Ranji Trophy: Saurashtra dominates Indian cricket, due to team ethos and experience

SAURASHTRA was shining on India’s cricketing map on Sunday. In Delhi, their ace all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja made sure Australia were dispatched halfway through the third day. Some 1,562 kilometres to the east in Kolkata, Saurashtra registered their second Ranji Trophy title in four years.

Riding on a six-wicket haul by skipper Jaydev Unadkat and three from fellow left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya, they defeated Bengal in their backyard by nine wickets. After conquering the Vijay Hazare Trophy in the 50-over format, they have grabbed their second title this season.

Saurashtra isn’t a bunch of star-studded players. They aren’t a flamboyant side and don’t have much of a following in domestic cricket either. But these boys know how to win cricket matches. Most of them are soft-spoken but have shown one doesn’t need loud voices to grab attention.

Arpit Vasavada remembers the time he played his first Ranji Trophy final in 2013 against Mumbai, which had Sachin Tendulkar, Zaheer Khan and Ajit Agarkar at Wankhede Stadium. They were thrashed as Mumbai won the title in a one-sided match.

But the veteran Saurashtra batsman says the journey to becoming a domestic powerhouse began there. “I remember that game. We lost badly, we were thrashed. Somewhere, I felt that we will be a team in the future which will beat everyone. It has happened now and it has been a long process,” Vasavada, the second-highest run-getter in this Ranji Trophy season with 907 runs in 10 matches, said.

The process was simple, back the players and give them a decent long run. Since 2018, the core group of Saurashtra has remained together and in their last three seasons, they have introduced just two debutants in their playing eleven. Saurashtra fielded only 18 players this season. They had core players like captain Unadkat, Vasavada, Sheldon Jackson, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Chirag Jani, Prerak Mankad, Chetan Sakariya, Harvik Desai and Snell Patel. The new ones added were Parth Bhut and Yuvrajsinh Dodhia. Bhut’s century, followed by five wickets against Punjab, enabled them reach the semis.

“Lot of credit goes to JD (Jaydev Unadkat), the way he has planned and kept everyone along. He backs everyone even in their lows and that has made players believe that they can do anything for the team,” Vasavada said.

Leading from the front

From Unadkat to becoming JD of the team, the captain has the loudest say and even Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) doesn’t defy his words.

“Look at the way he backed Sheldon (Jackson) bhai in Vijay Hazare Trophy. He didn’t score
runs in the league games but scored in the final when the team needed the most.
Also there is a happy atmosphere in the team. Before each game, we all will have a team dinner. There are games which we all have to play, like dumb charades and treasure hunt. These are small things that matter. Our dressing room will be full of families,” Sakariya said.

Before the season, the SCA bosses wanted to try new faces at the expense of players like Vasavada and Jackson. However, Unadkat knew the importance of experience in domestic cricket. He believed these players were at their peak now and there was no point wasting them on the bench.

“One needs experience in domestic cricket and these boys have it. I wanted them somehow. We are not a state which has a vast pool, so we need to work around that,” the skipper reflected.

Experience paid off big time. A double hundred and an unbeaten 47 by Vasavada, alongwith a hundred by Jackson in the first innings, helped Saurashtra beat a strong Karnataka side in the semifinal.

Unadkat, who was in the Indian squad for the first Test against Australia in Nagpur, was given the option to go and play the Ranji Trophy final or stay with the national squad for the second Test. He picked the domestic showpiece. After all, one doesn’t get a chance to play a final every day.

“Saurashtra is always close to my heart, so when I was asked, I just said yes,” Unadkat said after the game.

What has changed in Saurashtra to result in such dominance? “There is self-belief, anyone can speak to anyone, there are no naamdar (big name) players in the dressing room but we have kaamgar (hardworking) players with us. They do their job. At the same time, there are five players in the team who have played five finals before. So we have an idea how to play these games now,” he explained.

The team then got ready for an evening party. Saurashtra is no longer the side which was once looked down upon. They have earned their big

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