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‘Don’t want Saurashtra to be known as flat-track bullies’

Coach Shitanshu Kotak says it has been his endeavor to see Saurashtra perform well in all conditions

For years, Saurashtra had a set template to succeed in the Ranji Trophy. They would overpower oppositions at home by scoring big and then pass on the baton to the spinners who would run riot. Teams have struggled on the turning pitches in Rajkot, but have found a way out by preparing seaming tracks when Saurashtra travel.

Shitanshu Kotak, the bedrock of Saurashtra cricket for close to two decades, has been a part of many such wins at Rajkot. When he took over the coaching reigns last year, he realized the stereotype had to end. Relegated to Group C, Saurashtra first qualified for the quarterfinals by topping the group and have now made it to the semi-finals after their thumping win by an innings and 85 runs over Vidarbha in the knockouts. One reason for their success is their improved performance away from home.

“I have been trying to build a side that is capable of doing well in any condition. I don’t want Saurashtra to be known as flat-track bullies. Our fast bowlers now bowl in a channel. We don’t struggle on seaming tracks anymore,” Kotak told BCCI.TV.
This season, Saurashtra played five matches at home. They won their first three games when Ravindra Jadeja picked a staggering 37 wickets. Their next two resulted in draws. When Saurashtra traveled, they registered two victories in three games and suffered a loss against Kerala at Malappuram after failing to chase 115 in the fourth innings.

“I had told the boys that we will play positive cricket and go for outright victories. We won three games on turners, but have also won on seaming tracks in Delhi against Services and then at Jammu against J&K.

“If you notice, we went for the win against Services when we were chasing 302 despite losing four wickets (136-4). We realized that we would need 30-32 points to qualify and we are glad we made it to the quarterfinals with a big margin.”

Kotak, who works with assistant coach Niraj Odedra, physio Abhishek Thakkar, said the team is confident for the semi-final clash against Assam to be played at Baroda’s Reliance Cricket Stadium. “Assam have done very well this season. Their fast bowlers have been in very good form. The ground in Baroda is more familiar to us. We are expecting a slightly seamer friendly wicket. There is no reason why we should not do well.”

Having played with the boys closely, the 43-year-old worked on the specifics at the start of the season. “There is a marked change in about four to five boys. Before the season, we worked on our lower-order batting and that helped us as our bowlers began contributing with the bat. Jaydev Unadkat almost scored a century (92) against Goa.”

Kotak also wants the boys to perform when seniors are not around. “Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja are outstanding players. But we must perform even when they are not around. One goal was to have adequate back-up. When Ravindra joined the Indian team, Dharmendra Jadeja took over.

“In the quarterfinal, our most successful fast bowler Shaurya Sanandia twisted his ankle. I knew we would need back-up and I had kept Hardik Rathod ready. Rathod replaced him and got early breakthroughs in the important game.”

Kotak, who once batted for 796 minutes for his 168 not out against Mumbai, is happy to see the team transform so quickly. “I never thought we would be relegated to Group C last year. I thought somehow we would survive. I had given three years’ time, but the boys have responded brilliantly in just the second year. Winning the Ranji Trophy is our aim and we will be working hard to win our most important tournament.”

Moulin Parikh

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All-rounders have brought balance to team: Shastri

Team India director is pleased with the squad’s composition; says Pune defeat a small setback

After beginning their long Twenty20 season on a high in Australia, by winning the T20I series 3-0, Team India conceded the first match of the home series against Sri Lanka by five wickets. The batsmen found it difficult to adapt to the tricky Pune pitch as they crumbled for 101 batting first.

Team India director, Ravi Shastri, made no bones about the fact that the batting unit failed to assess the conditions and the wicket, which was a stark contrast to the batting beauties they encountered in Australia. He said he was expecting this glitch along the way leading up to the ICC World Twenty20, and that it would give the team a chance to iron out the chinks in their armour by the time the big tournament arrives.

Here is an extract from his interview with BCCI.TV.

Coming back from a run-fest in Australia, was it difficult for the team to adjust to the conditions and pitch in Pune?

I expected it to happen, and it is good that it happened very early in the season. No excuses, though. We should have assessed the conditions better. That pitch did a lot; there was seam, swing, turn, and the odd ball was stopping. Once you lost a couple of early wickets, you have to realise that a score of 140 would be a good one.

After all these are home conditions. Does it really get that difficult to adapt to your own conditions after coming back from an overseas tour?

It is all about tactics and reading the conditions. If you are thinking 140-150, you play properly. But if you go in to bat thinking 180-200, even in good conditions, you could be found out. But it is not easy, with the odd ball stopping – you saw a number of people getting top-edges, Rohit getting out with the ball stopping on him, Ajinkya playing early with the ball seaming and taking the outside edge. You normally don’t see it happening on a T20 surface, but then it is about adapting and realising what a good score on a surface is, especially when you are batting first. Batting second is different because you have already seen the conditions and know the target.

MS Dhoni has time and again spoken about finding that right balance in the ODI and T20I side. Will this sudden influx of young all-rounders help the team in that regards?

Absolutely. Now we have a squad from which we can pick a good team for whatever conditions we come across. If the need of the hour is to play three spinners, we can do that. If we need to play three fast bowlers, we have that covered. If we require two left-arm spinners or two off-spinners, we have them. And we can have all these combinations without the batting getting affected too much. That is good to see.

A few seasoned campaigners have made a comeback. Talk about their being a part of the team.

They have worked really hard. In their prime they did extremely well for India, then went off the boil and had to go and play domestic cricket. All three – Yuvi (Yuvraj Singh), Ashish (Nehra) and Harbhajan (Singh) – went into the grind, looked after their body, made sure they were fit, and performed. You keep banging on the door with your performance and the door will open. They have opened it, and now they have a great chance to perform.

Were the call-ups to Nehra and Yuvraj for the Australia tour made with one eye firmly on the ICC World Twenty20?

Yes. To see how they go. Both, Ashish and Yuvi did their part in that series. Bhajji didn’t play a game but he has been part of the Test team for a while now and he also played in the ODIs against South Africa. We know what he is capable of. But it was very good for Ashish and Yuvi getting that exposure in Australia and now finding a place in the World Twenty20 squad.

The team also has included quite a few youngsters in Hardik Pandya, Jasprit Bumrah and Pawan Negi. Thoughts on them?

They are very talented young cricketers. They have all used the IPL to good advantage, and they have been consistent performers at the domestic level. What I really like is, they are all very, very good fielders, and bring a lot of energy to the table.

Shirin Sadikot

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