Long, contrasting journeys to Ranji final

There are sunsets, and then there are sunsets. Sachin Tendulkar's sterling career drawing to a close will resemble the breathtaking sundown as can be witnessed from Marine Drive with the Queen's necklace sparkling in all its lit glory as dusk sets in over big, busy Mumbai. For Saurashtra's Sitanshu Kotak, 39, and with the crow's feet beginning to show just like Tendulkar, approaching the twilight of his career is more likely to be like the decorative spot lighting illumination of his town square's Race Course in Rajkot that comes on at sunset highly quaint, highly local.

Over the course of five days at the Wankhede Stadium which hosts the Ranji Trophy final, these two contrasting yet parallel careers will come to the fore. On Thursday, the two batted in nets on different sides. And for cricket fans, who have followed Tendulkar since his teenage years, it will certainly be a bold comparison to talk of Kotak in the same breath. Yet, it doesn't seem all that unnatural.

Kotak needs introduction for he hasn't spent his entire adult life under blinding spotlights. He's merely a batsman who has batted for 21 years for Saurashtra. Had BCCI not decided to telecast domestic games a few years ago, Kotak's face would've been remembered by only a handful.

The veteran batsman smiles when asked about his retirement. For, it's a tough call, after all. "I'm not a big player like Sachin or Shane Warne, who will be lifted on shoulders and taken around laps of a ground," he says quite bashful at the comparison. "I'm an average cricketer. I love the game and play it," he says in a thick tone.

In hindsight, Kotak knows the end is near but such has been his enthusiasm that it's hard to say good-bye. Tendulkar and Kotak are walking similar paths knowing the final station is not far away, but both are looking for that one more push, toiling harder than ever.

... contd.

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