A step forward for a backward State

The victorious Gujarat team with the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy.-A. M. FARUQUI

Gujarat, not among the major forces in domestic cricket, won its first National championship, the inter-State Twenty20 event for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, recently. This triumph could well spark an upsurge of cricket fortunes for the State. Priyansh takes stock.

Cricket and Gujarat have seldom been the best of friends. Their chance meetings may have evoked a few sparks in the past, but the relationship stands on an unsteady ground with little beautiful memories.

Interestingly though, mainstream Hindi cinema has not been averse to spinning romantic tales of cricketing success in the state.

Oscar-nominated Lagaan was set in the small village of Champaner while the recent Bollywood flick Kai Po Che! explored themes of friendship and cricket in early 21st century Gujarat. In the latter film, a prodigious batsman from the state goes on to represent India and begins his career with a four off the first delivery!

However, not surprisingly, the Gujarat team hardly features in the success stories narrated in the aforementioned movies. The side is not among the major forces in domestic cricket and possesses a near-empty trophy cabinet.

The janitor inside the Gujarat Cricket Association office will have a little work on his hands now, though, as the team finally won its first National championship in Indore on March 31. The Parthiv Patel-led side claimed the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy after defeating Punjab in the final of the inter-State Twenty20 championship.

Remarkably, Gujarat was staring at elimination ahead of its last group game against favourite Kerala but produced a stunning 90-run win to knock out the latter on the basis of net run rate. Parthiv later mentioned the 202-run partnership in 94 balls by Manprit Juneja and Abdulahad Malek in that match as the “turning point” of the campaign.

Fittingly, for a side that fielded many youngsters throughout the previous domestic season, 22-year-old Juneja scored a century against Kerala and teenage pacer Jasprit Bumrah won the Man of the Match award in the final.

“We (Parthiv and coach Mukund Parmar) made a conscious decision to blood young players into the team. They were encouraged to play freely and this victory was a major step forward for cricket in the state,” said the Gujarat skipper.

Victory in the inter-State T20 tournament, however, is not the only step in the right direction for the team in recent history. Gujarat came close to a Ranji Trophy quarterfinal spot in the 2012-13 season before Mumbai and Saurashtra sneaked past it in the final round of league matches. Parthiv’s side impressed in the limited overs Vijay Hazare Trophy too as it topped the West Zone standings in the preliminary stage. However, the team bowed out of the tournament in unceremonious fashion after being shot out for 126 in its last eight contest against Delhi.

“Getting over the line” has been a perennial problem for teams bubbling with youthful energy and Parthiv’s side proved no different until its success in Indore.

Interestingly, the skipper himself had an early initiation in international cricket as he made his Test debut at the age of 17 against England in 2002. After being in and out of the National side over the past decade or so, Parthiv knows a thing or two about instant success at a young age and the struggles thereafter.

However, in light of the tournament victory, the wicketkeeper-batsman believes the development of Gujarat’s youngsters will be further augmented by playing in the Indian Premier League.

“The IPL is a great opportunity for the young players. The experience of sharing a dressing room with international cricketers will help them to learn a lot,” asserts Parthiv.

Of the 11 players who featured for Gujarat in the T20 tournament final, though, only four hold contracts currently in the multi-million dollar league.

The side’s less than illustrious history has surely been a factor behind its poor representation in the IPL. Considering the low importance attached to the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the deep-seated views on Gujarat cricket will not change overnight. Yet, this tournament victory is the culmination of a largely positive season for Parthiv’s team. Gujarat may well have taken its initial few steps towards crossing the Rubicon.