By Sidhanta Patnaik
The nearest Orissa got to a Ranji Trophy final was in 2000-2001 when they were edged out in the semi-finals by Baroda on the basis of first innings lead. Except for Shiv Sunder Das, Debasish Mohanty and Sanjay Raul, there is very little that the state offers to the wardrobe of Indian cricket.
There are, however, two Paridas who have gone on to win Ranji Trophy representing different teams. Off-spinner Kulamani Parida was an integral member of the Railways team that won the trophy in 2001-2002 and 2004-2005 and was the runners-up in 2000-2001 but he had never played for the state beyond junior level.
Rashmi Ranjan Parida was a key member of the team think tank during its golden period from 1998-1999 to 2005-2006 and in his 88 Ranji appearances for the state recorded 5,830 runs. Today, after 18 years of first-class cricket, he has 7344 runs in 113 matches.
His credibility is further established in the pages of Aakash Chopra’s book Out of the Blues where the author goes on to describe this sturdy Bhubaneswar lad as, "He is one of the best players of spin bowling I have come across... it looks like he is trying not to hurt the ball while hitting it. When I see someone like that at the top of his game, I count my blessings. I may not be half as good as him, but I am the proud owner of an India cap."
Rashmi Ranjan Parida is currently in his second season with Rajasthan and playing in his second final. In a freewheeling chat with cricketcountry.com after the first day ‘s play he opened up and shared his journey to where he is today, his views about cricket in Orissa, Rajasthan and overall health of Indian domestic set up.
Excerpts from an interview:
Cricketcountry (CC): You were preparing for your IIT and REC (NIT) entrance exams and cricket happened by accident. How did it all begin?
Rashmi Ranjan (RR): Yes, you are right. My father, an engineer by profession, wanted me to follow his footsteps. It is a familiar mindset in most of the households in Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. We have always adopted risk-free approach in our lives. But I cannot question my father’s intention since awareness about a career in sport was not there. During my Basic Science days (Plus 2) I attended a selection trial of Orissa University of Agriculture and Technology and was selected to go to Bihar for the All India University Competition. My coach, Mr. Rajendra Mohanty, was impressed by my skills and encouraged me to join a professional club. Later, I started playing at Saheed Sportings under Kamal Ganguly (Dada) and then got into the under-19 Orissa team. Even after two years my father was not convinced, but my passion for the game increased with every season. After I got into the Ranji Trophy team in 19994-1995, my father finally allowed me to dedicate wholly to cricket.
CC: How do you reminisce your cricketing days in Bhubaneswar. Do you still go back to your club when time permits?
RR: During my young days in Bhubaneswar, a lot of the boys were gifted. Since our inter-club matches were intensely competitive and the only way to gain the selectors’ attention it allowed all of us to feed on each other and progress. Debasish (Mohanty) and Shiv Sunder (Das) played for India, Pravanjan (Mullick), Sanjay (Sathpathy) and me played for India A. Till date there is not a single turf wicket in the state capital and no proper league cricket which is unfortunate. Despite the lack of facilities it was our sincere hard work that reaped us dividends.
CC: From 1998-1999 to 2005-2006 Orissa cricket was in its golden period and your contribution was immense. How was it in the dressing room those days?
RR: Most of us were at our peak during that phase. Personally, I was among the top ten highest run scorers for five seasons. It helped a lot that everyone was scoring runs and was well backed up by our bowling unit led by Ajay (Barik) and Debasish. If I had to play for India then it had to be during that period, but somehow destiny had different plans and I have no regrets about it. More importantly we were a bunch of youngsters of the same age group and enjoyed our cricket to the core. No hindrances - be it lack of money, proper accommodation, travelling in second class - deterred us. The camaraderie in the dressing room was amazing and credit for it goes to our coach Mr. Lalitendu Bidyadhar Mohapatra. He made us realise the need to dream big and play for a larger reason than just scoring runs and taking wickets.
I remember a first-class match against Bengal at Eden Gardens. Sourav Ganguly was the captain of India then and was playing in the match. The scores were pretty low all throughout. In the second innings, they adhered to illegal practices. But the umpire was not courageous enough to bring an end to it. However, with 110 runs still to get and just a wicket in hand, our No 10 Jagannath Das and No 11 Ajay Barik saw us through. You can sense how it must have been in the dressing room.
CC: In 2008-2009 you shifted to Assam and then subsequently to Rajasthan. What made you to do so? Was it the urge to continue playing cricket or had something gone wrong in the Orissa camp?
RR: First let me make it clear that the media’s projection that it was a bitter end with Orissa cricket for me is not true. Yes, I had one bad season and then was injured before playing for few games in my last season with Orissa, but somehow I felt that my requirement was no more there. The management’s focus had shifted to youngsters and it was the same time the offer to lead Assam came my way. When another state wanted to use my services I thought it was best to take up a new challenge than to live in contemplation in a side where transition had taken over. It is a part of every cricketer’s life and as a professional I have no hard feelings about it. Definitely the monetary incentives and the security that came with the offer were a big motivation, but as a performer it was about re-finding that reason of existence.
