There’s a reason why orthodox fields work. They both demand and reward a good line and length. Repeatedly, however, teams deviate from that template while bowling to a top-order batsman marshalling the tail. Repeatedly, teams suffer, just like Saurashtra did on the third day of the Ranji Trophy final.
A game that was on an even keel went beyond Saurashtra’s control as Mumbai’s last-wicket pair of Siddesh Lad and Balwinder Sandhu added 103. Suddenly a day that began with hope and promise ended in disappointment. The loss will be a bitter pill to swallow because, unlike in 2012-13 final against Mumbai when they were blown away in no time, Saurashtra had a genuine chance this time around.
Mumbai’s lead was a manageable 33 when Lad and Sandhu came together at the crease and part of the plan was to attack the pair simultaneously. But when that didn’t work for five overs, they tried defensive fields. It played into Mumbai’s hands – the lead allowed them to attack and eventually bulldoze a brittle Saurashtra batting line-up in under two full sessions.
Once their strike bowler Jaydev Unadkat was taken for runs, the rest of the attack froze under an onslaught they didn’t see coming. Sitanshu Kotak, the coach who was a part of the XI that was blown away in similar fashion three years ago, felt the bowlers were guilty of trying too many things instead of sticking to the plans that had helped them claw back after the 152-run, third-wicket stand between Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav in the first innings.
“We could have tried a little less, if anything, I would think,” Kotak said. “But from outside, you are handicapped. But I suppose when someone is very aggressive and if you try more and more, he gets a chance to score more and more runs. But, on a day when you get him out, people say see, it was successful. On another day when you go for 50-60-70 runs, people say ‘Why did you try so hard?’ It is part and parcel of the game I suppose.”
While the bowling lacked bite under Lad’s sustained attack, Saurashtra’s fielding, particularly the slip-catching, was equally culpable. As many as four chances were grassed, two each by Arpit Vasavada and Cheteshwar Pujara. Vasavada’s dropped chance at slip to reprieve Iyer cost Saurashtra 80 runs, while Pujara’s grassed chance with Lad on 24 cost them 64 runs.
“I think the bowling, in the quarter-final and the semi-final, was a lot better. Here it was not up to the mark, but we still managed to create chances, only to drop catches – think we let off four of them,” Kotak rued. “In 10 games, I can’t remember four catches being dropped. We dropped a couple altogether. It is one of those things, but it’s disappointing because our best slip fielders dropped them.
“So that made a difference. A lead of just 30-40 runs and it would have been a different story, but I still believe you can’t afford to get bowled out for 100-115 runs on the third day of the game. This probably is the worst game that we have played in 11 games and I would take it because it can happen. But I think we can keep coming back stronger again and again and one day we will win it.”
Kotak wasn’t soft on his batsmen and his displeasure at their inability to rise to the occasion was evident. But he offered some solace when he said the conditions would have challenged any top-quality batsman.
“Overall, only two innings have been very fluent,” he observed. “Shreyas Iyer played a lot of strokes and Lad played after they were nine down. Apart from that, the wicket was such that unless you take a chance and play, I don’t think it was bogging down. The toss was crucial. That made it a little difficult because obviously with the moisture, the ball wasn’t coming that hard on the bat. All in all, it looked like if you took a chance and played, you would have been better off.
“But it is very hard advice to give to a batsman, that you take a chance and play. Unless somebody’s game is like that and he plays to his game and is lucky enough to survive like Shreyas did,it was hard. He got dropped and was beaten at least eight to ten times, and didn’t nick it. Credit to him for cashing in, he played some fantastic shots. But I think as a coach, it is very difficult to tell a batsman you take a chance and play his strokes.
“We have a player like him in Jackson but like I said in the first innings, because of moisture, first 30 balls he couldn’t get a run and got out but I suppose when it goes against you, it goes against you. I don’t think we were missing much. We could have bowled better. When you lose, you could have done everything better, couldn’t you?”
Asked to sum up the campaign, there was a hint of regret, but their fight to the final after being relegated pleased Kotak the most. “The way we played the quarter-final and semi-final was excellent. Just the way our fast bowlers bowled, was brilliant,” he said. “I think there were a lot of positives. In a way, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bengal, UP, Delhi not playing the final and Saurashtra playing the final, that is a positive.”
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.