Ranji Trophy 2018-19: Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal ready for title defence

Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal is confident that his side will put up a good show in the upcoming Ranji Trophy and insisted his team is not living on past glory.

Winner of the 2017-18 Ranji Trophy, Vidarbha would hope to retain the title. (File Photo)   -  PTI

From not being talked about as one of the fancied teams to going all the way, Vidarbha went on to win the Ranji Trophy 2017-18 season, defeating heavyweights like Delhi and Karnataka.

As Vidarbha gears up for the 2018-19 season opener against Maharashtra on Friday, skipper Faiz Fazal spoke to Sportstar on how his team is gearing up for the title defence.

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Q) In the 2017-18 season, Vidarbha had a fairytale run, where it came from nowhere to win the Ranji Trophy title and also clinched the Irani Cup. As another season beckons, what are your thoughts?

A) Last year’s feats are history now. It is a fresh season and just like last year, we have maintained a similar plan. We have started match simulation and have prepared ourselves accordingly. The team is in good touch and thankfully, there are no injury concerns. But yes, since it is a new season, we are a bit nervous but I am sure all that will take a backseat once we take the field against Maharashtra at the MCA Stadium in Pune.

With success comes the pressure of expectations. How do you plan to tackle that pressure?

Expectations are definitely high, and it is important to accept it and move on. It is a new season and we need to focus on our performance. We have come so far because of our performance last year and we need to maintain that. And at the same time, it is very important that we don’t think too much about all these and concentrate on the job in hand.

For the last few seasons, Wasim Jaffer has been the batting mainstay for the team. But being someone who is 40-plus, Jaffer has not played much of cricket recently. How do you see that?

Wasim bhai  is one of our most experienced members and he is batting very well in the practice sessions and there is absolutely no pressure on him. His presence has always bolstered the batting line-up and it will be the same this time around. The youngsters are also doing quite well and are dreaming of doing something bit. With more opportunities coming their way, they will also step up.

For a team, an opening partnership is quite important. How are the opening batsmen shaping up this time?

As openers, myself and Sanjay Ramaswamy need to step up and repeat what we did last year. We cannot afford to think too much about how we should plan because that eventually will add to the pressure. So, it is better that we walk into the field with an open mind and play our natural game. Even Chandu Sir has a similar advise that we should bat normally and there is no point in trying out anything extra. Because that will pile up the pressure of expectations. It is important to watch the ball and play according to the situation. That’s what we are aiming at.

What are your targets as a captain this time?

The focus will be on developing the skill position and play as per the situation. As a captain, it is important to read the situations right and play smart cricket. I have always made it a point to play instinctively and that has benefited the team last season. I want to continue with that and inspire the boys in every situation. The good thing is that here we have Wasim bhai and other seniors who are always there to help. So, that is one thing which helps me handle situations better.

Last season, you had a surprise package in pacer Rajneesh Gurbani. Now that he has featured in almost all the domestic tournaments and is also a part of India A, batsmen have a fair idea about him. Do you think that for Gurbani, the real challenge starts now?

It has been a learning experience for him because he is now used to playing in so many conditions. That's the best way of looking at it. The good thing is that not many can maintain such a good balance between seam and swing which Gurbani does brilliantly. In today's time, there will be many bowlers with 140-plus speed, but only a few possess his skill.

However, the side will miss him for a major part of the tournament because he will be in New Zealand with India A team. What are your other options?

Now that he will be in New Zealand with the India A team, we have to look forward to young guns like Darshan Nalkande and Aditya Thakare. They are doing well and Darshan is definitely one for the future. I am excited to have them in the squad.

Last year, the bowlers found a great support in bowling coach, Subroto Banerjee. But now that he has shifted to Bihar. How much will the team miss him?

Subbu sir has always been there to help the team, so we will definitely miss him this time. But I am happy that he is working as the head coach of Bihar and I wish him all the best.

Heard, you are unleashing a new medium pacer this time. Your thoughts on the new bowler?

(Laughs) Yes, you might see me bowl a few overs this time. I worked on my medium pace during the county stint in England and also bowled a few overs during Duleep Trophy. So, it will be fun to bowl a little in Ranji Trophy as well.