Saurashtra's dream of winning the Ranji Trophy was finally achieved. The four-time finalists in the last eight years deserved the Indian domestic cricket's premier trophy and it took grit, hard-work, effort and endurance for the team to do so.
The finals had all the ingredients of what cricket is about. The players were cautious, careful and determined in their goal to be victorious. The wicket, as Arun Lal the Bengal coach pointed out, was not much to boast about. However, the uncertainty of the bounce and the slow pace had both the batsmen and the bowlers working that much harder. The most wonderful aspect of the match was the disciplined and determined manner that both the sides showed in their approach.
The wicket was not one that had players playing scintillating shots, but technique and patience was the way and one marveled as to how the players approached it. There were so many short victories in the five days of the match that pinpointed what finally culminated in Saurashtra's win, was a hard task.
The Saurashtra openers, Harvik Desai and A. Barot, started the proceedings with a hard fought partnership of 82 runs. The Bengal bowlers bowled extremely well by persisting on good lines and lengths. Diffusing the initial assault by their openers could have been one of the reasons that may have helped the Saurashtra batsmen in the dressing room get over their initial nerves. Both the opening batsmen got out with a decent score behind them, with the latter scoring a half century. However, their dismissal brought the Bengal bowlers back into the fray.
The knock of 54 runs, thereafter, by 21-year-old Saurashtra batsman Vishvaraj Jadeja was a significant contribution in continuing the foundation set by the openers. This youngster played a major part in Saurashtra's victory and to me was one of the prominent players of the match. Apart from his batting performance in a tough situation, he fielded like a demon at the suicidal position of forward short leg. His presence was what caused uncertainty at times in the minds of the Bengal batsmen and the three catches that he took were all excellent.
His first catch was what got Saurashtra the breakthrough when he smartly caught the Bengal opener Sudip Gharami and thereafter the one he took of Sudip Chatterjee, the man batting on 81 runs who looked to take Bengal closer to a win. He then went on to take a sharp catch off Mukesh Kumar at the end of the Bengal innings.
It is after many decades of Indian cricket that one has seen a good close-in fielder and the difference in the final analysis of this match was Vishvaraj's lurking presence near the bat. One somehow, never gives credit to the performance of close-in fielders. Cricket's statistics seems to always highlight batting and bowling performances and the silent forgotten killers are sometimes the sharp half chances taken by the fielders in the suicidal position that changes the complexion of the game.
Arpit Vasavada's determined century and his partnership with the present 'Wall' of Indian cricket, Cheteshwar Pujara, was also a very important part of the match in favor of Saurashtra. Vasavada, with a century in the semifinals and in the finals showed how experience at the age of 31 can play a major part in the life of a cricketer.
One wonders if the Indian selectors will pay heed to his performances rather than his age when they select the sides in the future. He and Anustup Majumdar at the age of 35 years, with their batting performances, have shown that even in the Indian domestic circuit, age is just a number. The wicket of Majumdar was the crucial one that Saurashtra required, as with big centuries, both in the quarter-finals and the semi-finals and batting with a half century under his belt on the final day of the final, the balance of the match depended on how he fares.
It was justifiably the bowling of the Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat that brought the sweet taste of victory. His magical spell in the semi-finals and the dismissal of the dangerous Majumdar was due to his untiring effort. Unadkat, with 67 wickets in the Ranji Trophy this year, has shown that his bowling has matured by leaps and bounds.
One can see the resemblance of Zaheer Khan in him and he certainly deserves to be a prime candidate to play for India once again. Like batsmen, bowlers too over time develop their skills and understand the bowling conditions better. One hopes that Unadkat is not passed over by an U-19 young left-arm pace bowler or a one off performer in the IPL. The Saurashtra captain has proved that he is a good leader and thinker of the game and to have a thinking bowler is a very important trait for any side.
The two men behind the scene and the stalwarts of Indian cricket, Arun Lal and Karsan Ghavri the coaches of Bengal and Saurashtra respectively, are two of the most likeable cricketers to have played for the country. The part that they played in their teams reaching the final must have been very interesting. Both of them are very good man managers. Carving and motivating domestic players and bringing in that element of professionalism must be a tale of its own.
Well done Saurashtra, you deserve the Ranji Trophy, especially as it has the name of one of the greatest cricketers ever to play the game, Jam Saheb Ranjitsinhji, from the state of Jamnagar in Saurashtra. The cup has finally come to roost where it belongs.