Spurring a bunch of underdogs to India’s biggest prize in domestic cricket is no small task but so confident was Vidarbha coach Chandrakant Pandit that he had made inquiries about rewards for the improbable feat at the very start of the Ranji season. After winning their maiden Ranji Trophy following five decades of trying, Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) vice- president Prashant Vaidya recalled the time when Pandit, after being signed up last season, asked what they would do with the prize money. Surprised, the VCA official had asked Pandit what prize money was he referring to? “The one for the Ranji Trophy winners”, replied the multiple-time winning coach. “That was so confident of him, that this man was already thinking of winning the trophy, so I thought Vidarbha is definitely going to have a good season. I started believing on the first day he (Pandit) came to Nagpur,” Vaidya said after the nine-wicket win over Delhi in the title clash here. Seated beside Vaidya was Pandit, who has an enviable record as coach in first-class cricket. The former India player, as coach, has won the title thrice, reached the final four times. The lone defeat, to Gujarat in last season’s final, was enough for Mumbai to show him the door.
Mumbai’s loss turned out to be Vidarbha’s gain. Having been a part of so many of Mumbai’s triumphant campaigns — both as a player and coach, Pandit knew what it would take to win. “I have always been thinking about the achievement. Everybody wants to win the title, but I think, this win will not only change the team, it will also have an impact on the youngsters. The players of 14 or 16 years can also raise their hands and say that I can win. That’s the kind of culture I would be happy to achieve in Vidarbha,” the 56-year-old Pandit said.
A hard taskmaster, Pandit has his own ways to operate and doesn’t like interferences. “We have been following our routine and that’s the best part, we have done. All credit goes to the players as they have put in the hard work. I am very happy with the way they have respected me, and the players have never ignored the system we have followed. “That is one of the major things. The team is together, they have started enjoying the sessions. We stayed together all the time and there were certain kinds of activities in the team. That’s a fantastic thing.”
Pandit praised the support staff for helping him immensely in the endeavour. “When you don’t do well, people say there is no unity in the side. That’s not the case. Support staff is equally helping. Bowling coach Subroto Banerjee has been of great support. “See the performance of fast bowlers — especially (Rajneesh) Gurbani — that has helped. Wasim Jaffer, Satish have been role models.
“Today, youngsters like (Akshay) Wadkar have performed because players like Faiz (Fazal) have passed on positive energy in the dressing room. We are grooming them also. We have been talking to Prashant regularly about team combination,” he emphasised.
Pandit said some performances took him by surprise. “Look at Aditya Thakare. I was not too convinced initially but Prashant convinced me. I was thinking whether VCA will make or break him. But now the U-19 boy is now a part of history and he will always remember it,” he said.
Making his first-class debut, Thakare, who is a stand-by in India’s U-19 World Cup squad, picked up a wicket in the match’s first over.