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A new dawn

It is just a question of a big knock in an important game for him to get back to the National side. Sadagopan Ramesh, who went through a turbulent phase last season, talks about his resurgence as a batsman.

THERE COMES a point in one's life when a sliver of hope is akin to sighting an oasis in a desert. And words, which would have been mere words any other time, seem like the beginning of a new dawn. Life, indeed, has this quaint ability to throw up surprises at the strangest of times.

Ask Sadagopan Ramesh, the State's left-handed opening batsman, at present out of the National side, and he will tell you what John Wright's statement in a recent interview means to him.

The Indian team's consultant had said in England, ``I have high regards for Ramesh. I hope he gets many opportunities at the first-class level. We cannot afford him not playing in all these matches. He's a high-class player.''

The Chennai lad is tiding over a phase, the initial part of which saw nothing go right for him.

His last international appearance was in Sri Lanka, in September 2001, where he did fairly well. Then a back injury laid him low, forcing him to pull out of the tour of South Africa. His slot in Test cricket was first filled by Deep Dasgupta as stopgap, then by specialist opener Wasim Jaffer and now Virender Sehwag.

Ramesh's return to domestic cricket after recovering from a bad back injury last season saw him in woeful form, managing just one century — a laborious effort against Kerala.

Being dropped subsequently from the State side for the Subbiah Pillai South Zone limited-over tournament under controversial circumstances did not help matters either. The man who was good enough to open the innings in the place of Sachin Tendulkar in the 1999 World Cup was not picked in any of the sides for the Challenger Trophy in Bangalore. Heartburn in the Duleep Trophy followed and Ramesh was only a shadow of his old self in the Ranji knockout.

So much so that those of us who saw him score a century on debut in Ranji Trophy, Duleep Trophy and India `A' and his unforgettable knocks in his maiden Test series against Pakistan, beginning with the first Test on home ground, Chidambaram Stadium, couldn't believe our eyes.

But now, being named in the probables for the Champions Trophy, from which the team will be selected to represent the country in case the standoff between the senior players and the Board continues, has come as a shot in the arm for Ramesh. He says it was unexpected and that he is drawing motivation from the fact that he is still in contention.

Coming to think of it, Ramesh's ability to handle international bowling is never in doubt, no matter what critics say about his lack of footwork (his Test average is 37.97). It is just a question of a big knock in any important game for him to get back to the National side.

And with three consecutive centuries, including a double hundred, for Globe Trotters in the MAC-TNCA first division league this year, he certainly has got his touch back.

Looking back at that turbulent phase, Ramesh says, ``It was very frustrating. It can be tough being out of the limelight, and I badly wanted to come back. I was putting tremendous pressure on myself. Looking back, I can say I wasn't myself.''

Ramesh credits his resurgence as a batsman to Dennis Lillee's camp at the MRF Pace Foundation. ``I got to play the quicks, bowling off 18 and 20 yards, and it felt good. There can be nothing better for an opening batsman than to play the new ball every day.''

The conversations with Australian Test captain Steve Waugh, who spent two days at the Foundation, motivated Ramesh further. ``We spoke for a long time. I can never forget his words: `You need to build the fire in you. It is all up to you. You've got to deliver.'''

Ramesh says he has worked hard on his technique. ``I'm playing a lot closer to my body now. I haven't got out in the slip cordon this season. I am judging the ball a lot better and don't fish much outside the off-stump. I am enjoying my batting thoroughly, I just want to carry on.''

And carry on, Ramesh certainly will.

SANJAY RAJAN

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