Soon after Saurashtra completed a five-wicket win against Maharashtra in the Vijay Hazare Trophy final, a photograph started doing the rounds in social media. It showed the players posing with their wives, children and parents. Normally, trophy pictures do not feature them. It showed that the Saurashtra cricket team is a happy family, literally.
Although Saurashtra had won this title in 2008, they did not quite become a force in domestic cricket. Barring three, they have not produced India players since. The transformation started becoming visible from the early parts of the previous decade. Ranji Trophy finalists four times and winners once in this period, they have now stamped their authority in white-ball cricket as well.
It is a remarkable achievement, considering Saurashtra do not have a big pool of players to choose from. Teams like Mumbai, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and a few others are far better off in terms of resources and manpower. Saurashtra players are mostly from Rajkot, while many other teams get their supply from several cities or districts. Even infrastructure-wise, they were not well off until recently.
What they had and using which they have outdone others is a plan. Saurashtra drew a roadmap, selected players who were assigned specific roles and assured that they would be given a decent run. Jaydev Unadkat had told me after their Ranji Trophy triumph in 2020 that they ensured there was no fear of failure. Many teams have suffered because of their ‘use and throw’ policy wherein players were discarded after failing in a few games. Saurashtra persisted with the bunch they believed in, gave them confidence and are reaping the benefits now.
Beating white-ball powerhouses Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in the knockouts was no fluke. It was the outcome of a process they followed religiously. They benefited also from the introduction of the Saurashtra Premier League due to which they have been able to expand the player pool gradually.
Unadkat’s influence behind the rise of Saurashtra has been phenomenal. Highest wicket-taker of the tournament who returned figures of 10-1-25-1 in the final against Maharashtra, the left-arm bowler has been the mentor, motivator, part of the planning group and a lot more. One of the most dedicated and committed domestic players across the country in recent times, he has led by example and helped the younger ones understand what it takes to perform consistently. Nineteen wickets from 10 matches at an unusual economy rate of 3.33, the 31-year-old not only led by example. He was also an inspirational figure for his teammates.
It takes a lot of discipline, hard work, focus and commitment to come up with a performance like this. There has to be camaraderie, team bonding and willingness to play for each other. There cannot be personal pursuits or egos. Of course you need the skills, but a team is unlikely to win a long tournament like the Vijay Hazare Trophy unless all the team members display a selfless attitude. That has one of the major factors of Saurashtra’s success. They have been one happy family indeed.