Even before the final, it had been a record-breaking season for Saurashtra skipper Jaydev Unadkat. He had taken 65 wickets, which is the most by a pacer ever in one edition on Ranji Trophy. But when the final day began on Friday, he had no wickets to his name. And Saurashtra were staring at another runner-up finish with Bengal mounting a late fightback on day four.
But cometh the hour, cometh the match-winner. Unadkat produced a lion-hearted spell when it mattered the most and paved the way for Saurashtra’s maiden Ranji Trophy title triumph on the basis of the first-innings lead in Rajkot.
It was then a mere formality for the sides to play out the remainder of the match with an outright winner unlikely. Saurashtra, therefore, became the third team in the last four years to be crowned first-time champions.
Saurashtra finished on 105/4 in the second innings before play was called off as a draw at the stroke of tea on the final day.
Saurashtra coach Karsan Ghavri said, “It’s a happy moment for me. Our side have been playing rock-solid cricket. They have been playing like champions all through the season”
Bengal had the upper hand going into day five after Anustup Majumdar (63) and Arnab Nandi (40 not out) shared an unbeaten 91-run stand in the final session Thursday.
But Unadkat, who had almost single-handily taken Saurashtra into the final with a seven-wicket haul against Gujarat on the final day of their semifinal, rose to the occasion yet again to put his team on the cusp of a historic victory.
The left-arm pacer had Majumdar LBW and then produced a smart bit of cricket to run out Akash Deep in a space of three balls to turn the game on its head.
One hour and 10 minutes of play in the decisive morning session yielded 27 runs and four wickets with Bengal all out for 381, giving Saurashtra a 44-run first innings lead.
Unadkat, who opened the bowling alongside Chetan Sakariya on day five, was a tad defensive with the field placement early on, considering the team conceded easy runs to Bengal on day four.
The onus was on the Saurashtra skipper to deliver again after his performance against Gujarat propelled his team to its fourth final in eight seasons. He had bowled 32 overs before that match-winning over without getting a wicket despite giving his all.
Majumdar and Nandi, who resumed the day on 58 and 28 after defying Saurashtra on Thursday, were expected to get the 72 runs for the all-important first innings but Unadkat changed it all in one over.
The left-arm pacer ended the 98-run stand between Majumdar and Nandi by trapping the former in front of the stumps as he brought the ball back in sharply.
He could have had Wriddhiman Saha out twice on day four with a similar ball but did not have the required luck.
Two balls after sending back a dejected Majumdar, Unadkat was alert enough on the field to make Akash Deep pay for ignoring the basics.
Having played and missed, Akash Deep was found standing marginally outside the crease. The wicketkeeper was quick to observe that and went for the direct hit but missed, only for the bowler to collect the ball and disturb the timber, giving Saurashtra their second wicket in three balls.
Five overs later, spinner Dharmendrasinh Jadeja had Mukesh Kumar caught at short-leg after taking a successful DRS call, bringing Saurashtra just one wicket away from creating history.
With Bengal 55 runs behind, Nandi tried his best and went for his strokes but in the end, his team fell agonisingly short.
Fittingly, Unadkat took the last wicket of Bengal’s innings by catching number 11 Ishan Porel plumb in front of the stumps, taking his season tally to 67. In the unlikely event that Saurashtra bowl again, he will have the chance to equal or better the record for most wickets in one edition.
Day five is being played behind closed doors due to the coronavirus threat.