Cricket News By TODAYLIVESCORE.INFO - MP's Ranji Trophy win - stories, bamboos and shenanigans. Madhya Pradesh's players pose with the trophy after their historic triumph against Mumbai
Madhya Pradesh's players pose with the trophy after their historic triumph against Mumbai
Even as the case on whether Chandrakant Pandit’s appointment as the head coach of Madhya Pradesh is illegal or not remains pending in the Jabalpur High Court, the team has returned home to a grand celebration on Monday. The quintessential celebration – Garlands, sweets, dhols, a Rs 2 Crore reward and a visit to the Khajrana Ganesh Temple. It was soon predictably followed by politicians and office bearers seeking political mileage, taking centre-stage in what was supposed to be a felicitation of the winning team at the Holkar Stadium in the evening they arrived in Indore.
Except for Gaurav Yadav, the pacer who was concussed and under observation on the victory night, all the other players of the squad were present – taking seats on the flanks and the back row. Pandit testified to having never received such ‘samman (respect)’ in any of his previous five Ranji Trophy wins with other teams – Mumbai and Vidarbha.
It may have been a special victory of Madhya Pradesh, but for Pandit it was just another storied Ranji Trophy campaign – having taken three different teams to five finals in the last six Ranji seasons, winning four of them.
How did he do it this time?
On Sunday evening, Shubham Sharma, the 28-year-old right-hander, is dressed in a floral shirt and ripped jeans, all set and ready to leave for the after-match party at Hotel Ashok Lalit in Bengaluru when his roommate informs him that he isn’t following the dress code.
Shubham is worried that he doesn’t have another pair of trousers to wear. It doesn’t matter that he is part of the winning team and the player of the final, and that he can party wearing whatever he wishes to. The fear of breaking the disciplinary codes of the Pandit-run team is real… even when it doesn’t exist.
The Madhya Pradesh Hockey Association players greeted the Ranji Trophy winning cricketers at the Indore airport
Madhya Pradesh vs Gujarat, Rajkot – win by 106 runs
“There were times we would practice at nights – from 10 PM to 5 AM to train our minds,” reveals Yash Dubey. “He wanted us to get used to being uncomfortable, for us to break away from our patterns. Our preparations were precise, complete and intense.”
The pre-season message was clear, as Shubham Sharma says. “Even when we lost in the Vijay Hazare Trophy last two seasons, our meetings were always about sir telling us ‘you’ve missed a title’. He would often – during practise or even at team dinners – say that there is going to be no leeway, we need to win the title, nothing less. Earlier our vision wasn’t such. There was always some apprehension.”
In the first game, after being bundled out for 274 in the first innings, Madhya Pradesh restricted Gujarat to 331 and turned the contest around in the second innings. Rajat Patidar and Aditya Shrivastava counter-attacked Arzan Nagaswalla’s bouncers, while Shubham Sharma scored a steady 103 to help the side to 251 before bundling out Gujarat to 88.
“When we were reduced to 235 for 7 on the opening day, on a flat track, we were down. On the first day of the Ranji season, we felt as if it was gone,” Yash Dubey admitted.
Having to defend 196 in the last innings, there wasn’t a lot of support from the pitch. But Pandit had laid the trap for Gujarat’s downfall – what field to set, who should bowl, what to bowl – Kumar Kartikeya claims. “Kartikeya had told sir the night earlier that if I don’t win this game for the team, I won’t play the next match. He came in with a strong determination,” adds Yash.
Shubham says, “The first match was really important for us. That set the tone for us to bounce back.”
Meghalaya vs Madhya Pradesh, Rajkot – win by an innings and 301 runs
“We had heard a lot about Chandu sir, that he was strict and very disciplined,” Yash says. “So we knew we were in for a change when he joined us.”
To sleep on time and stay away from mobile phones being primary among them. Just the fear of being found online late at night is enough to keep players at bay. Shubham goes on to explain the perks of Pandit’s methods. “There are no restrictions as such, but he would often tell us the benefits of leading a disciplined life. Now, even if we aren’t having a team dinner, you will find seven to eight of us having dinner together. That’s become a habit now. And we’re enjoying it”
What does he usually say – is there a line that he often repeats?
“Gaalis,” Shubham says jokingly. “Whatever comes in his mind, to whoever comes in his way.”
The game against Meghalaya was an easy cruise, on expected lines, but Pandit didn’t sit too easy on the players despite the big win. “Even in that match when someone played a poor shot, the player got scolded. He would often say ‘You have to respect cricket’. That is what we learnt from him, which we applied in the later games,” says Yash.
Shubham adds, “It’s not only about the matches, even in practise or simulations, if you get out to a good ball, he won’t say anything. Even if you fail for 10 matches, he will play you in the 11th. But if you don’t respect the situation or the game, it won’t matter how many runs you score. Sir aapko bamboo denge. That has slowly crept into us. Now, you won’t see anyone play a shot that isn’t required.”
Madhya Pradesh vs Kerala, Rajkot – draw
Before the final match of the league phase, Yash was promoted to open the batting, a move that was revealed to him three days before the game. The practice of being put in a position of discomfort worked.
“He told me that he wants to see both Akshat and I in the team. He said my technique was good enough. He gave me the confidence that if I failed as an opener, he will understand that I’m a middle order batter. So that assurance and confidence helped.
