‘Saurashtra feared playing Mumbai 10 years ago, now it’s the other way round’

New Delhi, Feb 21 (PTI) “There was a time when we feared playing Mumbai, now they and other teams fear us,” said Saurashtra head coach Niraj Odedra, summing up his team’s remarkable rise over the last decade.

Saurashtra have never had it better in Indian domestic cricket’s rich history, having won their second Ranji Trophy title in three seasons on Sunday.

Saurashtra had beaten Bengal to win their maiden title days before the nation-wide COVID-19 induced lockdown in March 2020 and, led by the inspirational Jaydev Unadkat, they thoroughly outplayed the same opponents last week to reaffirm their dominance in red ball cricket.

In Odedra’s own words, they also became a “white-ball force” this season by lifting their first 50-over Vijay Hazare trophy since 2007-2008.

The current lot comprising Unadkat, Arpit Vasavada, Sheldon Jackson, Chirag Jani, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja ticks most boxes.

It is a team full of players who are at the peak of their powers, it is a team which bats till number 11, and is filled with “all-rounders”.

Saurashtra were playing their fifth Ranji final in 10 years last week but despite reaching the summit clashes consistently, they did not have the self-belief associated with a champion outfit, in the first half of the last decade.

“Two Ranji titles in three years plus Vijay Hazare, this says a lot about how the team has come up. We were a strong force in red ball cricket but now you can call Saurashtra one of the best teams across formats.

“We feared playing Mumbai 10 years ago. Now they fear us and other teams as well. They are like why we are playing Saurashtra. That is a huge change and says a lot,” said Odedra, reflecting on the gradual rise of the side.

Saurashtra were at the receiving in their first two Ranji finals against the mighty Mumbai and the crown eluded them even in 2018-19 when they went down to Vidarbha.

So what has changed in the team now? “It is the self belief in the players, whether they are seniors or the younger lot, they all playing for the team. In the last two years, we have also tried to make everyone an all-rounder.

“So if a batter is not bowling it is fine, we are going to make sure he is good with his fielding and catching besides his batting.

“Look at the case of Harvik Desai (keeper-opener), he never kept the wickets in 2020 but took 25 catches in the slips. I would call him a batting all-rounder.

“Our bowlers, when the chips were down they were scoring runs, I could call them bowling all-rounders.

“We kept telling the lower order that you are as good as specialist batters. We spend a lot of telling them, especially in the shorter formats, there is no point playing if you have one skill.

“If Chetan Sakariya is sent up as a night watchman Dharmendrasinh Jadeja is your number 11 who scored 90 in the win over Mumbai (in league stage). Parth Bhut got a hundred batting at number 9 in the quarterfinals. We make sure the bowlers bat long in the nets, it can’t happen on its own,” said the head coach.

Whether it was in the league stage or in the knock-outs, if the designated batters did not score, the likes of Jani, Jadeja, Prerak Mankad and Bhut fought it out in the middle to score crucial runs for the team.

Saurashtra have not just been consistent with their performances, consistent selections have also contributed immensely to their success.

Keeping the future in mind, it was only the first time in four seasons that the side handed out debuts to three players — Jay Gohil (double hundred on debut), Yuvrajsingh Dodiya (30 wickets) and Devang Karamta, who got a game against Maharashtra.

“There is a lot of trust among the players and that leads to stability. The players feel secure, they know they will be part of the playing XI and core remains the same. With trust comes stability.” Odedra believes there is a strong reason why Saurashtra keep fighting back from tough situations.

“Everybody plays with fighting spirit but you have to have courage and skill set. The energy on field comes from fitness and action comes from skillset. You have to have the fitness so that you don’t feel fatigued. When you combine all of that you get fighting spirit.” Ravindra Jadeja, Cheteshwar Pujara and Unadkat might not have played all the games in the victorious campaign but their limited presence too helps the team massively.

Unadkat had requested the Indian team management to release him for the Ranji final.

“Every time Pujara, Unadkat and Jadeja are with the team, they pass on the things they see in the Indian team environment. That helps the team.

“If you see our captain (Unadkat)… it is not just about showing interest that your team has reached the final so you want to play, it is about the zeal to win for the team and he took six wickets in the second innings in the final. He showed why he is the leader of the side.” When one is performing the way Saurashtra are, expectations rise. Next season, they will be expected to defend the title and enhance their legacy.

With the core group of players being the same for the better part of the last decade, can Saurashtra’s dominance be maintained? When does the inevitable transition take place? “I would agree most of the players are at the peak of their careers. So a transition will happen in due course but what I can say is if that transition for a young player happens under Jaydev, things can get better.

“That is why we gave three people chances this year. They were lucky enough to play under these set of players at their peak. We know that every team has a peak period of 10 years and transition has to happen at some point.

“And as far maintaining dominance is concerned, we will not think about that. At the end of the day it is not about winning or losing. It is the memories you make for the rest of your life. We are all playing for those memories,” signed off Odedra.

Source: PTI News


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