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EXCLUSIVE | Walking the talk - Inside Story of how Himachal Pradesh won the Vijay Hazare Trophy

Himachal Pradesh players were ecstatic and emotional and why not. After all, they had created history. They were the bunch of cricketers who had anchored the side to their first Vijay Hazare title. 

And so was captain Rishi Dhawan who had led this team from the front not just to the winning triumph but to a DREAM. 

A dream that many had seen. A dream that he himself had seen. A dream that is now a reality. 

In an EXCLUSIVE chat with OneCricket and Cricketexchange Rishi talks about how special this win is not just for him but for Himachal Pradesh cricket after putting in hard work for so many years.

“It feels amazing after the historic win. We have had confidence in our team as we have been performing well for the past 4-5 years but were not getting that finishing touch. We finally got it this year, so it feels great. The mix in the team was good. All the players performed really well. Prashant, Nikhil, Amit and in the bowling unit we have Pankaj Jaiswal, Akash Vashisht who have performed really well. 

It’s a total team effort and the whole team has produced a brilliant show in the tournament,” he said. 

While Shubham Arora played an important role in the final against Tamil Nadu after scoring a century, Prashant Chopra had been among the runs consistently for the side in the tournament. 

Apart from these two, the middle-order and Rishi himself chipped in with important runs every now and then. Hailing the team, the right-hander said that it was the all-around show from the unit that helped clinch the title. 

“We got good batting wickets in the tournament. Like earlier, we played in Mumbai, so the tracks there had helped on offer for the batters. From the very starting, our focus was to play all the 50 overs and try not to give away many wickets. Our plan was to save wickets for the slog overs so that we can accelerate then. In almost 80% of the matches that we played, we scored a lot of runs in the final overs,” Dhawan noted.

“Moreover, the batting order performed really well. Prashant gave us good starts then in the middle-order, we had Nikhil and Amit who chipped in with valuable contributions and then me and Akash and partnerships in 2-3 games which were really crucial and important. Overall, as I said this is a team effort. The good part was that we didn’t just have a couple of match-winners but there were different players in all the matches who made contributions.”

An emotional Dhawan credited Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association for providing the players with facilities and also thanked Anurag Thakur for his hard work and efforts.

“Obviously, you can’t create history in one and it’s a process that goes on. I really want to give credit to the Himachal Pradesh Cricket Association (HPCA) who provided us with a lot of facilities. The infrastructure is good, we have indoor stadiums as well. We have at least 6-7 grounds where national level games can be held. Apart from this, the preparations are good, we get to play a lot of matches. So, I really want to thank the association and especially Anurag Thakur sir for his efforts. He had worked really hard for this. It was everyone’s dream that Himachal Pradesh should win a title and it has now come true.”

The 31-year-old revealed how the players couldn’t control their emotions after qualifying for the finale and how he got the side back in the groove. 

“The players were really emotional after we made a place in the final. We had this feeling that we have been working hard for so many years and now we have got the reward so it was really emotional for us. But after all the celebrations and all, we got back into the groove that we are left with one game and kept in mind that we have to play our game and not really think about the opponent. We want to give our 100% and keep it simple,” he said. 

Looking at the conditions, Tamil Nadu had made some tweaks in their batting order in the finale and sent the lower-order batters up the order. Though they were reduced to 40/4, Dinesh Karthik and Baba Indrajith steadied the ship for the side. Karthik in fact, went on to notch a ton. 

Talking about the same, Dhawan admitted that his side had come under some pressure while DK was at the crease but as they had played at the venue earlier, they had the idea that it would be a high-scoring clash. 

“Dinesh Karthik is of course a big player and the way he was playing, the players were under some pressure despite getting a good start. But we had played a couple of games at the venue, so we had the idea that the wicket would gradually assist the batsmen. The outfield is fast. So somewhere down the line, we had this in mind that a high score will be put on the board eventually. 

In fact, we chose to field after winning the toss to take advantage of the conditions in the first hour. But we knew after 10-15 overs, the pitch will assist the batters,” he said. 

“We were expecting a change in the lineup because we knew they would also try to shield their important batters in the initial phase. But we had a plan of picking up as many wickets as we can,” he added.  

Himachal Pradesh had won the final by 11 runs (VJD Method). When asked if that was in his mind, Dhawan said in the affirmative that he was keeping the scoring rate in check. He further talked about the interaction that he had with Arora in the middle. 

“Being a senior player, I had to take up the onus and moreover, Shubham was a bit tired as well. He had kept wickets earlier and then he batted throughout, so he was tired. He in fact, called the physio also a couple of times during the drinks break to get the stretching done. He told me that he wasn’t really able to run so I just told him that don’t give away your wicket because a wicket at that point of time would have put us under pressure.”

“I told him that I will take up the responsibility of scoring the runs and asked him to rotate the strike. Also, the VJD thing was going on in the back of our minds and a wicket there would have pushed us on the back foot,” he revealed. 

The Vijay Hazare Trophy will now be followed by the Ranji Trophy and the Himachal Pradesh side will be back to work.

“We will be resting for 2-3 days and then we will start with the preparations for the Ranji Trophy. We are starting the tournament in Mumbai from January 13, 2022.” 

When asked about how much importance does IPL keep in being a platform for youngsters for showcasing the talent, Dhawan replied that it does keep a lot of importance. 

“You see, social media is so powerful that you get noticed if you perform well. This is a BCCI tournament so everyone knows how big this opportunity is for everyone. So, this thing is in everyone’s back of the mind and it only depends upon you how you take it. If you just enjoy the process, it enhances the performance,” he concluded.

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