Shah unfussed by added pressure
With his team's two leading batsmen missing because of international duty it fell to Jaydev Shah to play a captain's knock, steady Saurashtra's innings against the most potent domestic attack and set them on the way to a decent first-innings score in the Ranji semi-final. The innings was replete with the audacious strokeplay that is his forte - risky but effective, and fetching him 87 runs before his dismissal. It helped Saurashtra end the first day in Rajkot on 274 for 5.
Afterwards, Shah seemed sanguine about missing out on a rare first-class century - he has just four in 120 innings. "(Missing out on a century) doesn't really matter," he said after the end of the first day's play in Rajkot, munching vada-pav. "Sheldon (Jackson) is playing well. If we score around 350-400, it would be a good score and then we can try and restrict them (below it)."
It's the sort of leadership that has benefited Saurashtra in the nine years Shah's been captain, during which he has taken them from the lower tier of the Ranji Trophy to first joining and then establishing themselves in the top flight, while also being crowned the national one-day champions in 2007-08.
It hasn't been an easy or smooth personal ride for Shah, though. As the son of Saurashtra cricket's patriarch and former BCCI secretary Niranjan Shah, he has had to deal with whispers - not always muted or subtle - of favouritism. His batting record hasn't helped: as a specialist middle-order batsman he has failed to score a century in two full seasons and his average has always hovered between the mid- and late-20s. Yet he's got an IPL contract and has represented India A.
On Wednesday, Shah offered evidence of why he has been individually recognised, and how he moulded Saurashtra from also-rans to a force to reckon with. For one, he's modest. He admits that captaincy has affected his performance with the bat. But he doesn't offer it as an excuse. "My career would be average, I won't say great. But as time goes, you learn. And I try to improve myself every year. I have to keep on improving all the time."
"Of course I should have scored many more hundreds than what I have so far, but this season has been a little average. But I will work harder and deliver the goods in the remaining season," he said, hoping to make amends in the limited-overs tournaments that follow the Ranji Trophy.
"Captaincy could have affected my batting by about 10%. I have always been thinking more about the team than myself. But that is what cricket is all about. You have to think more about the team, so it may have affected my own performance a bit. But it is part of my job. I have to run the team and lead the team, so I have to take it as a challenge. I cannot give excuses. Anybody could get pressurised, I have a lot of pressure on me in a very different way but it's fine. You have to take up the challenge, that's it."
So how does he deal with those different pressures, primarily those related to talk of favouritism. "I just have to do my job. And I have been given the captaincy and I am doing it well. That's it," he said. "Even a politician's son is pushed but then, he has to win and prove himself. And I am doing the same."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo