Few would have picked Gujarat to win the Ranji Trophy when the domestic season began. It is not one of Indian cricket’s traditional powerhouses, and underdog stories seldom sustain themselves over the course of a long, sapping tournament. When Parthiv Patel’s side made the final, the popular perception was that it had gone as far as it could go. For, the title round, on paper, appeared the most unequal of contests: in one corner, Mumbai, a 41-time champion, and in the other, Gujarat, here for the first time since 1951. But Gujarat has paid history little heed over the last few seasons; indeed, there has been a concerted effort since Parthiv took over, to break from the past.
The results have followed. Gujarat won its maiden national title, the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy (Twenty20), in 2012-13 and regained it in 2014-15. It then claimed its first domestic 50-over title, the Vijay Hazare Trophy, last season. These breakthroughs helped fill the side with the belief that the Ranji Trophy, although significantly more difficult to win, was not an unrealistic ambition. It is this conviction that proved the difference on a tense final day as Gujarat pulled off the highest chase (313 for five) in a Ranji final, consigning Mumbai to only its fifth runner-up finish.
Parthiv led by example right through, saving his finest for the tournament’s most important moment. His 143 in the fourth innings against Mumbai was a remarkable exhibition of grace under fire. He has also played a significant role behind the scenes in Gujarat’s revolution, establishing an honest, transparent culture within the team. The responsibility for the final decision still rests with the management, but everyone is encouraged to speak up. Several domestic sides across India are plagued by cricketers looking after their interests first and therefore pulling in different directions. Gujarat, by all accounts, has been successful in addressing this problem.
The team has also ensured that a talented generation which played junior cricket together was offered all the support and patience it needed to make the transition to the next level. Opener Priyank Panchal provided the batting spine, topping the Ranji table with 1310 runs, while fast-bowler Jasprit Bumrah and left-arm spinner Axar Patel changed the dynamic of the side, adding a cutting edge to the bowling. Gujarat was also not wary of looking outside the State for solutions. Experienced Uttar Pradesh left-armer R.P. Singh was signed to both fill in when Bumrah was away on national duty and mentor the seam-attack. As Parthiv said after the final, Gujarat had a long-term plan and the structure to implement it. This was a triumph born from a big dream, and kept alive by a painstaking attention to detail.