Celebrated coach Chandrakant Pandit added another achievement to his already glowing CV by guiding Madhya Pradesh to their maiden Ranji Trophy title win recently. The team got the better of 41-time champion Mumbai in the summit clash and an emotional Pandit was seen wiping tears as he celebrated with the squad members.
News18 caught up with Pandit for an exclusive conversation as he opened up on a range of subjects.
You coached Mumbai and Vidarbha and met with success; in fact won five national championship titles. Why did you make this particular career move to Madhya Pradesh?
Frankly speaking, after three years with Vidarbha, I was keen to take a break. But Sanjeev Rao (former MP player and now Secretary of MPCA) had spoken to me in March 2020 about coaching the MP Ranji Trophy team. I had played for MP for six years (44 matches) as captain. I thought about the support the state association gave me. I was very much aware of the MP cricket culture that had begun from the Holkar days.
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When I played for MP, many people extended full cooperation to me like Madhavrao Scindia ji, Chandu Sarwate ji and Sanjay Jagdale ji. So when Sanjeev Rao made the offer, I took a couple of days to think about it. I thought probably God wanted me to go back to Madhya Pradesh. I thought it would be a challenging job, and why not accept it ? So knowing the cricket culture there and people there I accepted the offer from Sanjeev Rao.
You touched upon the cricket culture there in MP? If you can reveal a few aspects of it?
Look, Madhya Pradesh was previously coached by Ashok Mankad and Sandeep Patil. So there was a lot of the Mumbai cricket culture that had percolated into MP cricket. Mankad and Patil had passed on a lot of knowledge about the game in these parts, like Mumbai’s approach and attitude. One could see that, feel that.
Going back further, one has to look at the contribution of Col. C.K. Nayudu and Syed Mushtaq Ali ji. All these factors made things a little easier for me. The MP players already knew the style of coaching, style of playing and also the ways to approach the game and demonstrate the attitude required.
I would also recall a fact that, when I captained the side, I was able to get young players like J.P. Yadav, Syed Abbas Ali, Naman Ojha and Devendra Bundel. Players like Rajesh Chouhan, Narendra Hirwani and Amay Khurasiya were already there. They were all talented and well-developed players.
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I could see the mindset of these players inculcated in them by Mankad and Patil. I had to continue with that as captain then. I was a little different though, I was a little harsh and straight. It took some time for the then players to come to terms with. We reached the semi-finals and final in my previous association with Madhya Pradesh.
So what was lacking in MP cricket, it could not go to the level to produce a champion team and champion players?
A couple of virtues of the Mumbai cricket culture are - to score big centuries and win matches away from home. And also that if Mumbai doesn’t win the Ranji Trophy, it was said that the season has not gone well. Maybe this was absent in the MP cricket culture. Perhaps the players did not believe that they can reach the final and win it. We came close to win the title in the 1998-99 season.
So in this final I told them that, if they are good to be in the final, they should show it against Mumbai. The mindset has changed, the apprehension or fear of not able to win the final would have gone. And one would be able to see this in the coming years.
So what was the difference coaching Vidarbha and MP?
Wasim Jaffer was there when I was with Vidarbha and that was a big advantage. Also, Ganesh Satish was there, a lot of experience there. Faiz Fazal was the only player who I thought had a lot of talent. We had to work on the others. We had to develop the talent and in the process achieved a lot.
I am a little aggressive, the language I use to put it across, a bit harsh. It’s difficult for some players to accept my style at Vidarbha and even at MP.
Madhya Pradesh had quality players like Shubham Sharma, Yash Dubey and Rajat Patidar. Aditya Shrivastava did not have a particularly good season, but he has done well. Also, Ishwar Pandey.
My aim now is to find players who can serve MP cricket for the next ten years, we have players for the next three to four years. So I have no worries as a coach now, we have quality players. The other big difference is the support from the MPCA, which is different from the other associations. MPCA has accepted my way and process of coaching without any hesitation.
You used the words “being aggressive and harsh" with the team/players? Are they receptive and accept it?
With certain players I have to be harsh with words in order to hurt their egos. No way is the intention to put them down, but to encourage them to put their best foot forward. For example, Kumar Kartikeya Singh (left arm spinner) was, maybe, a little overconfident. Perhaps a little casual. So I had to really pump him up in my Mumbai language.
How do you run the practice sessions? What was the MP training and practice sessions like?
We practised right through the day (9.30 AM to 4.30 PM) during the camps with lunch and tea breaks. This is to ensure that they did the same thing as they would do in a match. And simulate match situations. And that’s probably the reason, Shubham, Yash and Rajat could play the whole day.
In the last two seasons we had camp sessions for 400 days. We finished a knock-out match in Bengaluru in two and a half days and immediately went for practice. This is what coach Ramakant Achrekar sir has taught us.
This style of practice also helps in developing mental toughness. This is the reason they were able to handle the final against Mumbai so well. From the dressing I could see Shubham and Yash showing the Mumbai “khadoos" attitude.
You had 21 players at Bengaluru, the numbers would have been more at the camps?
The camps were not an exclusive activity for the Ranji Trophy players. It’s a mix across all age groups, including the women. I have tried this format in Mumbai and Vidarbha too. In all about 150 probables drawn from 6 or 7 teams. The senior MP team practiced with the senior Ranji Trophy team. This is meant to develop the culture, self-confidence.
But before the season starts, we separate the Ranji Trophy team practice sessions. This is how, as a youngster, I got the confidence batting with Sunil Gavaskar. Akshat Raghuvanshi is an under-19 player; when he was practicing with the senior team, I realised he was good enough to play at a higher level. This is how you can spot talent as well.
Perhaps it was easy to find talent in the batting department, but not the same in the bowling department?
I have even asked Kartikeya to see the old videos of former left arm spinners, that’s one way to go about improving. Saransh Jain the off spinner is not a regular member of the team. But we also follow the horses for courses policy. We believed that the pitches in June-July here in Bengaluru would help the spinners. It was like telling Saransh that he is good enough to bowl in such conditions. We noticed his improvement from the quarterfinals. And after the semi-finals we decided to stick with him.
Aditya and I never thought that the seamers, Anubhav Agarwal and Gaurav Yadav would have to bowl 42 overs on the first day. We did not want to give the same pace to the Mumbai batters, bowling the two spinners. And the previous evening both Anubhav and Gaurav agreed to do whatever the team wanted to.
Where does Kumar Kartikeya Singh stand among his peer group of left-arm spinners?
He is a steady bowler with a lot of confidence in his own ability. He keeps on asking me if he can bowl one or two chinaman deliveries. I have never stopped him. He did it successfully in the final. He can be overconfident and feeling low too. I think he fears me as much as his parents. There is hardly anyone of his calibre. Yes, he should be able to make it to the higher level.
Did you have a hunch that your team can go on to win the Ranji Trophy final?
I thought so after seeing them in the early days of the league, especially after the matches against Gujarat and Kerala could make out that they have the hunger to win. This is what we discussed, Mumbai having gone through all situations and winning matches and finals.
This was the toughest season because only one team qualified from each group of the league phase. We would have done this even in a nine team league. We were confident of getting the better of Punjab in the quarterfinals and winning against Bengal in the semis set the tone to believe that we can win the final.
What was the key element that you impressed upon your team before the start of the final?
When both the teams were lined up, I said to myself that both teams do not have the experience of playing the final (except Dhawal Kulkarni and Prithvi). I told this fact to the Madhya Pradesh players to enthuse and energise them.
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