He has crossed 40. His name starts with ‘S’. At the time of writing, he is playing his last Ranji Trophy match. No prizes for guessing that the player in question is Sitanshu Hargovindbhai Kotak. If SRT, the other man on the verge of retirement, is a global legend, SHK is a giant of domestic cricket. In a two decade-long career, the 41-year-old Saurashtra batsman scored over 8,000 runs, with 15 centuries.
He helped Saurashtra reach the Ranji Trophy final, win the Ranji One-Day title and develop into the fertile ground that produced three current India players: Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja and Jaydev Unadkat.
A bizarre error on the part of Indian selectors prevented Kotak from playing for India. In the 1999-2000 Irani Trophy, he scored a hundred for Rest of India against Karnataka, facing an attack comprising J Srinath and Anil Kumble. He was 27. But the selectors, led by the sometimes Inspector Clouseau-ish Chandu Borde, thought he was 37. “I did not make a big issue because I did not want to jeopardise my career,” Kotak says. “When they realised the mistake they told me I would be selected for the India ‘A’ team to the West Indies.” This he was, but it’s not the same as India. What gives Kotak peace is that while he may have made the squad, he may not have made the eleven. “Our batting was very strong at that time,” he says.
Kotak was frank about his limitations. This humility and heavy Gujarati accent endeared him to cricket people. “Even a fifty by an attractive player would be noticed by selectors. [But] if I made 50 they wouldn’t have noticed. My only chance of making a name for myself was by staying at the wicket as long as possible.” He regrets not developing his game further. “I should have improved my batting, learnt to play strokes,” he says.
Kotak is a religious man. He says being God-fearing kept him on the right path. “In this game, there is scope for jealousy. [You worry] this person will go up, get credit. Going to the temple stopped me from doing wrong things because I felt God won’t be happy.”