Ranji Trophy: Pujara, Jaffer in focus as Vidarbha sets up to defend title

Mumbai (twice), Rajasthan and Karnataka are the only teams which have successfully defended their titles in this millennium.

Cheteshwar Pujara and Wasim Jaffer have a chat during a practice session on the eve of the Ranji Trophy final.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Wasim Jaffer is 40, but his game still sparkles. At the nets, you can tell from a distance that it’s him. That wristy flick and carefree gait proclaim that cricket still scores on class. 

On Saturday at the VCA ground here, there came a moment when India batsman Cheteshwar Pujara — the mainstay of Saurashtra — went up to Jaffer for a chat. The shutterbugs captured the golden frame and as cricket writers, we started counting the number of runs the photograph would reflect.

It’s 33,841 first-class runs and counting.

In a nutshell, Pujara and Jaffer’s presence tells you the importance of this Ranji Trophy final starting on Sunday. 

Last season, it was Vidarbha that won its maiden title; this time, Saurashtra is on the hunt for it. 

Both the teams have come up through the ranks to prove that Indian domestic cricket does not depend on the big states — such as Mumbai, Delhi or Karnataka — any longer to create champions.

Finishing the semifinal in two days against Kerala on a rough Wayanad pitch gifted Vidarbha three extra days to freshen up before the crucial fixture. 

“The preparation has been good. After getting runs [75] in the last game, I am confident. I am watching the ball well. A big hundred here and you never know,” said Fazal.

Read: 'I'm a big fan of Pujara'

Vidarbha is keen to lay its hands on the trophy again. “If you taste success once, your hunger increases. We are really inspired. I don’t know if we have an edge as Saurashtra hasn’t won before. But they have been playing great cricket for many years. They have been there in this situation before — in finals and knockouts. I am sure they are also equally inspired,” he spoke highly of the opponent.

100

Umesh Yadav picked up 12 wickets in Vidarbha's crushing semifinal win over Kerala.   -  VIVEK BENDRE

Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat is still high on the final berth. “No one would have thought of a Ranji Trophy final between Saurashtra and Vidarbha 10 years back. That’s how cricket has spread in India. It’s not about playing home or away but belief. It’s really great at the moment,” he said.

“This is not the first time we are playing against a very good batsman or a very good player. This is a mature team, and this shows how professional we are,” he clarified.

Pitch and combination

Vidarbha is likely to make a change to its combination. Off-break bowler Akshay Wakhare is likely to sneak in. “We had only one spinner in the last game [Aditya Sarwate]. Since he also bats well, we played him. [But] we didn’t need any spinner on that wicket. There could be some changes [for tomorrow],” Fazal said.

Squads

Vidarbha: Faiz Fazal (c), Ganesh Satish, Rajneesh Gurbani, Wasim Jaffer, Akshay Karnewar, Lalit M Yadav, Sanjay Ramaswamy, Aditya Sarwate, Atharwa Taide, Aditya Thakare, Akshay Wadkar, Shrikant Wagh, Akshay Wakhare, Apoorv Wankhade, Siddhesh Wath, Darshan Nalkande, Umesh Yadav

Saurashtra: Jaydev Unadkat (c), Cheteshwar Pujara, Arpit Vasavada, Agnivesh Ayachi, Prerak Mankad, Avi Barot , Samarth Vyas, Kishan Parmar, Jay Chauhan, Sheldon Jackson, Chirag Jani, Kamlesh Makvana, Shaurya Sanandia, Hardik Rathod, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Yuvraj Chudasama, Snell Patel, Harvik Desai

Key stats

  • Wasim Jaffer will feature in his 10th Ranji Trophy final. The veteran has ended up on the winning side in all his previous nine finals, eight times for Mumbai while last season for Vidarbha
  • Chandrakant Pandit will be involved as coach for the fourth season in succession. While Mumbai won the 2015-16 final and losing the next season’s finale under his guidance, Faiz Fazal’s Vidarbha rolled over formidable Delhi in the last year’s final for its first Ranji triumph
  • Saurashtra will feature in its third final in the last six years. Captain Jaydev Unadkat and seasoned batsmen Sheldon Jackson and Arpit Vasavada are set to be the only three players to feature in all three big games
  • Nagpur will host the Ranji Trophy final for the first time in the tournament’s history

Vidarbha’s road to final

Against Maharashtra: Match drawn
Against Karnataka: Match drawn
Against Baroda: Match drawn
Against Chhattisgarh: Won by 10 wickets
Against Railways: Won by 118 runs
Against Gujarat: Match drawn
Against Mumbai: Won by an innings and 146 runs
Against Saurashtra: Match drawn
Against Uttarakhand (quarterfinal): Won by an innings and 115 runs
Against Kerala (semifinal): Won by an innings and 11 runs

Saurashtra's road to the final

Against Chhattisgarh: Match drawn
Against Railways: Won by 3 wickets
Against Gujarat: Match drawn
Against Baroda: Match drawn
Against Karnataka: Won by 87 runs
Against Maharashtra: Won by 5 wickets
Against Mumbai: Match drawn
Against Vidarbha: Match drawn
Against Uttar Pradesh (quarterfinal): Won by 6 wickets
Against Karnataka (semifinal): Won by 5 wickets