Saurashtra's loss to Vidarbha briefly reopened talks of the team not able to get past the final hurdle - this was their third straight loss in a Ranji Trophy final - but Jaydev Unadkat, their captain, felt there were enough encouraging signs to bank on in the future.
"I think any loss would be disappointing, but I don't think it's more painful than the last two [finals]," he said. "The brand of cricket we played and developed this year has been special. The difference between what we lost when we lost the last couple of finals and this final was obviously the fight we put up. This special bunch of players that have really done so well and have the capability of winning the title. So, I would say it's not really painful this time around. I am really happy and proud with the way the guys put up this fight throughout this season, not just this match."
Sitanshu Kotak, Saurashtra's coach, said the biggest turning point in the final came when Vidarbha's lower order rescued them from a precarious 139 for 6 in the first innings and went on to more than double the score.
"To get to 312 on such a wicket where batting first was an advantage was a big thing," Kotak said. "If we could have restricted them to 250, it could have made a difference. [After] losing the toss on that kind of wicket we knew that it would become a difficult pitch to bat on in both second and fourth innings, so it was important to restrict them. At 139 for 6 we had the opportunity. If we had restricted them to 50-60 runs less then we would have also got to bat earlier than when we batted on a pitch which was deteriorating gradually from day two. "
Kotak said despite that setback 200 was chaseable. "For me 200 was still on. It wasn't a score that you can't chase. I thought we had a 50-50 chance. We could have done with one good partnership."
Kotak has been part of Saurashtra's all three losses in a Ranji final - first as a player in 2012-13 and then as coach in 2015-16 and now - but still he remained positive.
"In the last four years Saurashtra have contested three major finals - two Ranji and once in Vijay Hazare Trophy," he said. "So I cannot be more critical of my players."
In a contest that went into the fifth day, Unadkat singled out Vidarbha's spinners, particularly Aditya Sarwate, for making the difference. His twin strikes of Cheteshwar Pujara for 1 and 0 in both innings left Saurashtra's middle order with a tall task on a challenging VCA surface. Sarwate took a match haul of 11 for 157 to finish the season as the third-highest wicket-taker, with 55 wickets in 11 matches at an average of 19.67.
"It's all down to a couple of mistakes together, that said, their spinners bowled better than ours," Unadkat conceded. "Even to Cheteshwar [Pujara], the way he bowled, credit has to go to Aditya. The way he kept bowling at him, if Pujara would've settled on that wicket, he could have defined the game. To get him out early in both innings is creditable, that's why they came out on top of us."
Unadkat repeatedly pointed towards Saurashtra's new brand of cricket. He underlined this by explaining how a young batting line-up punched above its weight at different times this season, none more significant than in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, where they chased down 372 and 279 against Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka respectively.
Unadkat also spent considerable time explaining why the loss - as hard at it was to swallow - also gave hope of a brighter future. He was asked point blank if the team froze at the finish line, he was asked if they were "soft", but the captain countered it calmly and went the extra mile to put his views across.
"I don't think so, the way we have played, if you've seen us play in the quarters or semis, the intensity we showed, it didn't come across as soft at all," he said. "We play to win, we will play to win, this is the spirit. Desperation arises from the fact that when you lose, you start the blame game, and want to take credit when the team wins. That isn't the case with our team. Even when we lose, we learn from our mistakes, when we win, it's not about me or Cheteshwar. We weren't desperate. Yes, we were eager.
Unadkat refused to be drawn into Pujara's fourth-innings dismissal as a major reason for their inability to chase down 207. "I always believe in a fourth-innings chase, a couple of guys have to step up, either the openers or the guys batting at No. 3 or 4 to really chase it down. Because pressure takes toll on anyone, be it any player," he said. "In a game like this, the pressure would be high on players. I still feel they put up a fight; we fought till the end, till the last wicket was lost. It's just about one bad innings, one collapse. That was the difference between both sides."
As someone coming in to play the knockouts after a successful tour of Australia, Pujara's words to the team in the dressing room, after they had lost, spoke of the character and spirit this Saurashtra side stood for.
"Cheteshwar himself said, whatever teams he's played in, the kind of team spirit we've shown this season is unmatchable," Unadkat revealed. "We really don't have too many players who are playing for India or India A, so it has to be the team that has to do well and that's what we have been doing.