Cricket and Saurashtra go back a long way. The Ranji Trophy, established in 1934, is named after K.S. Ranjitsinghji, once the ruler of the princely state of Nawanagar (present-day Jamnagar) in Saurashtra. Nawanagar, and later Western India, were also among the early winners of the premier domestic competition (1936-37 & 1943-44).
It took a side representing the region more than seven-and-a-half decades to regain the trophy (2019-20). But it can be safely said that the Saurashtra cricket team of today has bridged the gap with its historic past, one meticulous step at a time. Starting Thursday against Bengal, Saurashtra will play its third Ranji Trophy final in four seasons and its fifth of the last decade.
“It’s pretty awesome,” said Saurashtra coach Niraj Odedra, after beating Karnataka in the semifinal. “Every time we have qualified from the knockouts, we have made the final. That’s a great achievement. Karnataka, such a good side, has lost so many semifinals. I am very fortunate to be part of an outfit doing wonders.”
The cornerstones of Saurashtra’s success has been stability and trust. “Only two players have made debuts for us in the last four years,” revealed Niraj, who has been with the Saurashtra set-up since 2015. “Jay Gohil (227 on debut vs. Assam) and Yuvraj Dodia (eight wickets on debut vs. Mumbai). We give chances really late but we make sure those who get them play for long.”
This steady approach is perhaps shaped by the fact that Saurashtra’s talent pool is geographically constrained by the presence of two other Ranji outfits in the vicinity – Baroda and parent state Gujarat. Vidarbha, which shares a similar peculiarity (Mumbai and Maharashtra its neighbours), won the Ranji titles in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
Arpit Vasavada, a veteran of 76 First Class matches for Saurashtra and its stand-in skipper in the last two fixtures, said the settled feeling among his teammates has helped breed big-match temperament.
“You can see from the 2015-16 edition to now… most of the players are the same and all these players have the ability to handle the pressure of big games. In the quarterfinal, Punjab had a lead of 128 runs. If I recall from the dressing room atmosphere, we were all confident that we could come back.
“So that’s the mindset each player has developed. They don’t play for their individual goals. From the beginning of the season, the aim is to play the final and win the trophy.”
It may or may not materialise against Bengal at the Eden Gardens, but it can no longer be denied that Saurashtra is a domestic stalwart, quite like how it was nearly eight decades ago.