Just a decade ago, Saurashtra was rarely taken seriously for its cricketing ability. It was one of the many teams in India that participated, but never competed, in the National championship for the Ranji Trophy. Carved out of Gujarat, Saurashtra, like Baroda, is a small area where cricket was played for fun.
Things started to change after its secretary, Niranjan Shah, who held many important posts — including that of prestigious honorary secretary — in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), decided to develop cricket in that region.
To realise his dream, Shah turned to coach Debu Mitra in 1999 but failed to persuade him. The former Bengal player and coach decided to take up the assignment in 2004 after ex-India left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi goaded him to try it out for one or two seasons.
Thus began an association that is continuing for the past 10 years. Shah gave complete control of on-field activities to Mitra. “When I took over, there was no infrastructure to support the game; there were a few limited overs tournaments including the inter-district championship that served as selection trials for the Ranji team. I brought in changes in tournament structure, converted most of them into three-day format and exposed the players to competitive tournaments outside the State. I did not have a large pool of players but worked hard to develop whatever talent was available,” he says. Saurashtra figured in the final of the Ranji Trophy in the current season, a distinction many rich and traditionally strong cricket-playing States haven’t been able to achieve.
The Kanpur-born Mitra made a serious impact by promoting the side to Elite group from Plate division in the 2005-06 season and from then on neither he nor Saurashtra has looked back. The State figured twice in the semi-finals of the Ranji Trophy in 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons, before reaching the finals this season.
During Mitra’s regime, the State produced three India players in left-arm medium-pacer Jaydev Unadkat, left-arm all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara.
“It is all about hard work. I did not have a magic wand to change everything overnight. Niranjan Shah and I worked as a team. He gave me confidence and free hand in all cricketing matters while he fulfilled all my demands for the betterment of the game. Whatever Saurashtra has achieved so far is all because of the State association’s backing,” Mitra confesses.
Saurashtra, like most States, does not allow players from other States to play in the Ranji Trophy. All the boys are home-grown talent and the State takes a great pride in saying so.
Mitra guided one of India’s finest left-handers, Sourav Ganguly, who went on to captain the country successfully. Devang Gandhi, who also played Test cricket, is one of his wards. Under his watchful eyes, Saurashtra looks set bloom into a leading cricket playing State