EVERY aspiring cricketer has the desire to play for his state in the Ranji Trophy because it is a feasible goal that one achieves through consistent performances in club, college, university and district matches. It puts one on a platform from where he could realise the dream of eventually playing for the country.
The blood, sweat and hard work that a First Class cricketer puts in makes him emotionally attached to his state side and to his colleagues. The most prestigious culmination of this bond is to play the Ranji Trophy final and win it with a bunch with whom he has spent countless days of ups and downs. Unfortunately, this was not to be in my career. I was a part of the 1973 Maharashtra side that needed to score just 120 runs against Tamil Naidu to get into the final, but on a good batting track we collapsed for 96.
The next opportunity was when I was captain of Saurashtra in the 1980-81 semi-finals against Delhi. We got a 50-run lead at tea on the third day and had the match well in our grasp. I had wrenched my knee while bowling and felt safe to go the hospital to get it treated. On my return, I saw we were 99 for 7 and went on to lose the match next day.
These were the two golden opportunities that I missed.
A superb performance by Saurashtra has got them this year to play the final against the king of domestic cricket, Mumbai. But the absence of key players is a sad reflection of our domestic cricket.
Saurashtra missed their most prolific run scorer in Cheteshwar Pujara and in-form allrounder Ravindra Jadeja, much more than Mumbai feels the absence of Ajinkya Rahane and Rohit Sharma. The strong and experienced Mumbai batting can withstand the absence of their two stars, but for Saurashtra it was crucial to have their stars.
The final should have participation of the best players.
Postponing it by a few days could have had the presence of all the stars. This would have given the boost that domestic cricket requires. A bit of flexibility would have given us a truly memorable contest.
The release of a sidelined Pujara or a Rahane would still have been an acceptable solution, especially as India are 3-1 up in the series against England.
Playing for India is a priority when proper cricket is at stake. The 50-over format is still not in that category, it is not a game but an entertainment in the name of cricket.
Therefore, even though we are the world champions and the No. 1 One-Day International side, the critics have not proclaimed us kings of the game.
My sympathy lies with Pujara, Jadeja, Rahane and Rohit. Let us hope they get another chance to play a national final or they will, like me, lament the opportunity lost for the rest of their lives.
(The writer is a former Test cricketer)