Chandrakant Pandit is a tough taskmaster. One of the game’s finest tacticians, Pandit’s coaching CV is studded with many a stellar achievement. After back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles with Vidarbha, he has now led Madhya Pradesh (MP) to Indian domestic cricket’s biggest prize for the first time. MP may not be a traditional domestic powerhouse like Mumbai, Delhi, Karnataka or Tamil Nadu, but it has talent, and Pandit, or as Dinesh Karthik likes to call him – ‘Alex Ferguson of the Ranji Trophy’ – has galvanised that talent into a cohesive, title-winning unit.
Pandit discusses his philosophy, the brand of cricket he wants his team to play, and more.
You’ve won the Ranji Trophy before as a coach but is this title win with Madhya Pradesh the most gratifying one yet?
Madhya Pradesh had played the final against Karnataka at the same venue 23 years ago. I was the captain then, the team was different, and the times were different. I used to play for Madhya Pradesh in ‘94-’96 [1994-95 to 2000-01]. For almost six years, I played. We had a capable team that deserved to be in the final.
Narendra Hirwani, Rajesh Chauhan, Devendra Bundela, J. P. Yadav, and Amay Khurasia were big names. But we lost to Karnataka in the final session. That made this victory taste sweeter. We were all very emotional when we started the final this month. Maybe this was God’s way of telling me that we deserved it after 23 years.
We have learned from our predecessors to be calm and relaxed and not get excited till the last ball. Even in victory, we do not want to go overboard with celebrations because cricket is a great leveller. It is just one game that’s over.
— Chandrakant Pandit
What has been the greatest satisfaction for you as the coach of the MP team?
The most important thing is the team had that hunger to win in any situation we found ourselves in. That has been the difference in the last couple of months. Our guys were very hungry to win matches and to perform. They looked mentally tough to handle pressure situations. It’s a sport: one team will win, and one lose. But attitude is important. The gung-ho approach we showed against Gujarat [106-run win] in the first league match was very satisfying and set the tone for the remainder of the season. There was some guy or the other who stood up to the task with the ball or with the bat.
Every coach has his mantra. What’s your abiding, unshakeable one?
Every team, player, captain and association would like to win the trophy. That’s what they prepare and play for. My fundamental principle is you never hold yourself above the game. That’s what I learned from my seniors. The uncertainties of the game will catch up with you. I always followed the methods of the late Ramakant Achrekar ji, Shri Ashok Mankad ji and Polly Umrigar ji. These are the people who have educated me. Likewise, MP’s history goes back to Syed Mushtaq Ali ji, C. K. Nayudu, and Chandu Sarwate - their contributions and sacrifices. Knowing and respecting the team’s history also takes the players forward. We have learned from our predecessors to be calm and relaxed and not get excited till the last ball. Even in victory, we do not want to go overboard with celebrations because cricket is a great leveller. It is just one game that’s over. It shows we’re moving in the right direction, so let us think about the next step. The MP players have bought into this philosophy. I would suggest that every player – not just the MP team – read up on the history of the association they belong to so that they know about the glories and hardships of their past stars.
Let’ s talk about Rajat Patidar. With his talent, is he the easiest person to coach or the most difficult?
It is very simple to coach Rajat Patidar. I don’t recall speaking to Rajat too much about his game – just little minor inputs. He has got such an exceptional grasping ability. I don’t keep pestering him. His game awareness makes it easy. One cannot stop him once set. He reads the line and length better than most batters. [Message to Patidar after being caught off a no-ball] It was a small message: “ That is not Rajat Patidar.” He understood everything. With him, I don’t have to write three to four lines. It happens with any player; they sometimes play a loose shot in the heat of the moment. I spoke to him after stumps and he explained what had happened. We all make mistakes. That’s fine. But after that, he committed to his role wholeheartedly and got the job done.
You’ ve been all praise for skipper Aditya Shrivastava. Tell us more about him. Is he always calm or does he ever lose it?
Aditya’s cool and calm handling of the side was impressive. That’s a quality of his that I highlighted to our selection committee as well when there were discussions about who should be the skipper. Whatever responsibility I’ve given to him, he has responded in a great way. He always supports his players and shows concern for them. He is also very keen on spending a lot of time with me before and after every game, and wants to know my assessment of what’s going on on the field.
How do you define your role: as a man-manager, a facilitator or a head coach?
It is very difficult for me to judge. Perhaps the players I have worked with would be better placed to comment. But I will tell you this – I am thankful to all stakeholders and that includes the players who perhaps don’t buy into my methods at first. Every single cricketer in my team plays by the same rules. Sanjeev Rao, the Madhya Pradesh Cricket Association (MPCA) secretary, and Sanjay Jagdale are aware of my methods. In fact, when I was approached for this job in March 2020, the Association members told me they wanted me to take care of everything and not just the Ranji Trophy side. I was given a free hand in selection and total freedom to run the show my way. I’m very thankful to MPCA president Abhilash Khandekar and Rohit Pandit, CEO of the MPCA, for their constant support.
MP’s journey came full circle. I left that dressing room in 1999 as a disappointed captain, and now God was kind to hand the trophy to my captain Aditya. I told the boys as much.
— Chandrakant Pandit
Can you tell us about a moment from the domestic season when the team surprised you?
The Vijay Hazare Trophy match against Chhattisgarh in Rajkot comes to mind. The boys showed tremendous maturity. It was a do-or-die match for us that went into the last over.
Aditya marshalled the bowling attack well and shut down the scoring rate with his field placements. In the end, we won by three runs. I made a note that day of their resilience and their ability to bounce back, and ensured they carried that forward into other formats as well.
Then I recall the Ranji Trophy league game against Gujarat. Defending 195, we bowled Gujarat out for 88 in the fourth innings. Kumar Kartikeya took five wickets. We had conceded a first-innings lead in that game but ended up securing an outright win. That was a crucial victory because when you’ve just three chances (games) to qualify for knockouts, making the cut becomes doubly difficult. Each person has their role and understands their role. That gives me immense satisfaction.
Finally, how did you and the team celebrate the historic win?
The team spent the evening with the MPCA office bearers who were there at the M. Chinnaswamy Stadium to witness the historic moment. We had a grand reception in Indore after that. You must have seen me paying obeisance to the dressing room by bowing down.
MP’s journey came full circle. I left that dressing room in 1999 as a disappointed captain, and now God was kind to hand the trophy to my captain Aditya. I told the boys as much. We got into a huddle, and my message to them was just one: Always respect the game. Nothing trumps sport.