Aditya Sarwate, Vidarbha’s tall and bearded left-arm spinner, is 29 and at the prime of his career. When he debuted in 2015, Vidarbha were still just perennial challengers. Their most popular cricketer Umesh Yadav was mostly away with the national team. However, a number of events have shaped Vidarbha cricket since, and Sarwate has been at the core.Faiz Fazal’s India call-up, albeit for one tour, Vidarbha’s rise from rank underdogs to Ranji Trophy champions, Rajneesh Gurbani’s journey from a civil engineer to a match-winner picked for India A, Wasim Jaffer’s penchant for runs among others.
Now, they’re a side that is aiming to defend their crown. In this time, Sarwate has seen his own graph rise from a sidekick to lead action hero.
Sarwate was primarily a batsman who bowled part-time. Narendra Hirwani, the former India leg-spinner, saw something special in his bowling when he was Vidarbha’s spin consultant in 2015, and insisted that he focus more on that aspect. While there was potential, Hirwani in an interaction with Times of India in 2017 revealed that he told Sarwate, “The wrist and head are like Shah Rukh Khan who is dancing in front, while rest of the body are like junior dancers.”
The changes Sarwate made to his action have worked wonders for Vidarbha. He is a part of a dominant spin trio that also includes Akshay Wakhare and Akshay Karnewar, the ambidextrous bowler. They picked up 79 wickets between them to complement Gurbani in 2017-18 as Vidarbha won their maiden Ranji Trophy crown. It earned Sarwate a Duleep Trophy call at the start of 2018-19, and he delivered there too with a five-wicket haul.
While Gurbani has struggled for form and consistency, Sarwate’s form with the ball has been instrumental in Vidarbha having the golden chance that is at their doorstep. Over the course of the last two days of the final against Saurashtra in Nagpur, Sarwate will have a chance to pick his 50th wicket of the Ranji season. As such, he holds the record for the joint-most for Vidarbha alongside Wakhare, who took 49 wickets in 2015-16.
Sarwate’s performance needs to be put in perspective. Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Saurashtra’s left-arm spinner who has played equal number of matches as Sarwate in this Ranji Trophy has so far bowled 475.1 overs for 55 wickets. Sarwate has delivered 390 overs in 18 innings to have a much better strike-rate of 47.7. He already has taken 5 five-wicket hauls including one in Saurashtra’s first innings.
Introduced into the attack in the third over for a short spell, he first removed Harvik Desai and then returned to have Vishvaraj Jadeja – both leg before wicket dismissals. He provided the biggest impact at the stroke of tea on the second day when he tried to put pressure on Cheteshwar Pujara with close-in fielders, and eventually prompted him to edge one to Jaffer at first slip. Considering Pujara’s remarkable form in recent times, it was a dream strike for Sarwate. As is well documented now, it was a wicket planned by the team management.
“I have seen him a lot in the Australia series (on television). He is a little tentative initially. He jabs the ball. That’s the reason a short-leg was kept. If the odd ball spin, there was a silly point,” Sarwate told reporters after the second day’s play. “Fielders keep planning watching on television. If you put fielders in his weak areas, that can curtail his shots. Our plan was to attack as much as we could. We didn’t want him to step out.”
The remarkable aspect about Sarwate’s game has been his consistency. He has 30 or more wickets in three out of his four seasons which is a no mean feat. It has helped that Chandrakant Pandit, one of the sharpest minds in the domestic circuit, is the coach since 2017, and Jaffer is one of the professionals. At 41, Jaffer can still be regarded as one of the best players of spin in the country and bowling to him hours in the nets is as valuable lesson as any.
Sarwate’s height also works to his advantage. He uses his shoulder to good effect, which allows him to generate good bounce. Having played most of his cricket in Nagpur, the way he has exploited the conditions in the final also indicates his understanding of the pitch.
At a time when questions are being raised about India’s next bunch of young spinners, Sarwate, who turned 29 in December last year, may not be the answer but is definitely a hidden gem. And to top it, his batting remains a crucial element in Vidarbha's line-up as he more often than not scored valuable runs in the lower middle-order.
Hirwani had hoped Sarwate wins more matches for Vidarbha. Right now, the mind will be on ten Saurashtra wickets. But no matter what the final outcome is, he has secured his place among an elite Vidarbha bowling club consisting of stalwarts like Pritam Gandhe, Umesh, Sandeep Singh, Arun Ogiral, Hemant Wasu and Prashant Vaidya among others.