If you ever have witnessed a Chandrakant Pandit net session carefully, you might fail to understand his process at first - one moment, he seems like a best friend to his wards and a moment later, a hard task-master. A coach of varied philosophy, you might say.
It was the eve of the 2015-16 Ranji season semi-final between Mumbai and Madhya Pradesh in Cuttack and the Mumbai team, which decided to stay in the luxurious Mayfair Lagoon Hotel in Bhubaneswar unlike their counterpart who stay put in less-fancied Cuttack’s Blue Lagoon, reached the venue well in advance. You could see the urgency in their plans, the alacrity to get things going and show why they are so celebrated and so successful in Indian domestic cricket, leaving the others to play catch-up possibly for the next century and beyond.
Helming them forward was a certain Aditya Tare before the calm and reassuring voice of a middle-aged man ordered Akhil Herwadkar and Bhavin Thakkar to have the first go in the nets. I was standing just a couple of feet away from the action and what unfolded before me remains to this day a lesson in how a coach should be. Chandrakant Pandit was neat, clear in his plan and knew what exactly he had to say to his wards to get them prepared for the semi-final after Karnataka established their hegemony in the past two years, lifting their own treble.
In the pre-match press conference, I couldn’t help but ask him how he indulges and immerses himself in every detail. And his answer was a pearl of one-sentence wisdom - “because that is how it should be done”. It was a powerful line and a statement of a man who knows what he is saying- not for nothing he has won more Ranji Trophy titles as a coach than anyone has in the last few decades. And in the next four years, he has shown that that is how it is done as Vidarbha, the team he managed after a successful stint with Mumbai, emerged as one of the success stories in Indian domestic cricket, claiming titles twice consecutively from the apparent wilderness.
His attention to detail and one-on-one sessions were the reason behind Vidarbha following a set method that led to their success, as Faiz Fazal told SportsCafe during last year’s Duleep Trophy. In 2016, Pandit, then Mumbai coach, had developed a sore relationship with few of the officials of Mumbai Cricket Association, and upon Vidarbha’s first international player and chairman of the cricket development committee Prashant Vaidya’s insistence, he decided to move to Vidarbha. After his arrival, Pandit brought in his regimental work ethic and putting winning-ahead-of-everything formula, and that rubbed onto the team when the unassuming players like Aditya Sarwate, Akshay Wadekar, and Rajneesh Gurbani started shining, with an able Faiz Fazal leading the way.
After getting a full hand from Shashank Manohar and Vaidya, who had played under Pandit’s leadership in the past in several West Zone games, Vidarbha identified the players who can win them the trophy and accordingly, they formulated their strategy. Nevermind Umesh Yadav's comeback for the knockouts that made an instant impact, bagging the man of the match award in the semi-finals against Kerala.
Pandit’s inclusion also brought a structure that most domestic teams are not acquainted with. Here was a man who was not going to bow down to any association pressure and was ready to do everything required so as to bring the most of any players. Vidarbha players were raw and ready to go through the rigmarole. It reaped dividends eventually. While players of most states play Ranji Trophy so as to get into the India A side, Vidarbha started playing for that damned Trophy, to prove that what they had achieved in the 2017-18 season was not a fluke by any means. And we all know the result, don’t we?
Vidarbha might not have been able to replicate the same this year, faltering after a super start to the campaign, but that is no way the end of Pandit, the coach. And the reports that he has taken over the coach of Madhya Pradesh Cricket team, who he represented for six years in the past, comes as another great news for the expansion of a style that is proven and successful. In the recent past, Madhya Pradesh, even after the retirement of their grand old man Devendra Bundela, shifting of Harpreet Singh Bhatia and Jalaj Saxena and absence of Naman Ojha owing to a bad run of form, has held fort thanks to the likes of Mihir Hirwani, Yash Dubey, Ravi Yadav, and Venkatesh Iyer.
They have a bunch of talented players who have been willing to put in shifts and have never shied away from giving their all. A couple of years ago, Mihir Hirwani, son of former Indian spin ace Narendra Hirwani, revealed in an interview with SportsCafe that he bowls no less than 100 overs a day in the nets for five days a week to hone his skills. And that's how he mastered Shane Warne’s “Zooter” - a type of flipper which drifts inside with an erect seam position. That very aspect of hard work is something that has been the prerequisite of the Pandit school of coaching. If they can sustain that, then fasten your seat-belt and wait for a fine ride of glory in Madhya Pradesh cricket.