‘Khadoos’ Coach Pandit The Key to Vidarbha’s Ranji Trophy Glory
Chandrakant Pandit is a typical hard-nosed coach who keeps things simple and takes a straight-talking approach.
(This story was originally published on 2 February 2018 and is being republished on the occasion of Vidarbha’s second Ranji Trophy title.)
Success begets success, they say. No one confirms this more than Vidarbha's head coach Chandrakant Pandit. Having been a part of successful Mumbai Ranji campaigns as player and coach, Pandit 'knew how and what it takes to win'.
So when Mumbai decided to part ways with him, Pandit was only too keen to transfer knowledge to his new set of wards.
Mumbai lost patience with Pandit despite his enviable record: Five years as coach, finalists four times, winners thrice and loss just once! The lone defeat in Ranji Trophy final came last season when Mumbai lost to Gujarat. That was enough for Mumbai to lose patience.
Now at the end of a successful campaign in Ranji Trophy, Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) are left wondering whether they did the right thing by letting Pandit go. In the case of Mumbai cricket, it was the players who were not comfortable with Pandit’s style of working.
But it is with the same style of working of Pandit’s that has been a super hit with the Vidarbha players, who needed someone to push them out of their comfort zone.
A Coach Who Liked To Keep Things Simple
Pandit is a typical hard-nosed Mumbai coach who likes to keep things simple and is straight-talking in his approach.
The story goes that the day he landed in Nagpur to begin his stint, Pandit asked Prashant Vaidya, a former India bowler and Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) vice-president: What would happen to the prize money if Vidarbha won?
That was the confidence Pandit had when he took up the role. He is from the school of another former India cricketer, Ashok Mankad, who also developed a strong reputation as a coach.
Pandit is rated highly by his peers for being street-smart in his approach and for being a hard task-master. It is this approach that has left a lot of people divided about him as a coach.
How Pandit Led a Team Effort
But one former India player and ex-teammate of Pandit, Sanjay Manjrekar, wholeheartedly backed his colleague. In fact, after Vidarbha entered the final, Manjrekar tweeted the following:
"If you have a raw, talented team and want to make it a winning team, look no further than Chandrakant Pandit. Well done Vidarbha! #RanjiTrophy2017"
Another Mumbai and India player Abhishek Nayar replied to this tweet saying: "I concur"
Throughout the season, Vidarbha proved Manjrekar and Nayar’s words right. The presence of other senior pros like skipper Faiz Fazal and Mumbai import Wasim Jaffer only added to the muscle that Pandit needed to mould a campaign. Apart from Fazal and Jaffer, the squad was fairly new in terms of experience.
Pandit depended on the experience of Jaffer and also the bond that he shared with the former India opener largely when he started off. Jaffer had worked with Pandit during his stint with Mumbai Ranji sides and he hoped to carry the same forward. Skipper Fazal was also an old hand so it became easy to link up when Pandit formed the brains trust for the squad. The presence of professionals like Ganesh Sathish and Karn Sharma also helped settle the nerves in the dressing room.
The only other notable player of repute in the squad was the India international, Umesh Yadav, but he played just three games during the season claiming 14 scalps. In fact, despite the presence of Yadav in the classic come-from-behind win in the semi-final against Karnataka, it was someone younger who stole the show.
A qualified 24-year-old engineer Rajneesh Gurbani came to the fore with his 12-wicket match haul in the semi-final. Gurbani is now being talked about because of his 39 scalps in the season and also as a result of his second place in the highest wicket-takers’ list in the season.
But for Gurbani, the turnaround in the semi-final was a tribute as much to the team spirit as to the work put in by Pandit in the background. Gurbani, after the semi-final win, said:
I got quite emotional after getting the final wicket and saw Chandu sir’s reaction, tears came into my eyes. We have been following the same routine from the first match we played in the league stage against Punjab till today.Rajneesh Gurbani
Tracing Vidarbha’s Journey and Pandit’s Strategy This Season
Senior pro Jaffer confirmed the impact of Pandit when he summed up the win over much-fancied Karnataka in the semi-final. Jaffer was quoted as saying by Mumbai Mirror:
Chandu has developed the entire strategy, planned the practice sessions, and so on. He has given everyone confidence. Today’s youngsters need someone to pull them out of the comfort zone and he is doing that to a great extent, without a doubt.
The journey confirms the changed approach of Vidarbha during the season. Out of six league games during the season, Vidarbha registered four outright wins (Punjab, Services, Bengal, Goa).
In the other two drawn encounters, they gained a first-innings lead against Himachal Pradesh, whereas Chhatisgarh was the only side to whom they conceded points during the season.
Taking the step further than the knockout stage was a big move forward.
“May be the culture we have seen in the history of Vidarbha cricket....they have qualified for the knockouts, but could not take further steps. This is where they started learning and believing. So that was the major change. Young players who played with seniors and they wanted to win. Probably the self belief was not there earlier,” Pandit said after the triumph in the final.
Pandit has had a couple of stints with developmental India sides, but has largely been confined to domestic cricket. He has a keen eye for talent, as is evident from his results as a coach.
In countries like England, Australia and New Zealand, a successful domestic coach is at times attached to the national side on overseas trips or even as part of the support staff of age-group sides. This is beneficial both for the coach and the players.
If Pandit’s services are indeed utilised by the BCCI on such assignments, it will only supplement the work being done by the staff of Ravi Shastri and Rahul Dravid. It remains to be seen if such a radical move is considered or is debunked on account of being a conflict of interest!
(Chandresh Narayanan is former cricket writer with The Times of India, The Indian Express, ex-Media Officer for ICC and current media manager of Delhi Daredevils. He is also the author of World Cup Heroes, Cricket Editorial consultant, professor and cricket TV commentator.)
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