Gujarat are officially now the domestic limited-overs kings. The defending Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy national Twenty20 champions added a significant piece of silverware to their not-so-considerable collection at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium on Monday (December 28) night, sweeping all-comers aside on their way to ultimate glory in the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy.
Victory in the final against a strong Delhi side was achieved by the princely margin of 139 runs and set up by the experienced pair of Parthiv Patel, the captain who made his maiden List A century, and Rudra Pratap Singh, the professional plying his left-arm medium wares for the first time in the knockout stages.
As bright as Parthiv and Rudra Pratap shone under the glittering Chinnaswamy floodlights, Gujarat’s campaign wasn’t based around just one or two individuals, even if Axar Patel’s all-round brilliance played a significant part in their majestic march to the title round.
Parthiv is the undisputed leader and Rudra Pratap the biggest name in the bowling ranks, but the magic behind Gujarat’s run lies in the sum of the parts contributing to a formidable whole that has cut out all frills and focussed on its own strengths and weaknesses.
Gujarat have been work in progress for a while now, Parthiv entrusted with the responsibility of moulding a team picked with care and diligence by the selection and management group that has stressed on transparency, fairness in selection, and in also being seen to be fair. Consequently, while players know what their well-defined roles are, they are also kept informed of why someone has been dropped or picked, what horses for courses means.
Rudra Pratap, the former India paceman procured from Uttar Pradesh this year specifically to lend teeth to the bowling, played just four of nine games in the Hazare Trophy and just one of three in the knockouts. That one game – the final – was enough for him to make a telling impact, his opening burst of 4 for 23 from seven overs effectively killing Delhi’s chase after Gujarat rode on Parthiv’s 105 to amass 273.
“It was very clear,” Parthiv said of Rudra Pratap being benched for the quarterfinal against Vidarbha and the semifinal against Tamil Nadu, both games played in Alur. “Rush Kalaria has been a consistent India A player, Jasprit Bumrah is in the reckoning for the Indian team. We wanted to play only two seamers, and RP understands it. I have spoken to him and he knows that it is time for a youngster to take over. He knew that if a third seamer played, then he would be the automatic pick. That’s why he didn’t play (the two previous games). Here (at the Chinnaswamy), it has been a seamer-friendly wicket, so we had to pick him. And obviously in the finals, you need an experienced player and he did a good job for us.”
That the captain and his senior pro are on the same page became apparent when, a few minutes later, Rudra Pratap revealed, “Sometimes I give myself a rest because like me, a lot of players sit out. I have come to play as a professional. The rotation was fine, and in the knockouts, the wickets weren’t such that we could go in with three seamers. So Parthiv told me (that I would have to sit out) and I said fine. We haven’t played a lot at this ground (the Chinnaswamy) but the wicket did surprise us a little bit.”
Parthiv warmed to the concept of team as he enumerated the principal performers in the season underway. “Priyank (Panchal, the opener) got 650 runs this season in the Ranji Trophy. He is in good form, he has been around for years. Rujul (Bhatt) has been a utility cricketer who would score 300 runs and take about 15 wickets every season in the Ranji Trophy,” the one-time India stumper offered. “It was his time of reckoning in one-day cricket this year, scoring almost 300 runs and taking wickets. Then the way Bumrah bowled in the final. And I think Rush Kalaria was the most unlucky bowler. He bowled brilliantly with the new ball but he doesn’t have a wicket to show for it. Young Hardik Patel, who scored 20-odd not out against Vidarbha where we needed 40-odd runs. The right players have clicked at the right point of time.”
It’s hard to believe that Parthiv himself is only 30 – he has been around for nearly a decade and a half now – especially as he talks with the sagacity of a battle-hardened veteran that, in many ways, he is. “What we have done in this team is that we tell players why you are in the team and why you are not in the team, so they are not in the dark at all,” he said, offering an insight into the behind-the-scenes work that is far removed from the actual bat-and-ball game. “They understand that with seven left-handers in the opposition, there is no point playing two left-arm spinners. Karan Patel, who played today, but didn’t bowl a single over, he wasn’t in the squad but we called him in for this game as the 16th player and we wanted to play him because we wanted the extra offspinner. We know that we have always been fair with them and the player also understands it — that whatever the selectors and the association do has been very fair and very transparent, so he takes it in the right spirit.”
Rudra Pratap knows a thing or two about how a team is built, having been part of a very successful Uttar Pradesh unit shaped by Mohammad Kaif. He has obvious admiration for how his current skipper is going about his business in his adopted state. “The base for all our selection is performances for the state, generally,” he explained. “Yes, now there is the IPL but otherwise… The beauty about the state team is that you build it from scratch, like Kaif did for us in UP. Parthiv has built this team along similar lines. He has been captain for 10 years, he has picked players, hired professionals so that the team does well. His motive was that along with his own performances, the team also progresses because when you win championships, when you play finals, that’s when your boys play more. The examples are Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka – they have ticked those boxes many times. Maybe Parthiv is slowly taking Gujarat in that direction. It has taken him a fairly long time but picking players is not easy. But he is doing it quite well.”
Parthiv has been in two IPL-winning sides, and was part of the Indian team that reached the 2003 World Cup final even though he didn’t get a single game. Without necessarily comparing this triumph with any of those runs, he couldn’t help but feel proud of his contributions as batsman and captain in Gujarat’s spectacular charge through the field in the Hazare Trophy. “Absolutely, there couldn’t have been a better time than this for my maiden hundred. Obviously, winning the championship for a state is something special. I have been a part of two IPL victories, I have been a part of the World Cup final team as well but winning a championship for your state, that’s something special because you’ve grown up there, you know the people have worked really hard behind you, and winning a championship for them is really special.”
For all the riches that Delhi boasted, Gujarat came into the final high on spirit and confidence, having pulled the rug from under Tamil Nadu’s feet in the penultimate round with a spectacular display of left-arm spin bowling from Axar, complemented by four stumpings from the captain himself. “This win is brilliant for our confidence, but we were more thrilled with the way we won the semifinals against probably a bigger and better side than what Delhi is,” said Parthiv. “I mean, nothing to take away from Delhi, they are also a brilliant side, they have made it to the final. With the format changing this season, it was just a matter of playing three good games (in the knockouts). We played brilliantly against Vidarbha. Tamil Nadu is a team which you always want to beat — they have five Test players playing and we beat them. So coming into the finals beating Tamil Nadu helped us a lot.
“But throughout the tournament, we have not worried about the opposition. We have just focussed on how we play our cricket and focussed on doing the right things at the right point of time. I am happy that we have clicked as a team in the final. We were not worried about what the others were doing. We just wanted to play a good brand of cricket, do our roles really well and not worry about the opposition.”
After a couple of days at home savouring the success with their respective families, the team will troop over to Nagpur on Thursday to begin their defence of the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. “All we can do is just carry the confidence. Forget the one-day format, and try and do well now in the T20 format. We are in fact the defending champions, so we know that we are double-marked now. But that doesn’t bother us, we will just go and play good cricket.” That won’t surprise anyone, anymore.