Gujarat won the 2014-15 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy to make their first impact on the national scene. © Yusuf Pathan/Twitter

Gujarat won the 2014-15 Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy to make their first impact on the national scene. © Yusuf Pathan/Twitter

The Board of Control for Cricket in India has astutely scheduled the dates for the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in order to provide opportunities for the players and options for the selectors before the squad for the World Twenty20 is picked. The selectors had the benefit of watching the Vijay Hazare Trophy which concluded recently, but given that T20 is a more demanding format than the 50-over game, the current Syed Mushtaq Ali edition assumes significance. Moreover, the games in the Vijay Hazare Trophy produced some topsy-turvy results, what with fancied sides losing to seemingly lesser opponents, but one has to concede that the pitches were a bit unkind, at least in the knockout phase.

Gujarat thrashed Delhi in the final to assert their supremacy and in the process end the year with two domestic titles in their kitty. They won the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy in April 2015, which would reflect in 2014-15 season. It was a deserving win for the Parthiv Patel-led side, which has been doing well in the shorter formats of the game in recent years. A triumph in the Vijay Hazare Trophy had eluded a unit that was enthusiastic, young and hungry. But eventually, the hard work put in by Gujarat during the preceding four years paid off at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore a few days ago when Parthiv and Rudra Pratap Singh played stellar roles in making Delhi look undercooked.

Gujarat proved that a side needs to play as a unit more than being heavy in terms of star cast, and this is a lesson that all fancied teams need to take from the Vijay Hazare Trophy. The likes of Rujul Bhatt and Jasprit Bumrah, along with Axar Patel and Rush Kalaria, performed consistently to help Gujarat go all the way. Now that they have tasted success, they will need to maintain the standards they have set for themselves. They will be under some pressure as they start their Syed Mushtaq Ali campaign as the reigning champions, simply because success can play some teasing games with individuals as well as teams. Besides, Gujarat as a side was enjoying its cricket without any expectations but now, their opponents will be fired up.

A lot of credit for Gujarat’s success should go to Parthiv, who has kept himself motivated and made men out of boys. It would have been an easier option for Parthiv to play as a professional elsewhere, but he has opted to stay on and serve the state that provided him plenty of support and encouragement in his formative years. He may play for another state at some stage in the future, but as of now, he has played an influential role in Gujarat becoming a force to reckon with in domestic cricket. Of course, the form of a team and an individual is vulnerable to fluctuations, but on the basis of current performances, Gujarat have earned a lot of respect.

It will be interesting to see how Gujarat handle the expectations henceforth. In that regard, the Syed Mushtaq Ali edition that is currently underway will be their ultimate test. As the defending champions, they will be expected to fare well and retain the trophy, but a T20 game is like the English weather — anything but predictable. Axar has been the biggest beneficiary of the T20 format and though he may not be available for this particular tournament, his rise to stardom should serve as an inspiration for others in the side. The Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy will attract the eyeballs of not only the national selection committee but also the talent hunters of the various IPL franchises. Consequently, there are enough and more reasons for all the players involved in the tournament to display their talent with an eye on the bigger picture.

My best wishes to the readers for the New Year! May 2016 bring you and Indian cricket greater success!