It took 21 years to break the record set in 1998-99 for the highest tally of wickets by a fast bowler in a single season of the Ranji Trophy. Jaydev Unadkat’s purple patch this season meant he went past Dodda Ganesh’s tally of 62 during the second semifinal in Rajkot. The record for the highest tally by any bowler wasn’t broken, however; Unadkat trailed Bihar’s Ashutosh Aman, a left-arm spinner, by just one wicket.
It was nevertheless a remarkable season for Saurashtra and Unadkat, its captain. Ganesh, who served as the head coach of Goa this season, was impressed by the commitment and aggression shown by Unadkat and his unit and said he knew he would break his record. It reminded him of Karnataka at its best, when stalwarts in Anil Kumble, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad, Rahul Dravid, and Sunil Joshi helped develop a fighting spirit in the team.
“Saurashtra did what we had done in 1998-99. I was watching their matches live. I saw their attitude. They showed everyone they were committed. [Cheteshwar] Pujara also came and played. If you saw Saurashtra this year on TV, and if you saw our team in 1998-99, you’ll find a similarity in the attitude of both teams,” Ganesh said in an interaction with Sportstar.
That season marked Karnataka’s second Ranji Trophy title in two years, and sixth overall. Ganesh’s 62 wickets – including six five-wicket hauls and two 10-wicket match hauls – were a key factor in Karnataka’s victory. Among several successful spells, Ganesh picked the one against Punjab in the semifinal in Amritsar (April 9-11, 1999) to be his most memorable. At one stage at 44 for 0 in the first innings, Punjab suffered a batting collapse and was bowled out for 90; it couldn’t come back in the contest. Ganesh took five wickets.
“Myself and Navjot Sidhu had an argument; we had a round of sledging. He came to me and exchanged words. After that, I became more aggressive. The ball was reversing a bit, and Punjab was bowled out for 90. It was a memorable spell. They had a good batting line-up,” Ganesh recalled.
“And the other [memorable] game was the final against Madhya Pradesh, being played on my home ground (M. Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bengaluru). They were at one stage 270 for 2 [and were bowled out for 379]. I got five wickets,” he added.
If Ganesh sizzled with the ball, Vijay Bharadwaj shone with the bat. “Vijay Bharadwaj did very well with the bat, he scored more than 1200 runs (1280); he took the initiative for us with the bat, I took the initiative in bowling. Sujith Somasunder was the captain till the quarterfinals; he led the team very well. It was an overall team effort. The association also backed us, and the selectors. Our manager, P. Raghunath, an ex-Ranji player was also there; overall, we played like a family,” Ganesh said.
Ganesh had become a matured bowler by then, after his experience playing with the Indian team in 1997 and his regular encounter in the Karnataka nets with Rahul Dravid & Co. He believes he was too raw when he was picked to play for India. He made his debut against a potent South African team in Cape Town in January, 1997 and went on to play just three more Tests – in Johannesburg, in Barbados, and in Georgetown. His run had ended by April, 1997.
In between, he also played an ODI, against Zimbabwe.
“I think I played too early. I debuted in a Test match in Cape Town in unfamiliar conditions, against an unfamiliar opposition and with an unfamiliar ball. I would say I was inexperienced,” he said.
However, Ganesh says he didn’t repeat the mistakes made in international cricket. “When we bowl in Tests, we bowl to quality batsmen like Brian Lara, Gary Kirsten, and Carl Hooper; that’s a huge difference [from the Ranji Trophy]. I had a lot of skill. I worked on my bowling, I worked on my reverse swing, and I mastered it, I had a lot of control. When I played for India, I was a raw bowler. I didn’t have proper experience and couldn’t control the ball. In the later stages, I worked on my bowling action and my run up. I watched Srinath and Venky bowl in the nets and I bowled with them,” he said.
Dravid, in particular, was hard to bowl to in the nets. “He would bat in the nets with the same intensity as in the matches. Once he got out, he was annoyed. He’s a legend. For us, it was a great opportunity [to play with him]; to bowl to him was a good sight.”
Access to resources
Although he learnt a great deal during his time, Ganesh has witnessed a big change in the scenario for fast bowlers today. There are more resources available and more exposure, too, through the Indian Premier League. “Nowadays you’ve got a video analyst, you’ve got a bowling coach, you’ve got a physio, a trainer. When we played, we didn’t have a bowling coach or a video analyst. We mastered our art in the practice sessions. Now boys have got everything and they shouldn’t complain; they should try to get maximum wickets in the domestic circuit,” felt Ganesh.
“India has quality bowlers because they play the IPL and they’ve got a lot of resources. They’ve got a lot of foreign coaches and foreign bowlers [to take inputs from]. For example, if Dale Steyn is bowling with [Unadkat] in the nets, he’ll give him tips on how to bowl in different kinds of wickets, how to maintain the ball overall – the white ball and the red ball - how to bowl in the nets, how to prepare, how to build strength, power; it’s a great sight. There shouldn’t be any excuse [for fast bowlers] because in India you can bowl fast. You can see many good bowlers in India.”
Impressed by Unadkat this season, Ganesh believed the time was ripe for the left-arm seamer to be given another opportunity with the Indian team. “This is the right time for the Indian selectors to look at him for one more opportunity for him to come back to the side. He is a good bowler. He has got a lot of variations, and he’s a good thinker of the game. It’s not easy to perform in domestic cricket. Being a fast bowler, it’s not easy to captain a team. I’m happy for Saurashtra,” he said.
And what did he make of Unadkat’s art of fast bowling? “I think he’s watched a lot of bowling of Wasim Akram. He’s good at bowling yorkers, as well as bowling bouncers. His weapon is the incoming delivery to right handers. I think that’s his strength. I think he’s a master at it. He’s mastered his bowling in the practice sessions before executing in the matches [and] got rewarded for it.”
It can be rewarding to be a fast bowler in India in today’s era, but with many matches and three formats to play, monitoring their workload should be a top priority for coaches, Ganesh pointed out.
“Nowadays, they play a lot of games. They should look after their body – where to bowl, where not to bowl. They have a lot of matches, they have a lot of match practice, and a lot of match experience. They shouldn’t bowl too much in the nets. Now bowlers have become very smart; they’ve got trainers, physios, etc. When we played, we needed to bowl long spells. If you bowl 20-25 overs straight, you’ll get a breakdown. You have a chance to get injuries. Now they should look to bowl short spells and avoid injuries,” Ganesh said.
“They’re doing very well under Bharat Arun; same thing needs to be followed by domestic teams. The U-19 and Ranji Trophy cricketers need to be monitored in the NCA; they should talk to local coaches and State coaches,” he concluded.