Under Indian all-rounder Rishi Dhawan's leadership, Himachal Pradesh registered 4 wins in 5 matches, including a thrilling win against Maharashtra to book their spot in the last 8.
Slated to face off against Tamil Nadu in the second quarterfinal of the 2021 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy on 26th January, Himachal Pradesh certainly have their task cut out if they are to make the semifinal.
Notably, HP faced TN in the knockouts 10 years back, and Rishi Dhawan was a part of the former's playing XI back then. Speaking in an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, the all-rounder played down the pressure factor ahead of the high stakes clash against the Dinesh Karthik-led side.
“It’s a good side, but we’ve been playing against TN for the past 3-4 years, and we’ve played good cricket against them. There's not much pressure on us, it’s not like they are a very big side. We are going to focus on our game, we will not focus on the names in their team. We have worked well on our strengths and we just want to continue in the same way.”
Tamil Nadu have endured a dream run in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy so far, coming into the knockouts with five wins in a row during the group stage. TN topped the Elite Group B points table, and they look primed to progress a lot further in the competition.
Much of TN's success can be attributed to the form of their openers, with N Jagadeesan (315 runs) and Hari Nishaanth (190 runs) providing good starts for their side.
In fact, that is going to be an area of focus for Rishi Dhawan, who has made quite some impact with the new ball this season. The HP skipper has 9 wickets from 5 matches at an economy of just 6.33, and he's looking forward to piling some early pressure on the TN batting unit.
“Our bowling has done well in all 5 games. With the new ball, it will be a great challenge, I will obviously relish it. My partner Vaibhav and I want this challenge, we want to get them (TN openers) out early. They both are in good form, so we are ready for the challenge.”
"Want to make sure youngsters feel no pressure" - Rishi Dhawan
Facing an in-form side is always a daunting prospect, and for a side like Himachal Pradesh that is comprised of quite a few youngsters, there's bound to be some fear that creeps into the players.
For Rishi Dhawan, though, it is a matter of making sure the youngsters convert this challenge into an opportunity. The Himachal skipper is hoping his wards express themselves freely, even in crunch situations.
"We are grooming our youngsters, so we’re really proud that they are all doing well. Good that the future is on the right track. I want to make sure they feel no pressure. All the youngsters are growing fast because they play a lot of matches through tournaments across India. They all are getting better everyday, I want them to express themselves and do the best they can."
Apart from Rishi Dhawan, who has scored 105 runs and picked up 9 wickets from 5 games, the only other senior player in the Himachal side is opener, Prashant Chopra.
The right-hander, who was a part of the Rajasthan Royals squad in the 2018-19 season, has looked solid at the top for his side. With 156 runs from 4 matches, including an important half-century, Chopra has played a big hand in some of HP's wins.
The HP skipper shed light on how important both his and Chopra's role will be heading into the clash against TN.
"Prashant and I are senior most batsmen in the team, others aren’t very experienced. We both try to bat deep and let others express themselves. We have done well in the league stages and hopefully we continue the same in the knockout matches too.”
Having spent a major chunk of their quarantine period playing FIFA on the PlayStation and some occasional games of PUBG, the Himachal Pradesh unit will be raring to get out on the field for a big clash against TN.
With no home ground advantage of any sort provided by the Motera Stadium in Ahmedabad, Rishi Dhawan hopes to see his men give it their all and make their way into a historic semifinal.