June 28, 2022: They have won the Ranji Trophy 41 times including a world record run of 15 years in a row from 1958-59 to 1972-73. But on Sunday at the Chinnaswamy stadium Mumbai the domestic cricket giants went down before the exemplary teamwork displayed by underdogs Madhya Pradesh, who notched up their maiden triumph in the premier national competition. In doing so the central Indian state side kept up the recent tradition of the trophy doing the rounds. The dominance of the major teams – Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka – is a thing of the past. In the last 20 years, teams such as Baroda, Railways, Saurashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Vidarbha, UP and now MP have won the title, in some cases more than once. In a way this symbolizes the changing face of Indian cricket itself for there have been numerous cricketers representing the country who are not from the traditional strongholds or major cities but from smaller towns.
While it is without doubt a significant moment for the players for a change it was the coach and not one of the cricketers who was the cynosure. And with good reason for the person concerned happened to be Chandrakant Pandit. The former Indian cricketer who represented the country in five Tests and 36 ODIs with modest success has achieved bigger things in his new role. Add to his success with MP five other titles as coach, three with his home state Mumbai and two with Vidarbha, and you get the picture of a man with the golden touch. More than the team he has been receiving plaudits aplenty headed by former Indian coach Ravi Shastri who played a lot of cricket alongside Pandit for Mumbai. Acknowledging Pandit’s feat Shastri said “To go across three states and win Ranji Trophy trophies is a remarkable achievement and a true reflection of his dedication and commitment to the job.”
At the same Chinnaswamy stadium 23 years ago Pandit, then leading MP, endured the heartbreak of losing the final to Karnataka. This, after MP had gained a first innings lead of 75 runs only for the home team to turn the tables and win by 96 runs. A dejected Pandit was in tears at having come so close to getting MP their first title only to see the trophy snatched away. Little wonder then that he turned emotional on Sunday even as he remembered what happened all those years ago adding “I owed MP the trophy I missed out on.”
According to Sanjay Jagdale, former MP cricketer and veteran administrator, Pandit is also ready to take responsibility for failure and this really makes him stand out. “If something turns out to be unsuccessful he takes the responsibility and when some players do well he gives them the credit. If his decision or strategy fails he doesn’t play the blame game. He gives credit to the guys who do well. Players know that if Chandu has picked you they have his full backing.”
A big name in cricket circles in MP Pandit aged 60 has now earned a new respect as coach all over the country. He has garnered a reputation as a person who can get things done as he has proved time and again. His cricketing acumen is second to none and at his age he is an endearing father figure to the boys. With all that he is a no-nonsense coach who prefers a free hand when it comes to cricketing matters and fortunately administrators sensing his integrity have given him just that. Pandit is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of his players, which player should be spoken to sternly and which player should be handled gently. Over the last couple of years he has instilled confidence in them and the ultimate result was seen on Sunday. In man management skills Pandit has few equals.
(Partab Ramchand is a veteran sports journalist, the views expressed here are personal.)