Shifting to Assam was a coincidence - thanks to my employer Air-India, for whom I have played a lot of cricket around India and established my credentials as a professional. It helped me be recognised beyond just another cricketer from Orissa. I must add this that during that time I was feeling insecure about my future, but it all changed with my daughter’s birth. Just after a month she was born I was with Assam. We won three matches outright but lost two for which we remained third in the plate group and could not qualify to the Elite Division.
CC: In your last two seasons with Orissa, runs dried up. But the moment you shifted to Assam and then to Rajasthan you were back amongst the runs. What adjustment did you make to your batting or was it just an issue of mindset?
RR: More than any adjustment it was the enjoyment factor. As I told you earlier, somehow I felt unwanted in the Orissa set up and had to take a call. If a cricketer does not enjoy his dressing room environment and his game, then it is not worthwhile representing a team. I was looking for a new set of challenges and it arrived with Assam. But the contract with them was not renewed after first year though I had pretty decent season of 333 runs in five matches. It was during the same time Rajasthan was looking for professionals to revive their cricket after a turbulent phase off the field. It all fell in place for me and today, in hindsight, my second innings has been jolly good.
CC: Considering that Rajasthan Cricket Association had been in the news more for their political vendetta than cricket when you signed up with them, how has it been for you?
RR: I can understand the point you are making and it reflected in the table in 2009-2010 when they ended at the bottom of the plate group. In fact, that season I could not play for them in the days matches because an ad-hoc committee was formed and things got messy. By the time things got clear, only the one-day matches were left. Mr. Sanjay Dixit asked me to play for them. I scored a century and two fifties in four matches. It helped me to break the ice and get into the groove before the next season. After that what happened is there for all to see.
Despite of what is going on off the field in Rajasthan, credit needs to be given to them for having protected cricket and the team’s interest. It is a great lesson for all state associations where sometimes power lobby becomes the central focus. Personally I have been treated royally and have been given all the facilities. It is a privilege to be playing for this Rajasthan team.
CC: Ironically, in the 2000-2001 semi-finals against Baroda, you scored 94 and 71 in two innings but the team lost out on the first innings. You repeated the performance with scores of 56 and 89 in the final last season against the same opponent and ended victorious. It fetched you the first man of the final award in the history of Ranji Trophy. It must have been a déjà-vu experience.
RR: Yes! In fact, last season the moment I got to know that Baroda would be our opponent in the final, memories of that 2001 semi-final match came rushing to my mind. The desire to settle the score was an extra motivation for me and it was as if God had designed the script for me. In the first innings I had to rally the lower middle-order, but when the No 11 (Madhur Khatri) came, I got my calculation wrong and played a shot which I should not have played and lost my wicket. But Deepak Chahar and Vivek Yadav with four wickets each gave us a lead of 33 runs which was negligible in the larger context of a five day game.
It was important for us to bat well in the second innings to ensure that we don’t even give them a sniff. But there was a collapse (61 for 4) and it looked dangerous for a moment. Ashok (Menaria) and I were the last recognised pair at the wicket. The pressure was huge, the fielders were chatting into our ears and I was desperate since I did not know if I would ever get a chance on such a big platform ever again. Ashok, though talented, was short on such experiences. We made a decision to curb our instincts, restrict our stroke-making abilities and consume overs. In fact, they missed a catch of his. But after that we settled and managed to pull the game entirely out of their grasp with a 165 runs partnership. I got out to a wrong decision by umpire (Shavir Tarapore). The left-arm spinner’s (Bhargav Bhatt) ball had pitched outside the leg-stump and was heading towards the slips. It would have been lovely had I got a 100 in a Ranji final, but the Man of the Match Award and the title triumph was satisfying. You cannot ask for everything.
CC: Being a professional, it must have felt special to have played a chief role in the finals against Baroda. How is life as a professional?
RR: I understood the real meaning of the term ‘professional’ during my five years of association with my club in the North Yorkshire-South Durham league. It taught me the meaning of taking responsibilities and handling pressure when there is a monetary value attached to your name. You are expected to deliver every time you go into the park. It helped me mature as a cricketer. Thankfully, with God’s grace, I have been able to carry the learning into the Rajasthan dressing room. When the juniors walk up to us – Aakash Chopra and Hrikishesh Kanitkar among others - and talk about the role of the seniors in the team, it feels good.
CC: Now you have played in two Ranji Trophy finals. How is it before the final night?
RR: The night before our first final last season was filled with anxiety. There was an element of unknown and I was not sure what emotions those were. It was the only time I could experience them. Yes the desire to do well was there, but surely I was nervous. But the second time it was a known territory. I could afford to relax. There was some universal power which gave me the confidence and my inner feeling says that we can win two times in two attempts. Let us wait for the final result and then I may be able to relate more to what I was going through before the start of this match.
CC: There is a lot of positive energy and an air of tenacity in the dressing room of Rajasthan. Obviously you, Kanitkar and Chopra have a big influence but how are the youngsters?
