January 23, 2012, M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. A dozen or so men are revelling in their second straight Ranji Trophy triumph, their faces — sliced wide open by joyous grins — revealing unrehearsed delight. Nearly two years later, it still remains a reassuring memory to cling to for Rajasthan, not least because its record in the competition over the last two seasons has been tacky.

After slipping in Group A, it is uneasily placed at seventh this season, with 11 points from six matches. Before Rajasthan won its previous game against Madhya Pradesh, it had suffered two defeats and conceded the first-innings advantage on as many occasions. Only against Services did it manage three points for the first-innings lead.

The team’s Group B engagement with Tamil Nadu, beginning here on Sunday, could therefore be fuelled by cushy nostalgia. But skipper Hrishikesh Kanitkar, a man weathered by many cricketing summers, isn’t given to such indulgences.

The 39-year-old was upfront about what ailed the team. “After two spectacular seasons, it is not surprising that things have been average. Last year, we had some injury problems. There were a few dropped catches, too, in the first three matches this season. “We have picked up after starting slowly. There isn’t any fear of relegation as we won the title in 2011-12 after being in a similar situation.”

Kanitkar confirmed that two spinners — veteran off-spinner Ramesh Powar and left-armer Aristh Singhvi — would play even as the possibility of a third tweaker was “being discussed.”

Invigorated

Tamil Nadu’s campaign, meanwhile, has received invigoration in the last two matches. With 17 points, the side is in prime position to push for one of the top three slots. This match presents a fine opportunity to do so.

It is the same wicket — a drier version owing to the recent sunny weather — as the one used for the Baroda game which the home side won. Tamil Nadu’s coach W.V. Raman, remaining guarded about the team composition, was happy with the recent showing.

“It is important to forget what we have done before. The boys are aware of what they need to achieve. It is about confidence and we need to take it step by step.”

The teams (from): Tamil Nadu: L. Balaji (captain), S. Badrinath (vice-captain), Abhinav Mukund, B. Aparajith, R. Prasanna, K. Dinesh Karthik (w/k), Vijay Shankar, R. Aushik Srinivas, K.B. Arun Karthick, Malolan Rangarajan, B. Indrajith, M. Mohammed, A. Aswin Crist, J. Kaushik, Rahil S. Shah. Coach: W.V. Raman.

Rajasthan: Hrishikesh Kanitkar (captain), Vineet Saxena, Siddharth Saraf, Robin Bist, Rajesh Bishnoi, Ashok Menaria, Pankaj Singh, Azeem Akhtar (w/k), Deepak Chahar, Rituraj Singh, Aniket Choudhary, Ramesh Powar, Aristh Singhvi, Chetan Bisht, Gaurav Khatri, Madhur Khatri. Coach: Pradeep Sunderam.

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