Samit Gohil's childhood coach and father-in-law Devang Desai (L) and wife Shikha (R) at the Holkar Stadium, Indore to show support. Photos: Chinmay Jawalekar
Samit Gohil’s childhood coach and father-in-law Devang Desai (L) and wife Shikha (R) at the Holkar Stadium, Indore to show support. Photos: Chinmay Jawalekar

Indore: On Tuesday, when Day One of the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 final went underway here at the Holkar Stadium in Indore, the only sound that could be heard in the first hour’s play was of the ball hitting the willow. Of course there were the occasional cheers from the fielding side, but as far as crowd is concerned, there was little action. As the game progressed, people started coming in to fill the lowest tier of one of the galleries. Soon there was some noise, some random cheers, but they were all neutral; for there was no Madhya Pradesh in the Ranji final or no Team India in the house. The 500-odd fans were thus, neutral.

Since Mumbai were batting and some familiar players — thanks largely to the IPL — like Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav were in the middle, Mumbai team managed to find some support. Gujarat, on the other hand, did not enjoy much support till the second session. The presence of RP Singh and Parthiv Patel did inspire a few chants from the crowd, but that remained restricted only to the time when the former bowled or the latter made an occasional dive to hold the ball. Away from home, Gujarat still longed for support.

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Things changed as the final session began. Gujarat were on top, having taken 6 Mumbai wickets. There was sudden buzz above the press box, in the Capt. Mushtaq Ali Pavilion. A gang of six members had arrived to cheer for the Gujarat side. They were loud, they were boisterous and their presence seemed to have infused a fresh energy into the Gujarat side. Equipped with a large flag which had Gujarat written over it, whistles and unmatched spirit, they quickly became the cynosure of all eyes.

Leading the gang was a certain Devang Desai, who had come all the way from Anand in Gujarat. At first, he appeared to be just another cricket enthusiast. However, there was much more to his personality than what met the eye at the onset. It was revealed soon as we started the conversation and he introduced himself as a passionate supporter of the game and a cricket coach, who runs New Anand Sports — a sports shop catering to the needs ever increasing Sports Goods — and Elecon Cricket Academy — an institute that nurtures young talent from the grass root level and helps them in taking their cricketing dreams forward. He is the chief coach at the academy which began in 2015. Besides, he is also the honorary secretary of Anand District Cricket Association (ADCA).

Interestingly, Desai happens to be Gujarat opener Samit Gohil’s childhood coach as well as father-in-law. He, along with his daughter and Gohil’s wife Shikha, and a couple of relatives arrived in Indore on Tuesday morning to cheer for Samit and his side. “It is a historic occasion,” he said, adding “there is no way we could have missed it.” He was referring to Gujarat’s entry in the final only for the second time in the history of the tournament.

Desai, who has been coaching Samit since the latter was 12-years-old, has travelled to Nagothane and Belgavi along with his gang to cheer for his son-in-law and Gujarat this season before coming to Indore for the final. “We were there for Gujarat’s fixtures against Madhya Pradesh at Nagothane and Punjab and Tamil Nadu at Belgavi. We just want to support our team and players, who have worked really hard this season”, said a cheerful Desai.

Being Gohil’s childhood coach, it was natural to ask him what different did his ward do this year to notch up 889 runs in 9 matches before the final. “He has worked really hard this year. He remained focussed on scoring big runs and put in best of his efforts. Samit strives to improve the performances all the time,” said Desai of his favourite student, who continues to train at his academy nets even today whenever he is in Anand.

Not long back, Samit had scored 359* against Odisha in the Ranji Trophy 2016-17 quarter-final — an innings that etched his name in the record books for being the highest score by an opener while carrying his bat in the history of First-Class cricket. After that effort, Samit had returned back to Anand to a rousing reception. His wife Shikha, who too was cheering for her husband and the state side from the stands, said it was a special day which the Gohil family will never forget. “We were very happy and proud for his achievement. The phones were ringing, people kept pouring in at our residence the day Samit played that knock,” she said with a chuckle, before quickly adding that the knock is history now and her husband has his eyes set on the final.

“His entire focus right now is on the final. I want him to do well and for that, I will not mind even if we do not get to meet during the match,” said Shikha, like a dutiful wife. “He wants Gujarat to win the Ranji title this year. We all want Gujarat to win it. Even though he has scored runs this year, nothing will please him more than the title win,” she said.

Shikha’s presence meant that the lady luck did shine on Gohil on Day One, when he got a life on the first ball of the innings. Prithvi Shaw dropped a simple catch being offered by him. However, he did not capitalise on it and got dismissed early on Day Two. But he still has one more outing to make it count and please his coach in the stands. “My childhood coaches Devang Desai and Hiren Patel always told me that temperament is the key in First-Class cricket,” Gohil had said after his marathon knock in the quarter-final. Thankfully for Gujarat, he has it in abundance.

Gohil’s (and Priyank Panchal’s) failure notwithstanding, there is a strong possibility of Gujarat’s title-drought actually ending this year. They have made a good start to the game. If they can sustain the momentum and get continued support from their ‘gang’, the title could be theirs.