From scoring a match-winning hundred against Bengal at Rajkot to claim the ‘player-of-the-match’ award, and help Saurashtra claim its maiden Ranji Trophy title three years ago, to be the top-scorer with a crucial 81 against the same opponent in an away final and enable his side to secure its second crown, ‘player-of-the-series’ Arpit Vasavada has remained a stellar figure for his team.
The 34-year-old, an unsung domestic hero who captained Saurashtra in the absence of Jaydev Unadkat this season, is enjoying his time on the field rather than putting himself under pressure by the weight of his own expectations.
In an interview with The Hindu, Vasavada spoke about his cricketing journey so far. Excerpts:
Q: How do you look back at the fantastic season?
A: From the start of the season, when we travelled to Assam, we got to know that Jaydev had been selected for India. That was a moment for all of us to cherish that finally, he got a chance to play for the country again. But that put me under pressure because I was supposed to lead the side in his absence.
From the first match, I never thought about winning the tournament or even qualifying. I was just going match by match. The first two matches were average for us as we got the first innings lead. We had some good individual performances.
The momentum-changing moment came in the third match against Mumbai. We were under pressure. Mumbai had won its first two matches and we did not have any outright wins. They had a very good side. They had Suryakumar Yadav, Ajinkya Rahane, Yashasvi Jaiswal and Sarfarz Khan. They were playing with a full side. Winning that match instilled confidence and belief in us that we could win without our star players.
In the fourth match against Delhi, Jaydev returned and took a hat-trick in the first over. We beat Hyderabad to secure three consecutive outright wins and top the table. After that we lost to Hyderabad, despite the presence of Cheteshwar Pujara and Jaydev, and Tamil Nadu (Ravindra Jadeja played that match). That brought us down to the earth but we learnt a lot.
The three knockout matches were special. Against Punjab, we had so many challenges in the quarterfinals. The match against Karnataka in Bengaluru was memorable as I got a 200 and we overcame some challenges on the last day to win. We were happy and got a boost as we knew Jaydev was making a comeback for the final. Like the match against Karnataka, three of our batters did well against Bengal in the final.
Q: Tell us the reason behind your own and the team’s resilience.
A: We were thinking about smaller targets without thinking too far ahead. Against Karnataka, I was looking for a smaller target of playing till lunch. I knew once the faster bowlers would be off, it would be easy to score against the slower bowlers. I focused on playing out the day, then the first hour of the next day. I do the self-talk to see off these things without looking at the scoreboard and it helped me. Now when I think about my double hundred, I get surprised that I could play that long.
Q: How have you turned into a match-winner?
A: I didn’t plan to be a match-winner. I was a consistent scorer but was not able to score 100s and 200s. I was getting a 50 or a 70, but used to get out playing a loose shot or due to a lapse of concentration. I have learned that I should not give up. I have started focusing on smaller targets which I can accomplish.
Q: How did you handle the challenges of captaincy?
A: I play club cricket in Chennai and I lead my side there. I lead my district team and department (AG) side. I have enough captaincy experience, but to lead a State team with so many great players was special. I was not under pressure because I just followed in the footsteps of our skipper Jaydev, who kept the atmosphere well. I tend to overthink a bit and I just needed to handle that.
Q: How did you keep yourself away from overthinking?
A: I started playing in 2012-13. When I got dropped from the team in 2017 or 2018 because I had a lean patch for about two years, I started enjoying my cricket rather than thinking about my performance. All those thoughts are not coming to my mind as I enjoy the game more. Even the Covid time helped me.
After we won the Ranji Trophy for the first time, I thought maybe I would play Duleep Trophy or Irani Trophy. But Covid struck and for two years there was no cricket. Now I think that anything can happen in life and I try to enjoy being on the field.
Q: Do you have expectations of playing at a higher level? Are you frustrated that age is not on your side?
A: Age is one of the factors. These things used to bother me and the pressure was always there before I got dropped from the State team. Thereafter I started enjoying each and every moment of my game, whether it is a district-level or any other level match. Now I don’t get frustrated as it is not in my hands. I am just enjoying the process.
Q: Any aspirations to play in the Indian Premier League (IPL)?
A: This year I was not part of the Saurashtra team for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy. I have been doing well in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. As a cricketer I want to play in the IPL. I have to keep performing for my team. My aim is to play in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and if anybody hires me that will be good. But I am not expecting anything as it is not in my control. I need to improve my skills.
Q: How did you start playing cricket?
A: My father was employed with the Railways and Cheteshwar Pujara’s father (Arvind) was also in Railways. He took me to Arvind Pujara for coaching. For practice, I still go to him. My father was crazy about my cricket. He did all the hard work when I was younger. After my marriage, my wife is looking after my cricket-related requirements. My father and my wife are the pillars of my cricketing career.
Q: How did you celebrate the Ranji Trophy win after reaching home?
A: My wife and two children were with me in Kolkata (for the final). Four generations of my family live together and my in-laws are in Rajkot as well. All of them celebrated after we reached Rajkot. They came to the airport to welcome us in the traditional way, with tilak and sweets.
Q: How proud are you of this Saurashtra team?
A: I am proud of this team. I am not saying this because I led this team. It’s a great team, a golden generation of cricketers. I am proud to witness such a great journey, from playing Ranji Trophy final against Mumbai in 2012-13, when we were thrashed, to winning it in 2019-20 and now recording a dominating victory, and being part of that journey.
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