Vidarbha reap rewards of planning with repeat triumph

Vidarbha reap rewards of planning with repeat triumph

Vidarbha players celebrate with the Ranji Trophy after defeating Saurashtra in the final in Nagpur on Thursday. PTI

Till a couple of years ago, Vidarbha were marginal players in Indian domestic cricket. While the Vidarbha Cricket Association for long have been one of the major players in the affairs of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), the performances of their various teams didn’t quite match up to the influence they wielded over the Indian Board.

After Vidarbha became only the sixth team to win back to back Ranji Trophy titles following their 78-run defeat of Saurashtra on Thursday, they can now claim that they are a major force to reckon with on the playing turf as well. The Chandrakant Pandit-coached side showed that its maiden triumph last year was no fluke by repeating their feat in front of a small but raucous home crowd. Vidarbha thus joined Mumbai, Maharashtra, Delhi, Karnataka and Rajasthan as the teams with two or more successive title wins.

Vidarbha’s rise as a major force in domestic cricket has been a captivating tale. From a side that was just content in participating, there has been a radical change in its thinking. There was no lack of infrastructure and there was no dearth of talent in Vidarbha but getting the team to click as a unit had remained a difficult task. Before their title triumph last year, they had reached quarters in two successive seasons. The progress was there but something was missing. Pandit feels the team suffered from that complex wherein you lose the match against a big team before you step on the field. The former India stumper says his first task was to instill that winning mindset.

“Humari soch badalni thi, uske upar maine stress kiya tha (we had to change our thinking and I stressed upon that),” he offers.

The process to bring in the cultural shift began with former Bengal and Vidarbha paceman and VCA vice-president Prashanth Vaidya persuading a reluctant Pandit to take over as the coach. Pandit’s methods of coaching haven’t been universally popular but three titles in four successive finals (he won one with Mumbai in 2015-16 and lost in 2016-17)) prove they are quite effective. And Vaidya was convinced that Pandit was the right man for the job.     

“Earlier, we didn’t have the right set-up, right coaching methods,” Vaidya points out. “I forced Chandu to come here, telling him you have to come here. Then when I got him here and if I got complaints (from any player), I wouldn’t complain, because knowing his methods, I was getting him. I have known him, played with him, I had no right to object (to his methods). He knew that he will follow his method in Vidarbha. His method was important. When I played, I knew where we lacked, what mindset, that needs to be changed. Players had the caliber, but there was no bonding. With Chandu coming in, and the players responding, that bonding happened. That is why we have the results. How the players play with calmness, intensity and focus, that is more satisfying,” he elaborates.

Pandit started his assignment in the 2017-18 season by asking Vaidya what will happen to the winners’ prize money. In asking so, Pandit had indicated his quiet determination that he wasn’t going to settle for anything less than a title. He sat down with Vaidya on August 7 last year to talk to players and get a sense of their mindsets.     

“We could judge three types of players, one who is thinking of playing cricket, one who is happy to be in the team and one who wants to play higher class of cricket,” Pandit points out. “That study helped us. We needed to make a plan based on that study. We gradually started developing the team. The mindset changed. The winning mindset, once this is sorted out, the team will always think of winning the tournament.” 

Pandit is known as the hard task master and his coaching methods are debatable. He is even known to slap players in a fit of anger but Vidarbha players feel the strict style was necessary for their team. And the results are there to back his approach.

“Strict discipline is a routine we have been following for the last two years,” says skipper Faiz Fazal. “But it was really productive, because we needed that. Our team was such that it was necessary to be a little strict so that everyone pulls in the same direction that ‘we want to win the trophy’. It was not about preparing well so that an individual can perform well, but about performing (as a unit) because we wanted to win the trophy. That thinking changed us -- from individual performance to a team goal,” he observes.

Pandit, on his part, is happy with the kind of character the team showed through the season and it shone the brightest in the final.  

“The way this final was played, I say, the main thing that needs to come out of cricketers is the character,” he notes. “The way the game was going up and down and there was uncertainty. During that time, the way the players showed the character was important. So for me, in winning the final, the character we showed was important. Last year, we sealed the (final) game in first innings; in Irani Cup too we sealed the game that way. But here, our character came out. Knowing Vidarbha players, they’ll learn from this and continue with this and that character will remain.”