Batting big key against Mumbai: Kotak
Sitanshu Kotak has been playing first-class cricket since 21 years. He has 128 matches under his belt, in 119 of which he has donned the Saurashtra cap in the Ranji Trophy.
The gritty batsman could never make it to Team India. And winning the Ranji Trophy for Saurashtra became his most cherished dream. When Kotak takes field at the Wankhede Stadium on Saturday, it will be the closest he’s come to that dream. And he will also know that he’s just a step away from living it.
The 40-year-old batsman doesn’t hesitate in admitting that he’s emotionally charged before the big game. "I can't think of playing any bigger match than this Ranji final in my life,” Kotak said.
Despite their inspirational rise from also-rans to finalists, Saurashtra will start out as underdogs as they take on the 39-time Ranji champions in their own backyard. Kotak acknowledged that Mumbai are favourites, but at the same time he promised a tough fight from his team.
"Mumbai are obviously a superior team. One can lie that they are not, but the truth is they are a superior team," Kotak told PTI. "But if we get a grip on the match, we have to make sure, we don't lose it.”
A veteran of India’s domestic circuit, Kotak knows exactly how Saurashtra can get the better of their strong opposition, who have dominated the Ranji Trophy since its inception.
“Against Mumbai, you have to play one big innings and you have to bowl them out once,” Kotak explained. “Or if we field first, we have to try and utilise the wicket and dismiss the first five batsmen quickly.
“I think the final is a different game. Once the ball is delivered, the ball does not know the batman, it’s just a ball and it can get anyone out. It’s the quality of the ball not the bowler which matters in the match.”
"We have played them many times in the last five six years and we got the first-innings lead three times. There is something positive for us to look at,” Kotak said.
While admitting the might of Mumbai, Kotak also felt Saurashtra, as a team, has gone from strength to strength with the advent of some special talent.
“I think we have been improving gradually in the last 15 years. And in the last eight years, it has been getting better with outstanding players emerging like [Cheteshwar] Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat.”
When Saurashtra play the biggest game in the history of the region’s cricket, they will be without the services of two out of the three names that Kotak mentioned. Pujara and Jadeja, the team’s best batsman and all-rounder respectively, are away on national duty. Kotak said they will be missed, but he didn’t demean the capabilities of those who will take field.
"Any team will miss them. If they are playing for India, that's fine. If the BCCI thinks that it has to look after the Indian team first, because we need to win 4-1 and that the team should regain its confidence, then that should be the priority.
"Even when they [Pujara and Jadeja] were available, they needed support from the others and players like [Sheldon] Jackson and [Arpit] Vasavada performed. In the bowling department when we needed wickets, someone or the other stepped up his performance. That's the reason we are in the final,” Kotak said.
Like it happens to any 40-year-old sportsman who has been plying his trade for two decades, Kotak too has been facing questions related to retirement. One would imagine that a Ranji final would be the apt swansong for him, but Kotak refused to dwell on the thought of leaving cricket.
"I love the game. I don't have to announce my last match on the ground and declare it in such a big game. The focus is on winning the game. Retirement is an emotional thing and I don't want any emotion to dominate this match."