Ranji Trophy 2019-20: Saurashtra's road to the final

Captain Jaydev Unadkat has led from the front to help Saurashtra qualify for a second straight Ranji Trophy final, losing only one fixture along the way.

Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat and his team-mates after the semifinal win over Gujarat   -  VIJAY SONEJI

It has been a season to remember for Jaydev Unadkat. The 28-year-old pace ace has not only scalped 65 wickets so far -- the highest in the season -- but has also led Saurashtra from the front.

In times of crisis, Unadkat has been the one to regroup the side and ensure it didn’t lose the plot. And that his strategy has worked is evident from the fact that Saurashtra has stormed into yet another final of the Ranji Trophy.

That, pretty much, sums up the season for the side. Starting the group stage on a high -- having defeated Himachal Pradesh and Railways in the first two games -- Saurashtra lost to Uttar Pradesh by an innings and 72 runs.

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With alarm bells ringing, it was important for the side to script a turnaround. On came Cheteshwar Pujara and struck a classy 248 against Karnataka to not only pull back things his team’s way, but also gave Saurashtra enough confidence for remainder of the season.

Pujara -- who played the first five matches -- left for New Zealand in the later half of January for the Test series. And there came the challenge for the batsmen -- to step up and cruise.

True, some of them haven’t lived up to the expectations. The team’s top-order has been pretty inconsistent, leading to jokes that the batting actually starts from No. 4, when Sheldon Jackson walks in. With 783 runs in nine innings, the onus has actually been on Sheldon to guide the team on most occasions, and he has done it with elan. Three centuries, three 50-plus scores are proof enough that it has been a wonderful season for him.  

If Unadkat has been the guiding force in the bowling department, Sheldon has taken charge of the batting unit, ensuring it doesn’t falter. The side would also be proud with the way Chirag Jani stepped up in the quarterfinals against Andhra Pradesh and scored a century to lay the foundation for a win by virtue of first-innings lead.

However, Saurashtra’s finest moment of the tournament would be Arpit Vasavada’s classy ton in the semifinal against Gujarat. With the side reeling at 15-5 in the second innings, it was Vasavada, who played the innings of his life, helping the team bounce back.

And that defined the real character of Saurashtra cricketers.

The bowling department has been solely relying on captain Unadkat, who had a 10-wicket haul in the semifinal -- three in first innings, seven in the second. In a cliff-hanger, the captain kept his calm in the final session on the last day. Despite Parthiv Patel and Chirag Gandhi almost swaying things Gujarat’s way, Unadkat struck late to not only break the set partnership, but also guided Saurashtra to its second consecutive final.

Top-order batting has been topsy-turvy for sure, but a spirited team effort has brought the side so far. 

That remains its strength, ahead of the final.

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