Kotak to retire from first-class cricket
Shitanshu Kotak, the veteran Saurashtra batsman, will end his two-decade long first-class career after his side's Ranji Trophy opener against Rajasthan on his home ground in Rajkot later this month. Kotak, who turns 41 on Saturday, will call time on a career that began against Bombay in December 1992. He has played 129 matches so far and is four short of 8000 first-class runs with an average of 41.64 and 15 centuries.
Kotak told ESPNcricinfo he had thought of retirement after Saurashtra's run to the Ranji final last season but postponed it in the emotion of the moment. "I felt the team had done so well to reach the final," he said. "It was a superb achievement and I did not want to take away from it with talk of my retirement.
"But now I feel the time has come to make way for someone young. It is a good time to go. There are so many youngsters around to take the team ahead. I would like to thank the Saurashtra Cricket Association and Mr Niranjan Shah for all the support throughout my career. To have played for so long and not be dropped, I could not have asked for more. I would like to remain associated with the game in whatever manner possible after retirement. I will have a chat with Mr Shah and my association and plan the way forward. I would also like to thank my employers, Bharat Petroleum, for allowing me so much flexibility to play domestic cricket, even when it clashed with corporate matches."
Many veteran first-class cricketers move on from their home states to play for other sides as professionals, but Kotak said he could somehow never bring himself to take that path. "I would not say I didn't think about it. In fact, there were some offers as well. I have nothing against those who play as professionals. It means a lot of money and respect. But I have played for Saurashtra for so long that I could not imagine myself playing for some other team. I have played for the same company and the same club as well for close to 20 years. "
Saurashtra's entry into the Ranji final last season is one of Kotak's most cherished memories. "There are so many things to remember. Last year's final is of course one of them. Also, Saurashtra winning the domestic one-day championship (in 2007-08) and qualifying for the Elite League from the Plate League."
When asked if there was any temptation to play one more season after seeing Saurashtra fall at the last hurdle previous season, Kotak said that would always be the case. "That feeling will be there," he said. "But some day I had to take the call. Some day, it had to come to an end. I will still play for Bharat Petroleum in the Times Shield and league cricket in England. But this is it as far as first-class cricket goes."
Not being able to play for India wasn't a regret, Kotak said, although he would have loved to have won the Ranji Trophy. "Every player wants to play for his country. That could not happen for me, but that is not a regret. Maybe I was not destined to. We played the Ranji final last year against a better team (Mumbai). Had we played in Rajkot, it could have been a different game. But even then, I would say the better team won on the day."
Known for his ability to bat for long periods and stonewall bowling attacks, Kotak was part of Saurashtra's transformation from a weak side to a unit that is now a force in domestic cricket. He said he had seen the team change completely in the previous two decades. "To think that we now have as many as three people playing for India (Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat). It is a tremendous achievement. We have come a long way."
Kotak said first-class cricket in India had changed for the better, chiefly in terms of money and exposure. "It is possible now for a domestic cricketer to settle himself somewhat financially over a career of say, ten years. More than money, I think there has been a drastic improvement in the exposure domestic cricketers get. Earlier, even if you did well, people would talk about it for two-three days, and then forget about you, especially if you played for a smaller team. Now, it is not possible for people to ignore you if you do well. Performances get noticed."
While Kotak will miss the Saurashtra dressing room, he will get more time to play with his son. Kotak giving throwdowns to the 12-year old was a common sight after the end of a day's play in Rajkot. "That is definitely a positive outcome. Otherwise, he would have complained I was never able to give him enough time."
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo