CHENNAI: Buried under the achievements of other teams lies this: In the last 10 seasons including this one, Saurashtra have reached the Ranji Trophy final four times. In the same period, Rajasthan, Mumbai, Karnataka and Vidarbha have won the title twice each but none made it to the title round as many times as Saurashtra. Despite achieving this, the title eluded them thrice.
Come Monday and Saurashtra will have what appears to be their best chance to change things around. It's the first occasion in these years that they will play the final at home. Cheteshwar Pujara is back in their folds for the crunch clash. And up against them is Bengal, a team with an exciting fast-bowling unit, but a side that has issues to address on the batting front. If the Rajkot pitch doesn't assist bowlers, the home team will start with an advantage. How they build on it or Bengal reduce it will be the things to watch.
"You can say we have an advantage of 5-10 per cent," Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat said from Rajkot. "Reaching the final means that we have got a few things right and now it's about putting the icing on the cake. We're not putting pressure on ourselves by thinking that this is now or never, but it's about time we win the title," said the in-form pacer. Arpit Vasavada, Sheldon Jackson and Unadkat are the only three players to have featured in the last three finals Saurashtra played.
By becoming one of the most consistent domestic teams, Saurashtra have shed the tag of also-rans associated with them for many years. Not known to produce India players, they have seen that change as well. But for all the good work, a Vijay Hazare Trophy in 2007-08 is all that they have to show for it. Winning Ranji Trophy will fill a big void. "This hunger may or may not have anything to do with losing three finals. I feel everybody else wants it as badly as I do. We have never had such a good bunch. Now it's about handling the pressure of a big game. In a final, nobody has any advantage or disadvantage once the match starts. I am confident this lot can do it," said Unadkat.
For Saurashtra Cricket Association president Jaydev Shah, who captained the team in the finals in 2012-13 and 2015-16, it's about changing perceptions. "We have kept trying and reaching three finals is an achievement. But we have to go one step further and create history. It's a very important occasion for us," said Shah, who was the captain also when Saurashtra won the Hazare Trophy 12 years ago. To negate Bengal's in-form pace battery, the pitch that'll be rolled out for this clash is likely to be on the flatter side. This should suit Saurashtra because the visiting side has hardly got meaningful contributions from the top-order this season. With Pujara playing, the hosts think they can bat big and make it count. "The pitch should last five days. Whoever bats better should win," said Shah.
Saurashtra's only Ranji Trophy title came in 1936-37 when they were known as Nawanagar.
After that, they lost in four finals (one as Nawanagar).
Saurashtra's two domestic titles (Vijay Hazare in 2007-08) came by beating Bengal in the finals.
Bengal won Ranji Trophy in 1938-39 & 1989-90.
They have lost in finals 11 times Jaydev Unadkat has taken 65 wickets this season. Needs four more to set Ranji record.