Saurashtra don’t have to prove a point anymore. They’re now one of the undisputed giants in Indian domestic cricket and carry the blood of success that conjure on the circuit as an act of greatness. Even when they are without Jaydev Unadkat, Cheteshwar Pujara and Ravindra Jadeja due to their national commitments, Saurashtra have continued to deliver one sucker punch after another to reach their second final of the season, and if things go in the expected lines, Unadkat could hold the trophy aloft for the second time in his red-ball career. Talk about building a legacy!
But if great narratives were built just like that, sports would have been a boring affair. Saurashtra never had it easy. From the most inauspicious beginnings, which saw them being relegated to the lowest division of Indian cricket in the 2014-15 season to winning the whole thing in 2020, it was a stream of success that built a culture of its own. Then streamlining the troupe to the limited-overs format, Unadkat’s men have become the face of Indian cricket.
Away from the clutches of Mumbai-Karnataka-Delhi dominance, they made sure the lower rungs of Indian cricket get their due representation. It all started with Vidarbha winning the 2018 Ranji Trophy and since then, Madhya Pradesh and Saurashtra built a foundation strong enough to never let anyone build a hegemony.
Not that building a dominant mold is ever bad, but that tells you if the success in sports becomes democratic, Indian cricket would be the eventual winner. Like the Talent Research Development Wing (TRDW) did in the early 2000s, it is imperative that the smaller teams break away from the clutches and build something sophisticated on top of it. Hence the last five seasons of the Ranji season filled many Indian cricket fans with genuine hope.
To build on that hope, we have Bengal, taking on the Western Indian outfit for a rematch of the 2020 final. On a flat deck in Rajkot, Bengal were punished for their own slackness and defensive mindset to let Saurashtra take away the game on the basis of the first-innings lead but the hurt has remained with them. Under Manoj Tiwary, they showcased a kind of dominance that was unbeknownst to them for a decade before. And now on the verge of yet another chance of making that dream come true, they would be desperate to put together all the puzzles.
But it was only a dream a decade ago.
Notwithstanding which side of the schism you stand on as far as Sourav Ganguly’s administrative performance is concerned, you would agree that the former Indian skipper had a huge role to play in Bengal’s rise in the longest format of the sport. He didn’t see the dream from the comforts of his Behala Palace rather he took the charge as batting coach of the ambitious project and to help him out was then Bengal coach Ashok Malhotra, Goutam Shome, and the then Bengal Under-25 coach Joydeep Mukherjee.
Waqar Younis and Muttiah Muralitharan were appointed on Ganguly’s recommendation while former Bengal pacer Ranadeb Bose was appointed Younis’ deputy. Later VVS Laxman came on board and turned the fortune of the academy who played at the venue that Laxman knows inside out. The plans were laid out and players were picked on merit as well as eye-test. Then everything was put together to create a storyboard for the future - Vision 2020. It was not a coincidence that Bengal had made it to the finals in 2020.
As Ranadeb Bose told ESPNcricinfo, the likes of Mukesh Kumar could have lost in the test of time had it not been the specified talent hunt program all those years ago. Ishan Porel and Akash Deep shone brighter, while spin-bowling all-rounder Shahbaz Ahmed is now an international player. Who can now question the process and surely, the progress?
Hence, the 2022-23 final has come as a celebration of two established processes and in a way, a fundamental representation of how associations can arm themselves with proper structure. Irrespective of the result at the Eden Gardens on February 20, we would know the leap that these two associations have taken is how the foundation of a successful domestic side is laid out. Everything else is a bonus.
But for the players - the likes of Manoj Tiwary and Anustup Majumdar, the likes of Arpit Vasavada and Sheldon Jackson, the likes of Chetan Sakariya and Akash Deep, it would be a moment worth reprising. Tiwary has spent all his life, working towards that goal and even after becoming a minister, his run-scoring tempo hasn’t taken a nosedive. For someone like Unadkat, his side means everything to him and that passion that he has endured is infectious. These 22 men would define the course of history in their region - it wouldn’t matter for fans only shouting at the top of their lungs during India matches or during IPL games - but that wouldn’t reduce the significance a wee bit.