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How We Won the Ranji Trophy!

By HARISH KOTIAN
March 20, 2020 09:27 IST

'We are not the best side in domestic cricket, we are not the best side in terms of skill sets or in terms of match-winners, but I think we are the best when it comes to being a unit, when it comes to playing like a family.'

Jaydev Unadkat

IMAGE: Jaydev Unadkat kisses the trophy after leading Saurashtra to its maiden Ranji Trophy title. Photograph: Jaydev Unadkat/Instagram

Jaydev Unadkat's name will be etched in the history of Saurashtra cricket forever.

Unadkat led his team from the front as the pace bowler became the first man to lead Saurashtra to the Ranji Trophy title.

The left-arm pacer's contribution proved invaluable as he finished the season with 67 wickets from 10 matches at an average of 13, thereby rekindled hopes of making a comeback to the Indian team.

Interestingly, the 28 year old last played a Test match for India a decade ago against South Africa at the Centurion in December 2010 where he went wicketless and was never again considered for the five-day format though he has played in seven ODIs and 10 T20Is after that.

Having finished runners up last season, Unadkat took the onus upon himself to deliver with the ball. His 10-wicket haul in the semi-final against Gujarat, including 7/56 in the second innings, gave his team the belief and he delivered with the crucial wicket of Bengal's Anustup Majumdar in the final before running Akash Deep out to turn the game on its head and give Saurashtra the crucial lead which helped them clinch its maiden Ranji Trophy title.

While Unadkat's captaincy earned him plaudits, his bowling has been the talking point this season. His bowling was a revelation as he added more variety like switching to bowling from round the wicket to use the angle when things were not working or bowling the odd yorker or a quick bouncer in between.

Unadkat tells Rediff.com's Harish Kotian what went into Saurashtra's triumph, how his failed Test debut spurred him on to perform better and why trolls don't bother him anymore. The first of a two-part interview:

 

What does the achievement mean for you personally?

To be honest, I think this is one of the greatest moments of my career because being the first captain to win the Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra is really, really special.

Not just on the personal front, but what we achieved as a team this year, it will obviously go down in history and I cannot be happier, I cannot be proud, prouder than this as a captain that I was able to lead the side from the front and that we were able to, to fight our way through it was not easy at all. It was a challenging tournament for us.

And you know, having known that, we are not the best side in domestic cricket, we are not the best side in terms of skill sets or in terms of match-winners, but I think we are the best when it comes to being a unit, when it comes to playing like a family.

And I think the guys really stood out whenever they were required to and that's why this season was all the more special and I cannot be prouder that this as the captain.

Every captain says we played as a unit, but with Saurashtra you kept saying regularly through the season that your team played as a family. Can you elaborate more on that?

Being a professional side, we also had everything in place like a professional team does. But at the same time because we don't have a huge support staff or a lot of people to look after our players, the players have to look after themselves.

They do look after each other, you know, whenever someone needs some help they come to me or they go to Cheteshwar Pujara or to the other seniors in the team like Sheldon (Jackson) or Arpit Vasavada and those guys, and they feel like, that this is their team.

That is one thing I always wanted to do as the captain. I wanted to build an atmosphere where everyone feels for the team.

It just can't happen if you are playing for individual roles, it has to come from within.

And I think I can see that now all our players feel for this team. Even though someone is not playing in a particular match, they are feeling whatever the team is feeling.

If you are winning, they are ecstatic, if we are losing, they are sad. And that's what makes it a family, makes it a unit.

People are enjoying each other's success, people are happy for each other, people are sad for each other and it cannot be better than that as a unit.

It's down to the fact that the guys know they will have to do it for each other because at the end of the day, even if you have to show your individual front the team has to first do well, then individual performances will matter.

That's one thing that has been a big plus this season.

You seemed to have got the guys to gel along well on the field. Is the team's bonding this strong off the field as well?

We do have share a bond off the field as well.

This year I told the guys before the first match that whatever outright victories we have this season, we will all celebrate it together.

We did get together after every outright victory, we did celebrate.

I planned some games for the whole team and that was a lot of fun. We got together once at Cheteshwar's farm house when we won in Rajkot, we celebrated there. We had a nice team dinner.

So it is not just me, you know guys like Cheteshwar are equally caring and, and that's why I say it's like a family, we want to do it for each other.

And even though we have to take some extra burden, everyone is ready for it, everyone wants to do it for each other.

And so those team activities did happen this season. I think the guys really enjoyed it. And that's how the bonding becomes stronger.

It doesn't just become stronger on the field, but it has to be off the field as well. We do share a nice rapport off the field as well.

IMAGE: Saurashtra's players celebrate after winning the Ranji Trophy title. Photograph: Saurashtra Cricket/Instagram

In India, we talk about IPL being the biggest for an Indian domestic cricketer, but for someone like you, who has played nearly a decade of first class cricket, nothing can get bigger than a maiden Ranji Trophy title. Isn't it?

Yes, true. I would definitely say that because that is the thing we dreamt of, especially our generation.

When I started playing in the under-15, when I started playing cricket, there wasn't any IPL at that point of time.

