One of the big differences for first-time Ranji Trophy finalists Vidarbha this season has been the presence of their new coach Chandrakant Pandit in the dressing room. Pandit coached Mumbai for several seasons in the past, but coaching Vidarbha has required a different mindset. Now ready to face seven-time champions Delhi in the Ranji final in Indore, Pandit discusses his philosophies, the culture and brand of cricket he inculcated in the Vidarbha dressing room, and how he instilled the self-belief to win on big occasions.
Your first season with Vidarbha and their first time in the final. How happy or surprised are you?
I'm not really surprised because every team plays to win. We won our first match against Punjab and in cricket we say a good start is always crucial for a promising season. So that win was really good for us. And the way we have been performing after that, it gave us a lot of self-belief and we can see that in the team.
How did you want to coach Vidarbha? You must have had to change your expectations after coming from Mumbai
I have played so much for Mumbai and have coached them too, so you develop a particular mindset. You have certain expectations and standards, and that's what I transferred to this team. I wanted to develop a winning habit by instilling confidence in them. They are all good players at this level but you need a certain mindset. That's what I was trying to do.
I don't believe in individual performances. What matters is them coming together for the team. Wasim [Jaffer] is very experienced, he is also from Mumbai and brings the same culture with him. His presence in the dressing room and on the field made a big difference. We also have Subroto Banerjee, who has played for India. Such support makes a big difference. The players have the ability so our job was to increase their confidence and self-belief. For example, we told them how a team like Mumbai won 41 times and what kind of a mindset you need for that. It was the job of us experienced men to pass this on to them and that's what we tried to do.
What was the brand of cricket you wanted Vidarbha to play?
You need a different mentality if you want to win. We wanted to inculcate the winning habit. The advantage of beating a team like Punjab early on was that we had the confidence to beat Bengal later on. Then against Himachal Pradesh also we took eight wickets and put up a strong performance despite taking a first-innings lead against them. Then in the semi-final we beat a team like Karnataka who have the reputation of winning all the time. And that too after they took the first-innings lead. The way our boys showed confidence and stepped up was excellent. Like they say, once you learn how to tackle the big waves in the sea, [you can do anything]. This Vidarbha team was not used to all this earlier. Even the way they came back against Kerala, it boosted their self-confidence.
How does one instil self-belief or self-confidence?
You have to motivate the players from time to time whether during the game or off the field. One thing is they will learn with such experiences and the other is I try to boost their confidence when I talk to them about my own experiences. One important factor is, we all try to stick together. I tell them we shouldn't be happy with our own individual performances, enjoy your team-mates' performances too. We also try to spend as much time together as possible. Whether it's dinner time or any team activity, we always try to be together.
What is the one thing this team has done in its preparations that has worked very well this season?
One thing I'd say is that this team follows its routines with a lot of discipline. We give a lot of importance to the process of preparation. We don't know when the results will show or when they won't but our job is to follow these routines and processes. That's what we give importance to.
Our preparations were equally important both on and off the field. On the field you can only try, but off the field we believed in keeping a very healthy and enjoyable environment. For example, the semi-final brought out the fighting spirit of the team. It made the team believe that if you try, you can achieve anything. So they played together as a unit and passed that fighting test and that gave me immense happiness.
Who have been the top performers for you this season?
Each player has contributed in this. For example, four times we saw our opening partnerships cross 200 runs between R Sanjay and Faiz Fazal. Along with their runs, we had the experience of Wasim Jaffer and even Ganesh [Satish] performed really well. You already know how well [Rajneesh] Gurbani has done. One added advantage was the presence of Umesh Yadav in the team which boosted our morale.
Gurbani said that you would make him bowl inswingers for an entire day and then only outswingers the next day. Did you focus on any other player in a similar fashion?
He (Gurbani) had both the skills but that was my attempt to bring in some mastery into that so that he could bowl either of those at will. We have an upcoming bowler [Siddhesh] Neral so we try to develop the same habit in him. He's an inswing bowler so we want to see him bowl outswingers as well. This is what we try and do during the nets.
Similarly, for batsmen, there are times when batsmen have to focus on the next delivery after taking three runs. So we practiced with different patterns and match simulations. The idea was to get them used to such situations.
What will Vidarbha be remembered for from this season?
The way they have covered this journey so far, I hope that god supports them because the way they have shown courage and spirit as a team, that needs to go on. If we win the final, it will be a big inspiration for the next generation and create some belief and passion for the younger players. Then the Under-16 and Under-19 players will aspire to play for Vidarbha in the Ranji Trophy. Then the main players from the Vidarbha team will aspire to play for India one day.
Is there anything you want to improve in your team for the final?
There's always a gap in between matches so I only hope that the team doesn't get complacent before the final. I want them to give them their best because anything can happen in sport so I want them to play with that fighting spirit. I'm very confident that they will not bother about their opposition and will put in their best.
It will help cricket overall in the country too, for example players like Dhoni have come from Jharkhand, so winning the final will be a great sign for cricket in our country. It will make every team believe that they can win and the competition will increase throughout. The BCCI has been trying to develop cricket in every state. So if such a team wins, it will be good progress for the other states too.