With a fortnight to go for five years to lapse since his epic 359 (unbeaten) in a Ranji Trophy contest, Samit Gohel found himself at the same venue where he scored all those runs – the Sawai Mansingh Stadium in Jaipur. The scenario, however, was very different: the top-order batter was now plying his trade for Tripura in a bid to resurrect his white-ball career.
Having made his debut in 2012-13, Gohel wasn’t a name many people had heard of in India’s domestic circuit until he made a splash with his record-breaking innings for Gujarat against Odisha four years later. It was the highest score for an opener carrying his bat in first-class cricket, and it is a record that stands to date. So when Gohel went back to the venue to play the Vijay Hazare Trophy after five years, memories came flooding back to him. And he made some runs, too: in six innings, he scored 358 runs at 89.90, the first time he was among the leading run-getters of an elite domestic tournament since the memorable 2016-17 season.
“I still remember every moment of that match,” Gohel, now 31, told Sportstar in an interaction.
“When I came to know that our Vijay Hazare Trophy matches will be held in Jaipur, I knew I was going back to the same place where I scored my triple century. When I went back to that dressing room, I sat at the same place where I sat when I played that match in 2016-17. I kept my kit bag there; when I was warming up, the memories came back to me – what I did when I got to 100, then 200, then 300, and how my team members cherished it…I recalled those memories,” he said.
That 2016-17 season was memorable not only for him but for his entire team. Gujarat had won the Ranji Trophy for the first time, on the back of a bucketful of wickets from Jasprit Bumrah, R. P. Singh and Roosh Kalaria, and a torrent of runs from the opening pair of Priyank Panchal (1310 runs) and Gohel (914 runs), and the captain Parthiv Patel. Parthiv’s 763 runs included a pugnacious 90 and 143 in the final against then defending champion Mumbai.
It was one of Gujarat’s greatest cricket teams, and it all came together under a determined and plucky captain.
“We were really keen to qualify for the knockout stages,” recalled Gohel.
“We had made it to the knockouts in the recent past. Parthiv and the rest of the team knew the calibre of the group. During this phase when we won the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Ranji Trophy, most of us who were playing since our U-16 days were in the senior group. It united us, and we backed each other. We knew each other’s game as well.
“Parthiv put it to us in clear terms: our target is to win the trophy. We’re no more thinking of only qualifying from the group stages. ‘No qualification, only champion’ – that was our motto. And we were asked to be positive in every situation we found ourselves in. We were playing in neutral venues that season, so that benefited us as well,” Gohel said.
But there was more to the win than the hard-nosed approach before the tournament.
“Many of us in the team played junior cricket together, and in 2012-13 many of us from that group debuted in the senior team. Parthiv was a very good captain and knew how much could be squeezed out of every player. He built the entire team keeping in mind the goal of winning the Ranji Trophy.”
Moreover, Parthiv’s intuition on the cricket field was a great asset to the team, according to Gohel.
“Nearly all of my career – 50 first-class matches – I stood beside him in the slips. If we required just one slip fielder, be it a fast bowler or a spinner, I would be in the slips. I used to listen to him, see how he operated. The on-field decisions based on situations – he used to specialise in that. And that’s how we were able to overcome a tough situation,” felt Gohel.
Back to reality
Gujarat never reached those highs again, and Gohel couldn’t quite be as prolific again. The next season, he scored 246 runs in nine innings, then 63 runs in six innings, and in 2019-20, 502 runs in eight innings. But what troubled him more was that he wasn’t getting to play the Vijay Hazare Trophy and the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, the two top white-ball tourneys: he played a total of two matches for Gujarat in these tournaments since 2016-17, both in the 50-over format.
“I wasn’t getting many opportunities in white-ball cricket and I can’t restrict myself to just red-ball cricket. Tripura called me during the off-season, saying they were interested in hiring me as a professional. I said give me some time. I spoke to my coach Apoorva Desai and my father-in-law. If you want to progress, you need to play all formats, [so I accepted their offer],” Gohel said.
But was he open to returning to the Gujarat team at some point?
“I haven’t thought so much about whether I’ll return to Gujarat. But if they’re interested, then I can consider returning. But right now, my focus is only on Tripura. I’m always available for Gujarat because you can understand, my heart lies there, because it’s like my family there. We’ve been playing together since we were young kids. Roosh Kalaria, Chirag Gandhi, Axar Patel, Jasprit Bumrah, Dhruv Raval, Bhargav Merai – we stay in touch and sometimes meet up as well.”
Gohel may not be one of the stars from the title-winning team of Gujarat who can boast of their India or India ‘A’ epaulettes, but thanks to that one innings, he will remain in a few elite groups. And perhaps that’s the beauty of it: record books need not be filled with only colossal figures.