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.
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.”