency in serving Delhi as an all-rounder of repute and faith. The captain can always expect Bhatia to take charge and show the way.

Delhi boy in TN

His debut for Tamil Nadu was eventful. He batted at No. 10 in the first innings but graduated to open against Orissa at Cuttack in March 2000. He made 72 in the first innings and 60 in the second, making his presence felt. A Delhi boy excelling for Tamil Nadu!

Two seasons later Bhatia moved to Delhi and has emerged one of the key players for the team in the company of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Virat Kohli, Shikhar Dhawan, Mithun Manhas and Ashish Nehra. “I have always found him very useful and committed cricketer,” said Sehwag.

Bhatia has batted at all positions, from No. 1 to No. 7. He is now settled at No. 6, holding the Delhi innings firm, batting with tailenders mainly. “I am generally left to bat with the wicketkeeper, an allrounder and the tail. I enjoy my role because of the support I get from my colleagues. I ensure that I am not worried my partner would get out. I have to give them confidence and I do that by taking a single off the first ball,” he says with a smile.

No resentment

He holds no rancour. “When I started, I just wanted to play cricket. What if I did not get to play for India? I have no complaints but yes sometimes I feel sad that I could not make it. I know some players who played for India but returned to domestic cricket soon only to be exposed. I have not had such an experience. Maybe I should have a chance, maybe a stint at the NCA (National Cricket India), maybe….” The one time he got picked for India was on a non-descript tour to Israel. “At least I got to see Jerusalem,” he laughs.

His unbeaten 158 in Delhi’s last match against Orissa at Sambalpur was a magnificent effort that confirmed he was not a burden on the team. “My stints in English cricket (in leagues in Birmingham and Central Lancashire) have helped me a lot. I have always been fit and fresh for our domestic circuit.”

The Indian Premier League, Bhatia believes, had helped the domestic cricketer immensely. “Life is secure with the bank balance and one stays in the picture by excelling in domestic cricket thanks to IPL. Honestly, this is what keeps me going. I have no desire to play for India but I want to play professional cricket. At the end of the day, I have to be satisfied by what I am doing. I am a senior member and not a struggler that I was when I began this journey.”

Bhatia, who observed that batting standards and the quality of spinners had deteriorated in domestic cricket, felt there was a marked improvement as far as fast bowlers were concerned. “There are so many quick bowlers but not spinners. I think it is a reflection of the times. The game has changed….”

The game certainly has but not its character, thanks to players such as Bhatia.

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