“I told him ‘Sir mein soldier hoon. Mein goli khaane ko bhi tayaar hoon aur maarne ko bhi, aur mein sabko maarunga’.
“I took my mind to that zone. I started reading up, tried to visualise and kept writing notes in my diary. I kept reminding myself for the next few days. When I went out to bat, I was unable to control my nerves but I wasn’t anxious anymore.”
He went on to bat for two and a half days and cracked 289.
Yet, in reply to Madhya Pradesh’s 585 for 9, Kerala was cruising on 369 for 2 in the final session on Day 4. Qualification chances to the quarterfinals had come down to the run quotient. Calculators were out and all the players were informed about it as well.
“Earlier, we would never realise these details. In that match, we knew everything. We knew exactly how many wickets to take and what score to restrict them to. The only thing was that sir was telling us a lower score. Just so that even if give away a bit more, it was fine.”
But all those numbers proved to be of no use as Ishwar Pandey and Kumar Kartikeya triggered a collapse in the final session. Kartikeya claims the pep talk in the Tea session did wonders. Yash details the conversation. “He told us, ‘f you’ve put in so much effort, cricket is testing us. You haven’t bowled badly, you’ve kept at it.” He gave us his own example of how he lost a final in 15 overs. He said, “You have 26 overs left, that’s a lot of time. Put in all that you can.”
Kerala were reduced to 432 for 9 by the end of the day’s play and Madhya Pradesh qualified.
Punjab vs Madhya Pradesh, Quarterfinal, Alur -win by 10 wickets
Yash and his opening partner Himanshu Mantri had kept the Punjab bowlers at bay for more than 32 overs after dismissing them for a below-par 219 in the first innings, yet the former was crying in a corner of a bathroom after getting dismissed.
I was batting on 20 after playing 88 balls, so I got desperate that runs were not coming and I ended up playing a bad shot to Mayank Markande. Only six or seven minutes were left for lunch. “In the evening, sir told me, ‘You’ve done well for the team. It’s a good attack and the ball was moving around a bit. So you’ve done well for the team, saw off the new ball. You made the cake but didn’t eat the cake’.”
Even though Madhya Pradesh won the contest by 10 wickets, he wasn’t so nice on the rest, not even on Shubham who had cracked another century. He believed the players, expecting an easy win, lost their intensity towards the end.
“All of us got yelled at and with the match getting over early, he told us, ‘what’s the point of going to the hotel? All you guys will do is sit in front of your mobile phones. Stay here and practise instead’.”
Madhya Pradesh vs Bengal, Semifinal – win by 174 runs
“In the quarterfinal, Bengal’s top nine batters had scored at least a half-century,” says Kartikeya. “So, as a bowler, there was a bit of nervousness. But we were also aware that they could be overconfident.”
The good form didn’t matter. With the ball turning sharply from the second day itself, it was obvious that batting on the surface would be a tough challenge. Kartikeya picked up eight wickets as Bengal struggled in the chase.
“Earlier, there was a lack of planning, in terms how to trap a batsman,” says Yash of the change in the current MP team’s progress. “Now, under Chandu sir, we have a plan for everything. Maybe the other teams also do that against us. Bengal clearly came in with a plan. They were attacking my stumps at all time. There were times that the ball strayed down the leg, but there was a plan”
Yash, however, wasn’t in the best space of mind – having registered scores of 9 and 12 in the two innings. “I got two wrong decisions,” he claims. “In the first innings, I got an edge but the umpire declared me legbefore. In the second innings, the ball was going down the leg, yet I was given out. I was feeling low.”
“Sir keeps telling, never to stray from the process. I did everything that was expected of me. I fielded well, shining the ball, batted as expected, yet the game didn’t turn out for me the way I wanted it to. Sir said, “See, you disrespected cricket in the previous game by playing a bad shot, now you got two wrong decisions. That’s God’s way of giving it back to you.”
Shubham Sharma’s first after-victory call, “Maa, hum Ranji Trophy jeet gaye.”
Mumbai vs Madhya Pradesh, Final – win by 6 wickets
“In every game, sir says the same thing ’till the time the last ball is not bowled, till we don’t get the last run, the match isn’t won’,” Shubham says.
Even though Madhya Pradesh had taken a 162-run lead in the first innings with less than four sessions of play left, there was no room for the players to relax. “After the third day, we were strictly told that these talks shouldn’t happen, not even on the dinner table that the match is over. Two days are too much for a game to change.”
Yash gives further insight into the thought process. “Sir would always say, we have to respect cricket – every session, every ball. Because the game changes every 45 minutes. He told us, it’s like weather, it can change any moment. There are 15 to 16 minds playing at all times on the field – 11 fielders, 2 batters and a few coaches.
“Sir told us not to give them a window to get back into the match, especially against Mumbai, who can bounce back. They know how to get up from a lost situation. They know how to change the game, it’s in-built in them. They are learning these tricks from childhood, we are learning it only now through sir.
“We were slightly scared with the way Mumbai counter-attacked (on the fourth day) but then sir told us our average score for 480. He told us that we can chase totals of 150 to 200 very easily. He told us that Mumbai will attack our minds, they know how to do it. And they tried to do it. Sir knows Mumbai’s cricket, so he told us what was coming our way.”
Shubham followed up his century in the first innings with a fifty in the second as Madhya Pradesh overhauled the 108-run target to win their first Ranji Trophy.