Debu Mitra: The man behind Saurashtra's resurgence

Saurashtra, for long, had failed to even compete. But Debu Mitra's appointment and the talent that has come through the ranks have helped forge a new legacy.

Debu Mitra coached Saurashtra for 10 years from 2004.   -  SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

It participates but doesn’t really compete: for a long time, that’s how many in the cricketing circles would define Saurashtra. After all, it did not really have much to speak of in the Ranji Trophy.

But things changed in 2013, when the team took everyone by surprise and stormed into the final of the Ranji Trophy.

Though it flattered to deceive in the summit clash, it was able to do away with the ‘hardly competitive’ tag. With an abundance of talent, the side has been able to prove its mettle over the last six years, playing two Ranji Trophy finals. And on February 3, the Jaydev Unadkat-led side will be featuring in its third summit clash, this time against Vidarbha, the defending champion.


Saurashtra players celebrate reaching a third final in six seasons with a post-match selfie.   -  Sudhakara Jain


And as the side gears up for the iconic moment, its former coach Debu Mitra--who is often considered the man behind Saurashtra’s cricketing resurgence--is happy to see his former wards come a long way.

In 2004, when the Saurashtra Cricket Association (SCA) secretary, Niranjan Shah, brought in Mitra as the coach of the team, not much was expected from him. But the former Bengal cricketer, who guided Sourav Ganguly, took the assignment as a challenge and made it a point to ensure that the team improves under his coaching.

And the 10-year stint was indeed a game-changer for Saurashtra.

Playing the role of a tough taskmaster, Mitra nurtured young talents like Cheteshwar Pujara, Jaydev Unadkat and Ravindra Jadeja. “When I took over, there was no infrastructure to support the game,” Mitra said, “But Niranjan supported me immensely and gave me a free hand.”

There were a few limited-overs tournaments including the inter-district championship which would serve as the selection trials for the Ranji Trophy side. “I brought in changes in structure of the tournaments and introduced three-day formats and even encouraged players to play in competitive tournaments outside the state,” Mitra said.

For him, the primary target was to ensure that the team qualifies from the Plate division to the Elite group. “We did that in the 2005-06 season and from there on, we did not look back,” Mitra said. The state featured in the semifinals of the Ranji Trophy in 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, before reaching the final in 2013.

Though Mitra parted ways with Saurashtra after the 2014 season, he has remained in touch with most of the players. “The team has done very well even after I left,” Mitra said, making it clear that the present coach, Sitanshu Kotak, has done a remarkable job.

“He has been very consistent (as a coach). After 2013, he guided the team to the Ranji final in 2016 and now again it has reached the summit clash. It is a great thing,” Mitra said. “Sitanshu shares a good rapport with Pujara and Unadkat and that bonding has worked well for the team. It is great to see them come so far,” the veteran coach said.

“In the 2013 final, we did not have Pujara. That was a big loss for the team. But now that he is back, the entire body language of the team has changed. That’s what a class player like him does to a team.”

While he is far away in Kolkata, Mitra would like to travel to Nagpur to cheer for his old wards. “If they invite me to watch the final, I will certainly come. It feels good to see the team come so far. It has been a great journey with all of them,” Mitra said.

In his long career, Mitra has guided one of India’s finest left-handers, Ganguly, who went on to be a successful captain. But for the coach, who now lives in Kolkata, the decade-long stint with Saurashtra will remain special. “It was an experience for all of us,” he said.

From being no-hopers to reaching the third Ranji Trophy final in six years--it indeed has been an experience for Saurashtra.

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