RR: This is a fun-loving bunch. They are not scared about anything and are willing to wait for the right moment to arrive for a match to be seized. It is their never die spirit that kept us afloat in the league stages. Though we were not winning outright, yet the feeling was that we can turn it around and we peaked in the crucial games against Saurashtra and Orissa. Take the case of the Haryana game. After they got a marginal lead the way they celebrated one thought that the match was over. We understood that they were jittery. Rituraj Singh took over the proceedings. If it was the batsmen who won us the games last year then it is the bowlers who are helping us come out from difficult positions. This tells how closely knit our team is. There is a hunger and the attitude is simply amazing.
The best thing about this group is that there is no factional feeling. The core has stuck, except for Deepak Chahar who is suffering from jaundice and Ashok Menaria who is injured. Of course, winning has helped. But good personnel always carry the team’s cause forward. Everybody is there for everybody. Bad days, good days are all treated with equanimity because everyone understands that there is a larger goal to achieve.
CC: I know it’s a clichéd question, but what are your plans after cricket, though you still have another good 3-4 years left in you? Have you thought about how you want to give back to the game?
RR: It is easy for you to conclude that I have another 3 to 4 years left in the game, but to be honest with you any cricketer who enters the evening of his career takes it year by year. May be that is how the thought process evolves after so many years in the game. It is about enjoying your game at the present moment. If I have done well in one year then I will think of continuing. That is how it goes. This year my personal performance has not been up there, but the team has done well. I can live with it and think about carrying forward. I don’t know if this is how I will be thinking in a year’s time from now. You really cannot say.
After cricket I want to be a coach and pass on my experience with kids in my club in Bhubaneswar and at the national level but these days they have made the procedure a bit strict and one has to go through the association one is representing. So I really do not know if I will be comfortable asking someone to help me out. Let us see. And yes, in years to come I would like to open up an academy and do my bit for the game in whatever way I am capable of.
CC: Why has Orissa team not been able to perform well over the years and what is your dream for the game in your home state?
RR: To be honest with you, the current Orissa team has got some exceptional talents, but they lack exposure. They don’t get a chance to play enough against top opponents all round the year and then find themselves competing at the top level in Ranji Trophy. Obviously temperament is going to be found out. During out times we used to leverage our personal network to find a place in some team in some tournament across India, but today with so much money involved it is a pity that things cannot be organised in a proper manner. Last year, the Orissa Cricket Association sent a team to Buchi Babu League in Chennai, but those were not the core members who represented the state in the Ranji Trophy. You can see where the disconnect lies. The administrators have to have a clear vision. They have to identify a pool of players and show trust in them for five years irrespective of what the result is. That is how great teams are built and only then can good performances will catch the attention of the national selectors. The move to appointment Debasish (Mohanty) as the coach is a good one but it needs to be seen how much of authority he is given.
CC: What are the challenges of a first-class cricketer in India?
RR: At the point I stand after 18 years of first-class cricket, I think the value of domestic cricket has gone down and the purpose is missing. Earlier, every cricketer aspired for the season to begin because this was their best chance to push for higher claims, but now the scene has changed and you cannot blame the cricketers for that. The Indian Test squad for the series against the West Indies consisted of players whose IPL performances were factored. What message does it send to other budding cricketers? It simply devalues the Test cap. I know it is not possible for stars to play in the domestic season because of their busy international calendar, but then at least the selectors can reward the highest wicket taker and run scorer of the season with a call to senior team instead of rewarding mediocre IPL performances.
Take the case of Subramaniam Badrinath. How much more does he have to do to get a consistent run in the national squad? The reality is batsmen mature at 30, but in India the moment someone crosses 25 he is brushed aside as a veteran or termed as a domestic giant. It is unfair to type cast someone without giving him an adequate run at the top. There are only a few exceptional talents like Sachin (Tendulkar), Rahul (Dravid), Sourav (Ganguly), VVS (Laxman) and in Australia Ricky Ponting and Michael Clarke who made their Test debut early and played for long. Today, an 18-year old or a 20-year old grabs headline with one performance, but cricket is not just about young raw talent. It is a technical game and intelligence and maturity are so important, something Matthew Hayden and Michael Hussey have shown us.
CC: How do you keep yourself occupied during off-season away from cricket?
RR: There is no off season these days. We finish Ranji Trophy now and then Duleep Trophy and Deodhar Trophy start followed by IPL. I go to Bangladesh for their league. Those are mostly 50 overs game which helps me to be in touch with fast scoring. For last two years I have not gone to England because it takes a lot away from me and I have a young family. I try to spend some quality time with them during the rainy season. After that I represent my employers Air-India in the corporate tournaments. In fact, last year we were the runners-up in the BCCI Corporate Cup. And before you can wink, Buchi Babu Tournament is back again.
CC: What’s your most memorable moment in your cricketing career?
RR: Winning the Ranji Trophy for Rajasthan in 2010-2011.
CC: And the worst moment?
RR: When I suffered from slip disc in 2004 and was in agony. I was unable to play and my career looked all but over. I visited all the top hospitals in India and every doctor prescribed surgery but no one was able to assure me that I will play again. Anyways, I clawed my way back into the game and the rest is history.
(Sidhanta Patnaik is a sport marketing professional, public speaker and writes for Cricketcountry. His Twitter ID is @sidhpat)