Jaydev Unadkat leads from the front as Saurashtra win second Ranji Trophy title

Jaydev Unadkat leads from the front as Saurashtra win second Ranji Trophy title

Saurashtra 404 (Vasavada 81, Jani 60, Mukesh 4-111) and 14 for 1 (V Jadeja 10*, Desai 4*, Deep 1-5) beat Bengal 174 (Shahbaz 69, A Porel 50, Sakariya 3-33) and 241 (Tiwary 68, Majumdar 61, Unadkat 6-85) by nine wickets

A run-out. Of a key home batter. At the non-striker’s end. At Eden Gardens, much to the anguish of the crowd. Rings a bell? It brought heartbreak to India in that famous 1999 Test against Pakistan; it inflicted a massive heartbreak to Bengal in their 2022-23 Ranji Trophy final against Saurashtra on Sunday.
Shahbaz Ahmed is no Sachin Tendulkar, but Bengal’s hopes of whittling down their deficit and opening up a lead they could try and defend depended on his partnership with his captain Manoj Tiwary. When they resumed on the fourth day still 63 behind, this was the stand Bengal would have hoped would get them into the lead and beyond.

Those hopes came crashing down just like that, after a grave misjudgment in trying to steal a third run in the sixth over of the day. Could they have just settled for two? Perhaps. Was there a chance of a third? Definitely. Was there a miscommunication? Most definitely.

Tiwary’s neat flick through midwicket nearly went to the boundary. But Arpit Vasavada gave it a chase from the infield like his life depended on it. And in one motion, he not just retrieved the ball but also fired a superb throw on the bounce to Jaydev Unadkat. Tiwary, who had initially called for the third, then froze.

By then, Shahbaz had already turned and was more than halfway down the pitch. He didn’t even bother looking back as Unadkat pounced on the ball to knock off the bails and celebrate wildly. A crestfallen Tiwary looked heavenwards, not wanting to make eye contact while a disappointed Shahbaz yanked his gloves and stormed off. At 194 for 5, Bengal were still 36 behind.

With a rookie in Abishek Porel and the lower order to follow, the onus was now on Tiwary to put behind him the run-out. But it seemed as if it was playing on his mind over and over again. A nothing waft to gully off Unadkat two overs after Shahbaz’s wicket all but sealed Bengal’s fate.

Tiwary’s slow walk back for a defiant 67 told you a story – of being so near, yet so far. This was his fourth crack at Indian domestic cricket’s biggest prize, and in all probability, the fourth time the title was going to elude him. Laxmi Ratan Shukla, the coach, didn’t waste a moment in walking over to quietly to give Tiwary a pat, even though he knew it was game over.

By then, Bengal’s lower order had decided they were going to throw their bats at everything. And in doing so, there were some mistakes and wholesome entertainment all at once, as Abishek pulled one straight down to deep square off Chetan Sakariya.

Soon after, Unadkat once again showed his absolute mastery with the old ball in reversing it from around the wicket to have Akash Deep lbw, and Akash Ghatak clean bowled for his fifth wicket. Ishan Porel and Mukesh Kumar then swung their bats at everything and wiped out the deficit, much to the dressing room’s amusement. When Unadkat ended the innings with a slower ball to flatten Ishan’s stumps, Saurashtra had to come out and knock off only 12 runs to win.

A jubilant Sheldon Jackson sprinted to the stumps to pick one for posterity, only to be told there was a simple matter of knocking off a handful of runs. But that didn’t take long to come, and while they lost Jay Gohil, his opening partner Hardik Desai and Vishwaraj Jadeja brought up victory soon after with a boundary.

The entire Saurashtra team sprinted on to the field. They huddled together, gave each other big bear hugs. Mount Kolkata had been breached. Three years ago, they had beaten Bengal on a slowburn of a Rajkot deck for the maiden title. Now, they had breached Bengal’s fortress on an Eden green top. Victory couldn’t have been sweeter.

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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