Current captain Jaydev Unadkat
, who hails from Porbandar, a town remembered by history as the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi, was inspired by their heroics as he took to cricket. Both Pujara and Unadkat would make their Test debut two years after that Hazare triumph to put Saurashtra firmly on Indian cricket's map.
Pujara and Jadeja have gone on to have stellar India careers and Unadkat has established himself as a bona-fide domestic legend, spearheading a revolution in Saurashtra. In 2020, they won their maiden Ranji title
with Unadkat picking up 67 wickets in the season, one short of the all-time record. It was the result of several years of trying and being blown away at the final hurdle, most notably twice against Mumbai.
When red-ball success was achieved, Saurashtra decided to rewrite their white-ball template. A team that didn't have a full-time fitness trainer until the start of this season vowed to become better tuned to the one-day game. Players who would take the safe option were told to be bold, while receiving unequivocal backing.
Where teams struggle to have one seam bowling allrounder, Saurashtra have unearthed and nurtured two - Prerak Mankad
and Chirag Jani
. Unadkat too has reinvented himself as a handy lower-order hitter. In between, they've helped wicketkeeper Harvik Desai
, who played a crucial part in India's Under-19 World Cup win in 2018, by backing him ahead of some tried and tested options. On top of all that, Sheldon Jackson
Saurashtra were unlucky at the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20s, where they dominated the group phase before enduring a final-over heartbreak
against Mumbai in the quarter-finals. Here, in the 50-over tournament, they have set the record straight, comprehensively beating two white-ball giants Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in the quarter-finals
Standing in their way is Maharashtra, fuelled by Ruturaj Gaikwad
's glut of runs and their itch to win a maiden List A title. They may be in uncharted territory, but Maharashtra are riding a wave of confidence like never before, overcoming stiff competition from Mumbai and Bengal to come through the group stage unscathed.
Where Saurashtra have had different players step up and deliver, Maharashtra have relied almost solely on Gaikwad and Ankit Bawne
's power-packed show at the top of the order. Bawne has hit 571 runs in eight innings. Gaikwad is a shade behind with 552 in just four games, including a record-breaking 220* where he hit seven sixes in a single over
. They are third and fourth on the top run-getters list
Like Saurashtra, Maharashtra too are punting big on a young allrounder - Rajvardhan Hangargekar
. A success story from India's Under-19 World Cup campaign, the 20-year-old brings with him the heady cocktail of lively pace and big muscles lower down the order. These have translated into two impact performances in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, apart from winning a game out of nowhere
in the group stage when he hit the six Maharashtra needed off the last ball against Bengal.
On Friday, one of them will walk away champions. If Saurashtra do, it will be another step towards becoming a formidable force across formats. If Maharashtra win, it'll be the first step towards a larger goal of reclaiming their glory days of the past.
Saurashtra WWLWW (last five completed matches, most recent first)
Sheldon Jackson has had a disappointing tournament by his standards. In nine innings, he's managed all of 164 runs with a solitary half-century. He's also been released from his IPL contract by Kolkata Knight Riders. With franchises keeping a close eye on the action, it's a chance for him to once again prove that even at 36 he has what it takes. Oh, and the India selectors, whom he's been sounding out time and again, will be watching too.
Left-arm swing bowler Mukesh Choudhary
has had a breakthrough year. Having made waves in the IPL under MS Dhoni at Chennai Super Kings, he would've been expected to spearhead the Maharashtra attack with some degree of success. That hasn't been the case so for - he has only six wickets in six matches - but the final is another chance for him to deliver a knockout blow.
Pujara, who was available for the group stage, won't be playing the final. He's with the India A team in Bangladesh preparing for a Test series. Saurashtra also won't have the services of left-arm seamer Chetan Sakariya
, who is nursing a finger injury he picked up in the quarter-finals against Tamil Nadu.
Saurashtra (probable): 1 Harvik Desai (wk), 2 Sheldon Jackson, 3 Jay Gohil, 4 Samarth Vyas, 5 Prerak Mankad, 6 Arpit Vasavada, 7 Chirag Jani, 8 Jaydev Unadkat (capt), 9 Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, 10 Parth Bhuth, 11 Kushang Patel
Maharashtra, meanwhile, won't have the services of Rahul Tripathi
, who is also away on national duty. He is one of two uncapped players part of India's ODI squad for the three-match series in Bangladesh beginning December 4.
Maharashtra (probable): 1 Ruturaj Gaikwad (capt), 2 Pavan Shah, 3 Satyajeet Bachchav, 4 Ankit Bawne, 5 Azim Kazi, 6 Rajvardhan Hangargekar, 7 Kaushal Tambe, 8 Shamshuzama Kazi, 9 Saurabh Nawale (wk), 10 Mukesh Choudhary, 11 Manoj Ingale
With the match beginning at 9 am, the team winning the toss could claim the advantage of bowling on a moisture-laden surface. A red-soil strip will also aid good bounce and carry. It's all set up for a fascinating contest between a fantastic Saurashtra seam-attack and a marauding Maharashtra batting line-up.