Playing a part in Saurashtra's success is close to Unadkat's heart
Captain says India team management was supportive of his decision to leave the Test squad and play the Ranji final
For Jaydev Unadkat, the decision to leave India's Test squad in Delhi, and instead represent Saurashtra in the Ranji Trophy final was a no-brainer.
"Saurashtra has played an important part in my comeback and success, and it was not difficult to make the decision for the final," Unadkat told ESPNcricinfo after the first day of the Ranji Trophy final. "I had a chat with the India management, and they were also supportive of the decision. Playing a part in Saurashtra's success is close to my heart.
Unadkat made an impact right away in the final, winning the toss, inserting Bengal in and striking in the first over with Abhimanyu Easwaran's wicket. In the same spell, he had Manoj Tiwary edging to gully from around the stumps and finished with 3 for 44, with Bengal folding for 174. It was the first time since the 2017-18 final that the team winning the toss chose to field, and Unadkat said his decision to risk batting last was due to the bowler-friendly conditions on day one in Kolkata.
"The green tinge on the pitch played a part in making the toss decision easier in a final," Unadkat said. "But there were also skills at play from the other bowlers to get the early breakthroughs. We knew we had to maximise the early advantage in the surface because the pitch got flat as the day progressed. We knew that would happen, so it was crucial to get their big wickets while there was some moisture.
"My attacking plan to a right-hander has often been from around the stumps, especially when the ball is swinging. For a right-hand batter, ball moving away from around the stumps can be tricky."
This is the first time "full DRS" is being used in a Ranji Trophy game. Saurashtra went for it twice, but neither review panned out, and the one time they chose not to go upstairs, they ended up giving a life to Shahbaz Ahmed. The Bengal allrounder was on 38 when the on-field umpire turned down an lbw shout only for replays to indicate it was out. Shahbaz would go on to score 31 more runs.
Unadkat said that DRS in domestic games is new for many of his players, and therefore erroneous calls are part of the learning process. "Given how the first innings ended, it isn't a big concern now," he said. "It is also not often that domestic cricketers are playing with DRS in action, so it is new to them too. It happens on the field sometimes, but the introduction of DRS in itself is a big positive."
Match not over yet - Bengal captain Tiwary
Even though Bengal are on the back foot in their pursuit of a Ranji Trophy title for the first time since 1989-90, their captain Tiwary retains hope of taking a lead.
"The match is not over yet," he told reporters. "There is still possibility that we bundle them out and take a lead. I say that because I feel the wicket tomorrow could be like today.
"We have already discussed the areas of improvement. It's about eight-wicket taking balls and we must ensure to not leak runs tomorrow."
Light fades quickly in the evenings in Kolkata so day matches here start half an hour early, which brings the bowlers into the game that little bit more. Bengal, whose lead now is a mere 93, are hoping to exploit that.
Tiwary was happy with their response after Saurashtra raced away to 38 for 0 inside six overs. In the next 11 overs, Saurashtra scored only 45 more and lost two wickets to finish on 81 for 2. The difference in the two periods of play was a huddle called by Tiwary between the sixth and seventh over, when it appeared that the Bengal players were down on energy from the early assault off Harvik Desai's bat.
"Everyone had become quiet and their morale dropped after a few boundaries were hit," Tiwary said. "So it was important to remind them that the match is far from over, and told them to bowl with dum [energy]. And you saw we got two wickets before stumps.
"Cricket is a muscle memory game, sometimes you are not in rhythm. If you release late, you bowl short, if you release early, you bowl half volleys. All season, this was the worst start from our bowlers, but it is fine. We hope to improve tomorrow."
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo. @sreshthx