Saurashtra’s Ranji Trophy victory on Sunday coincided with a call-up to the national white ball team for their skipper Jaydev Unadkat. The 31-year-old left-arm pacer, one of the most consistent speedsters in domestic cricket, last played an ODI about 10 years ago.
When asked for his reaction, Unadkat made a rather bold statement. “Everyone will agree that Saurashtra at the moment are playing the best cricket of the era. The decade belongs to Saurashtra,” Unadkat says rather nonchalantly in a conversation with CricAdvisor.
In India’s first-class competition, in which there is a side that has won the national championship 41 times, those comments from Unadkat can be construed as audacious. But his claim is not without substance.
In the decade since they first entered the final in 2012-13, Saurashtra have made the title clash five times and became champions twice – in 2019-20 and again on Sunday (refer below), beating Bengal in Kolkata. Adding to that silverware of the year, is the Vijay Hazare Trophy, the national 50-over competition. The inter-state Under 25 one-day title (the National A championship) made it a hat-trick of sorts in the season. Hold on, they could be in for a Grand Slam too – their Under-25 team has also made the knockouts of four-day completion (CK Nayudu Trophy).
Ranji Trophy in last 10 years
|2012-13||Mumbai (beat Saurashtra)|
|2013-14||Karnataka (beat Maharashtra)|
|2014-15||Karnataka (beat Tamil Nadu)|
|2015-16||Mumbai (beat Saurashtra)|
|2016-17||Gujarat (beat Mumbai)|
|2017-18||Vidarbha (beat Delhi)|
|2018-19||Vidarbha (beat Saurashtra)|
|2019-20||Saurashtra (beat Bengal)|
|2021-22||Madhya Pradesh (beat Mumbai)|
|2022-23||Saurashtra (beat Bengal)|
Saurashtra’s success is a tribute to its settled core of players. Apart from Unadkat, Sheldon Jackson, Arpit Vasavada, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja and Chirag Jani form the core group of that side that has painstakingly built a culture of playing fearless cricket. Jadeja and Jani have played three of those five finals and Unadkat, Jackson and Vasavada have been part of all five instances.
Jackson and Vasavada have been the batting mainstays but there have been instances when others chipped in with contributions at crucial stages to give them victories that were deemed unthinkable.
Parth Bhut’s contribution is one such in the quarterfinal which should go down as the most impactful performance of the whole season, and not just for Saurashtra. Batting at No 9, he scored a century against Punjab when the side was down in the dumps at 147 for 7. He followed that up with eight wickets in the match, including a five-for in the second innings, besides recording a crucial half century to propel the side to the semifinals. A Ravindra Jadeja-like showing coming from a youngster who was playing his first Ranji season.
“In the knockout games, one bad session can end the season and to do well in those situations, we need a lot of self-belief and a lot of freedom to express ourselves,” Unadkat further says. “I think that is something I am really proud of. I have been able to create a culture in the dressing room where the guys don’t feel any pressure. There is no fear of failure as such, and that comes from the strong core that we have.”
There is one more such dramatic showing – in the semifinal against Karnataka, that had an uncanny resonance with the semifinal of the 2019-20 season, when Saurashtra had lifted the title for the first time. Against Gujarat, the side was reduced to 15 for five in the third innings with an overall lead of just 67, with a probable defeat staring in the face. The team sent Chetan Sakariya, an otherwise No 11 batter, at No 5 and he smashed a fearless 45 and added 90 vital runs with Vasavada for the sixth wicket to revive their innings. The rest was history.
History repeated itself in the semifinal this year, against Karnataka in Bengaluru where the Saurashtra, chasing 115 for victory, were reduced to 42 for 5. Sakariya was prompted in the order and he released the pressure by smacking three sixes and adding a game-changing 62 with Vasavada for the sixth wicket. No other way the game could have gone after that crucial 24 from the No 11 batter.
“If the No 11 is capable of such heroics, you can imagine the self-belief in the team. Even in the final, Chetan was sent in as a nightwatchman and he blunted the first 15 overs of the next morning. He bravely faced Mukesh (Kumar) and Akash (Deep) on Day 2. That is the substance of our side, the bowlers contribute with the bat, like Parth Bhut did and batters do with the ball when needed,” Unadkat says adding, “The guys stepped up whenever the team wanted them to and that typically highlights the way we played our knockout games in the last three or four seasons. When pressure came, we hit the peak and that is because of the culture we built in the team atmosphere and the dressing room. That is the best example of our campaign.”
The best example of the Saurashtra’s successful campaign is Vasavada, who made some crucial contributions in the knockout games – 407 runs in three matches, the scores being 81 (in the final vs Bengal), 202 and 47 n.o. (in the semifinal vs Karnataka) and 0 & 77 (in the quarterfinal against Punjab).
“It was commendable to see him take the responsibility. I think that was important for us for someone to lead our batting unit. That has been one area where we were lacking consistency. This time it was good to see that the middle order was consistent. Even if they were not scoring hundreds, they were all contributing substantially throughout the season. The way Arpit led the side in my absence and the batting unit was probably the highlight for me in our campaign,” Unadkat says, paying tribute to the unassuming senior pro in the side.
On his part, Vasavada, says, “I am really happy for the side and we are all elated. I am satisfied with my showing as well, I have worked on my mental skills if not exactly on my batting skills.
“I know I cannot be a flamboyant batsman. I clearly know what my strengths are and I focus on those aspects. I am happy that I could contribute to the team’s cause,” the 34-year-old left-handed batsman further tells CricAdvisor, remembering the performances of teammates like Jani, Bhut and Yuvrajsinh Dodiya who, he says, pulled out victories for the team from nowhere at crucial stages of the season.
Vasavada is the side’s highest scorer with 907 runs in 10 games – second highest of the competition after Mayank Agarwal (990 in nine games) but most of his scores were impact runs, just like most of the performances of the Saurashtra players who have left an indelible impact on the season, and the decade as well.
Saurashtra in Ranji Trophy this season
Took first innings lead against Assam in Guwahati
Took first innings lead against Maharashtra in Rajkot
Beat Mumbai by 48 runs in Mumbai
Beat Delhi by an innings and 214 runs in Rajkot
Beat Hyderabad by an innings and 57 runs in Hyderabad
Lost to Andhra by 150 runs in Rajkot
Lost to Tamil Nadu by 59 runs in Chennai
Beat Punjab in Rajkot by 71 runs
Beat Karnataka in Bengaluru by four wickets
Beat Bengal by nine wickets in Kolkata