If you are an outsider, it's not easy to tell apart Gujarat players from Saurashtra's if they are not in their team gear. What makes it trickier is that being from the same state, they speak the same language, and having played with and against each other in various tournaments apart from the Ranji Trophy, they have friends on both sides.
Case in point: on the eve of their semi-final clash, when Gujarat's fast bowler Roosh Kalaria, who was born in Rajkot, stepped on to the field for catching practice, Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat went ahead and greeted him. When the teams moved to the nets, Unadkat had a long chat with his opposite number Parthiv Patel.
All that means both sides are well aware of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and when they go face-to-face on Saturday in the semi-final of Ranji Trophy 2019-20, there will be a game to be won, and a final's berth to be grabbed. Both Parthiv and Unadkat acknowledged that while accepting the friendly ties.
"Everyone's friends here," Parthiv said at the pre-match press conference. "Many of these players [from Saurashtra] are posted in Ahmedabad for their jobs, so we know them well. We also come here often to play. Many of us have played together for West Zone but when it comes facing each other, it becomes completely different. Once you cross the boundary line, it's all about being one-up on them. It's a competitive game, we are playing a semi-final."
"I don't think there will be a lot of sledging or those things but we are going to play this game with the same passion with which we play against any other opposition." Jaydev Unadkat
Unadkat too expected a tough match without it being a sledging contest. "Yes, there are a lot of friends but once we go inside, it's going to be a tough contest," Unadkat said. "The challenge, the passion, the aggression - it's all gonna be there.
"I don't think there will be a lot of sledging or those things but we are going to play this game with the same passion with which we play against any other opposition. Even if we are friends, not both teams are going to win. There will be just one team coming out strong, and we want that to be our team. So it's gonna be a tough fight in the middle and we are going to put everything we have got for this game because we feel we are in the middle of a purple patch as a team and we just want to carry it forward game by game."
Apart from being the familiar foes, there are a lot many other similarities as well between these two sides. In Parthiv and Unadkat, both are led by seasoned campaigners who have played for India. Both have a strong core in place and have been doing well in the Ranji Trophy for the last few years. Gujarat won their maiden Ranji Trophy title in 2016-17 and have reached the knockouts in every season since then, while Saurashtra have been the finalists twice in the last four seasons.
This year also the two teams followed a similar path and qualified for the knockouts with one league game in hand. And if you leave Unadkat aside - who is currently the joint-highest wicket-taker in the tournament - there hasn't been a standout performer for either side. Neither has a batsman in the top 15 run-getters of the season, nor a bowler - apart from Unadkat - in the top 20 wicket-takers.
But despite it being a team effort, one name Saurashtra might miss on Saturday is Cheteshwar Pujara. Last season, Pujara had played crucial knocks in the quarter-final and semi-final, but currently he is in New Zealand with the Indian side. As per Unadkat, though, his side has learnt to play without their star batsman.
"I think it's now very much clear that it's not just Cheteshwar who is leading our batting," Unadkat said. "Yes, it was the case up to last year or maybe just before that but the guys are stepping up at the right time. If you see guys like Sheldon [Jackson], Arpit [Vasavada], Chirag [Jani], Prerak [Mankad], everyone has stepped up when the team required. One thing I really want this team to do is to not care whether we have Cheteshwar and Ravindra in the side. We can still be a good batting side."
When Parthiv was asked about Pujara's absence, the wicketkeeper-batsman was quick to remind that Gujarat too were without Jasprit Bumrah, even though Bumrah last played for Gujarat more than three years ago.
"He [Pujara] hasn't been playing for quite some time now, so it's not a big deal," Parthiv said. "And if you see many teams have players on national duty, so there is nothing about that being a plus point or a minus point. If you see, even we are missing Bumrah. Also, Pujara only played a couple of games at the start, and Saurashtra have reached the semi-finals despite that shows they not just rely on one player."
While both teams played down the pressure of playing in a knockout game by saying they have played many such games in the recent years, one point where the two captains differed was about the importance of a first-innings lead.
"I think the first innings will be very crucial," Unadkat said. "Whichever team does well in the first innings will have the advantage even though it's a five-day game."
Parthiv, meanwhile, was of the view that the first-innings lead didn't matter too much as it was a five-day game.
"In four-day games sometimes when you take the first-innings lead, the game shuts down there and then," Parthiv said. "But a five-day game gives you 90 overs extra, so it becomes a two-innings game. Even if you have conceded a 100- or 150-run lead, there's always a chance of making a comeback. That's where a five-day game becomes a completely different affair than a four-day game."
The last four Ranji Trophy games between these two sides have been all draws, with Saurashtra taking the first-innings lead thrice and Gujarat once. But each one of that was a four-day game. What new turn this friendly rivalry takes in a five-day knockout match will be interesting to see.