So for us, it was always that we want to play the Ranji Trophy. And obviously, playing for the national team is the biggest goal that everyone wants to achieve, but before that, it is the Ranji Trophy.

I would say it's not just me or it's not just us the players, but it is the biggest thing for all the cricket lovers as well. I got a lot of messages from a lot of people, that their dream is fulfilled.

They were thanking me saying that I fulfilled their dream of seeing Saurashtra win the Ranji Trophy for the first time in their life. That's how much it matters to them.

My uncle or my dad or Cheteshwar's dad, everyone of them grew up watching Ranji Trophy games. For them, it was fascinating to just watch their side play in the Ranji Trophy. For them it is even bigger, but for us as players as well, it's big.

It is one of the highlights of my career, if not the best one.

What makes it even more special is that winning a Ranji Trophy has become a lot more difficult in recent times because more teams from around India have become stronger and competitive unlike in the past when only a team like Mumbai used to dominate?
If Mumbai had a bad season you could fancy your chances, but now things have changed and no team can be taken lightly.

Yes, that is why I say that the quality of cricket has improved in our country because cricket has developed all over the country, in each and every corner.

Like you said, it is not just one team or not just four to five big teams, but every team is challenging.

Every team has players pushing the limits, and because of that, the competition has increased as well, which is really good for the country.

That is why I feel it was a challenging season and it will always be challenging in Indian domestic cricket.

I think I should be conceited enough to say that even the teams which reached the semi-finals or the final were equally deserving candidates.

It's not just because we won it, that is why we are the best team. Bengal, who reached the final or teams like Gujarat or Karnataka, who reached the semi-finals, had terrific seasons as well.

It's just because of the competition that is there.

And if you would have seen how the teams were fighting, especially in the elite groups like the A and B groups to win their places in the knockouts, it was terrific. The competition is at another level.

And that's why it's all the more special to win a Ranji Trophy now in this era because everyone wants to do it and everyone is pushing for it. Every team now believes they can do it because we are now seeing new winners.

Now that we have done it this year, I am sure next year the teams which have not won it even once, like Kerala or Andhra Pradesh, who have done really well this season, all of them will start believing as well, and that is how it is going to become bigger and bigger.

Was there any point or match in this year's Ranji Trophy or perhaps your runners-up finish last year, which gave you the confidence thtat you could go all the way and win the title?

If I go back to last season, to the quarter-final match which we played against Uttar Pradesh, that was the trigger.

It was the first knockout match for us in the last 3, 4 seasons for this group of players in the team. For a lot of them, it was their first knockout game.

In that match, we did not get the lead, we were struggling, but the way we came back in that game and chased down the target of 372 which is still the highest run chase in the Ranji Trophy, that gave us a lot of confidence.

That gave everyone a reason to keep believing that this team can do it from any situation.

I think that's the most important belief that any team can have, to come back and win from any situation. And we did that again in the semi-finals last year. We didn't win the title though, but I think we were close enough to win the final.

That's what I told the guys after the Ranji final last year that even though we didn't win, I am sure that this is the group of people that's going do it for Saurashtra because Saurashtra has never had a better team than this.

We are going to be the bunch of people who are going to lift the trophy for Saurashtra, be it next year or two years from now, but we will definitely do it.

We had that collective belief and I think that actually helped us do it this year.

It was fortunate that it happened this year and you know my personal form was so good that it actually helped the team to do it at the end.

Having played in the Ranji Trophy for the past decade and having just won it this season, are you happy with the current format of the Ranji Trophy? Or would you suggest some changes?

I would say the format that was there in the past like the A B and C group format, that was ideal. But now that we have the north east teams, that has been changed.

I would still say that the one team that comes from the D group -- the plate group -- should only get a chance to play in the C group next year rather than jumping to the quarter-finals.

I say this because the teams from the A and B group are giving their everything to just find a place in the quarter-finals and they are undoubtedly better teams than the teams in the D group.

So the quarter-finals spot that they have given to the D group shouldn't just be there to be taken for granted.

Maybe they can change the schedule and the team which tops the D group gets a place in the C group next year. Then they can fight their way and if they are good enough, they will qualify for the quarter-finals.

There was some criticism of the format this season because a lot of big teams missed out on the quarter-finals while Goa made it to the quarters from the plate group. So as you rightly said this format needs to be reworked.

I agree that it should be considered at some point because I am sure that anyone watching the game, anyone who knows the game would feel it as well from the outside.

I don't think we should have one team from the D group going straight into the quarter-finals because you want your best eight teams to be playing in the quarter-finals.

These are aren't among the best eight teams in the country because they are competing among themselves in the D group where the standard is not so high.

I am not saying don't give them a chance, but they should be made to fight it out.

If the team tops in the D group they should be promoted to the C group and the team in the bottom of the C group goes to the D group. So when they come to the C group, they fight it out there and if they top the C group then they deserve to be in the quarter-finals. I think that's how the structure should be.

The best eight teams have to be in the quarter-finals if you want to reward every team with equal opportunities.

HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com
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