Hinterland overshadows traditional powerhouses

Hinterland overshadows traditional powerhouses

CONFIDENT Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat (right) feels smaller teams have begun to believe they can upstage established teams.

On eight occasions in the last 11 seasons of Ranji Trophy final, a team not considered a traditional cricketing powerhouse has made it to the final. And on four of those times, the team viewed as cricket’s outpost has gone on to lift the trophy.

Saturday will see two more teams from hinterland India – Vidarbha and Saurashtra – fight it out for the premier national title even as fancied teams Mumbai, Tamil Nadu, Delhi -- who all failed to make the knockouts -- and Karnataka, who lost in the semifinal, nurse their shattered dreams and bruised egos. 

While the traditional strongholds still wield considerable power, the emergence of smaller teams is a welcome development for the health of the game in the country. Though individual talents like M S Dhoni, Cheteshwar Pujara, Parthiv Patel, Irfan Pathan, Suresh Raina -- just to name a few -- broke through the Indian cricket’s elite ceiling long back, it took a while for their teams to put an end to the monopoly of a few big teams.

While hunger and desire were never in short supply, the training facilities to push up their skill levels and the belief to beat the superior teams were acquired only later.

“No one would have thought of a Ranji trophy final between Saurashtra and Vidarbha 10 years back,” said Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat on the eve of the final here. “That’s how cricket has spread in India. It has been a dream decade for Saurashtra I would say. The way we have come up as a team.

“It’s not just about the big teams anymore. Everyone is believing now. We have played away even in quarters and semis. It’s not about playing home or away but belief. It’s really great at the moment,” he observed. 

Belief, Unadkat emphasises, is the crucial factor in their rise. Where in the past they just looked at avoiding an embarrassing defeat against a strong team, today they think of beating the same teams. The presence of international players, who have done it at the highest level, adds to their confidence.

“We have started to believe we can win against the big teams,” pointed out Unadkat. “That’s one thing which has changed. I have been with a team where the mindset was ‘just don’t want to lose badly against a big team.’ But it has changed because now we have some great players who have instilled that belief in youngsters. We did not have that belief before I or Cheteshwar started playing (for India). For us it is about going out and winning. There is fight among youngsters for their places and they know if they have to play, they have to win it for the team,” he offered.

While this change is encouraging, these teams are always saddled with lack of supply line. The smaller pool of players constantly keeps them on the edge. 

“It’s a big issue for a small team like us,” lamented Saurashtra coach Sitanshu Kotak. “We have a very small pool of players and if two or three players get injured in a season, it pushes us to the brink. Unlike big teams like Mumbai, Delhi or Karnataka, we are always faced with lack of quality bench strength.”