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A meteoric rise

The Saurashtra cricket team, without a trainer in their support staff, has managed to reinvent themselves as a team of class and pedigree

A meteoric rise

Cricket in Saurashtra has had a long lifeline. The pin-up boy of world cricket in the late 19th century was none other than the Prince of Nawanagar, Ranjitsinhji. It was his superb batting performances on the grounds of England, that got India recognised as a country that could play the imperial game

of cricket. His exploits and unconventional batting made him the superstar.

Ranji Trophy, the premier tournament of the Indian domestic cricket since 1934, was a great way to honour the princely legend. Since then, the dream of most Indian cricketers has been to play not only the finals of the Ranji Trophy but also to be a part of the winning team. In the last 86 years of the tournament, Bombay (Mumbai) was the winners of the inaugural event and then won it 42 times thereafter.

Saurashtra, a state only formed in 1948, was originally named the United State of Kathiawar and became a part of Bombay in 1956 and a region of Gujarat after the separation of Gujarat and Maharashtra in 1961. But, fortunately, since 1948, Saurashtra as a cricketing association has remained intact to this day.

The last eight years have been a boom period for Saurashtra cricket. They are playing their fourth Ranji Trophy final against a side that has been a powerful cricketing force, West Bengal.

Victory has eluded Saurashtras' consistent hard work and being last years losing finalist one hopes that lady luck shines on them finally. Saurashtra has lifted the Ranji Trophy on two previous occasions. Once under the banner of Nawanagar in 1936-37 and thereafter, as the Western India side in 1943-44. On both those occasions, they beat Bengal in the finals and a great day of the game awaits (Day 4, Stumps: Bengal need 71 runs, Saurashtra need 4 wickets) to decide the winner.

Apart from Ranjisinhji, the next to win accolades was his nephew Duleepsinhji. Both had the distinction of making a century on debut for England. During their prime days, India was not recognised as a Test-playing nation and playing for England was the only option to play top-level cricket.

Nawanagar known as Jamnagar now became the hotbed for Indian cricket. Along with Rajkot and the other districts around it, some of India's legendary cricketers belonged here. With around 200 rulers and chieftains in Kathiawar (Saurashtra), cricket became a very important and prestigious game

for them to sponsor. They were the patrons whose rivalry on the cricket field is what encouraged and popularised the game.

The captain and the vice-captain of the Indian touring side to England in 1932 were both from Saurashtra. Maharaja Natwarsinhji of Porbandar, the city of the present Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat, led the Indian side and his deputy was Ghanshyam Singh, a prince from the state of Limbdi.

Vinoo Mankad was the next superstar from Jamnagar to become a house-hold name of Indian cricket. One of the most distinguished cricket all-rounders from India, Vinoo Mankad was the man instrumental in playing a major role in not only India's first-ever Test victory in 1952 against England at Madras but many others thereafter. His phenomenal left-arm spin bowling and his batting performances were the fulcra on which Indian cricket revolved in the late '40s & '50s.

The gifted genius, as most in India called him, was the handsome Pathan from Jamnagar, Salim Durani. His good looks and effortless batting and bowling along with his penchant for hitting sixes made him an instant crowd favourite. The slogan "No Salim, no match" in Mumbai spoke highly of his popularity.

A morcha took place when the Indian cricket fans felt that there was a likelihood of Salim not being selected to play the Test match against England in 1973.

Apart from these two genius left-handers, Saurashtra has always been a part of India's left-arm bowling attack. The present mentor and coach of the Saurashtra side, Karsan Ghavri, Dilip Doshi, Shah Nyalchand, Dhiraj Parsana, the sensational Ravindra Jadeja and the present captain who has already captured 65 wickets this season, Jaydev Unadkat have all adorned Indian colours.

India has had the services of three cricketers from the Royal households in Saurashtra in Indrajitsinh and Ajay Jadeja. Saurashtra's most prolific batsman has been Cheteshwar Pujara. His domestic records, as well as those in Test cricket, are truly phenomenal.

Unfortunately, due to national team commitment, Ravindra Jadeja will not be available. One understands that playing for ones' country is an important factor but priority should have been given to playing the final match of the premier domestic tournament instead of playing an unimportant ODI series against South Africa.

This itself shows how unimportant domestic cricket is in the minds of the people administrating cricket in India. The two Saurashtra stalwarts, Unadkat as a bowler and Sheldon Jackson as a batter, have done yeoman service this year to put Saurashtra in the finals. They are both sending a serious message to the wise men of the Indian selection committee. They have been ignored and have shown their disappointment, but the time has come not only for them to lift the cup, but also to be heard. The platform is all set and ready.

The writer, a former Test cricketer, played and captained Saurashtra. Views expressed are strictly personal

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