Captain Faiz Fazal believes Vidarbha's first match of the season, which they won against Punjab by an innings and 117 runs, "set the tone" for their victorious Ranji Trophy campaign. Vidarbha lifted the prestigious domestic trophy for the first time in their 61st attempt by beating Delhi comprehensively in Indore on the first day of 2018. Overall, Vidarbha registered an impressive seven wins in nine matches and only drew against Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh.
"The way we played the first game against Punjab - they are a great side and we got seven points from that game," Fazal said after winning the Ranji Trophy. "That set the tone and we started believing that definitely we can win this trophy.
"I cannot describe this feeling. This is what we work for. As a cricketer, you always think winning the Ranji Trophy will be the biggest thing. If you want to achieve anything, you have to go through the process and discipline and everything. Winning the Ranji Trophy has been the biggest achievement in my career. Playing for India was a big high for me, as an individual you get to achieve that."
Vidarbha dominated the Ranji final right from the first day when debutant Aditya Thakare struck in the first over of the match. They wrapped up Delhi on the next morning for 295 and even though Vidarbha were briefly in trouble at 246 for 6 in their first innings, they took a hefty lead. Fazal was confident at the end of the third day that he would get to lift the trophy before long.
"To be very honest, yesterday, when the day finished, I thought that [we were going to win]. I know we were talking about how we shouldn't lose our grip and everything, but I thought that we are going to win this game."
Vidarbha had a new coach this season - Chandrakant Pandit - who has a reputation of being a disciplinarian and a strict mentor. Throughout the final day too, when Vidarbha inched closer to the win, he barely displayed his emotions while sitting outside the dressing room and intently watching each and every delivery. Finally, victory sealed, the coach said the players had earned the right to let loose and celebrate.
"They deserve to celebrate, that [victory] is what they were waiting for," Pandit said. "I am sure my team and my captain must be very excited to celebrate and they should. There is no restriction, today you are not going to restrict them from anything. They can do whatever they want for they have been working hard throughout the season.
"I must thank the selection committee, they also contributed so much during our journey. And each and every person who has been working... I would like to especially thank the ground staff. The way they have been preparing pitches, given us nets every time we asked for it. They also deserve to be celebrating.
"We have been following our routines, which is the best part that the team has been doing. All credit goes to the players because they have put in a lot of hard work. I am also happy with the way they have respected me. The system which we have been following, they have never ignored that. The team is together, they started enjoying each other's performances. We stayed together all the time. We had certain kind of activities within the team [for] bonding. So the boys have done a fantastic job."
A day before the final, Fazal had clearly stated he was confident of winning the match because of the kind of wave his team was riding by winning the quarter-final and semi-final. Fazal had even said he was itching to "get the feel of trophy in my hands".
When he was asked after lifting the trophy on Monday when he had first thought they would win the tournament, he took everyone a few months back. "From day one," he said. "I never thought that we can't lift this trophy. I was in England before the season so when I came to Nagpur and when I met Chandu sir, first thing we discussed was how to win the trophy and then the process started for me. The team was already preparing for it but then I joined in the act and from day one of the preparation I thought that we should lift the trophy."
Pandit said his team of underdogs winning such a title will motivate teenagers to play for their state and will instil belief in them. "Everybody likes to win the cup," he said, "but this win will not only change the team, but in Vidarbha, every 14-year-old and 16-year-old boy will probably stand up and raise his hand that he can also win. That kind of culture I will be happy to achieve in Vidarbha."