The man behind the scene

V.V. KRISHNAN

Everyone in domestic cricket talks about Mumbai winning the Ranji Trophy for the 39th time. A gentleman called Vinod Sharma (in Pic.) has a similar, impressive record. The 54-year-old coach of the Railways team achieved the unique feat of guiding the Institutional team to its 39th title triumph at the National level in different categories — including the Ranji Trophy, Irani Trophy and Deodhar Trophy (for Central Zone).

This time, the soft-spoken, but very articulate Vinod enabled Railways to win the women’s all-India inter-State one-day championship defeating Delhi in the final at the Gymkhana Ground.

What exactly is the driving force even after 26 years as the coach of the Railways team? “The passion for the game. I simply love to be there — scheming strategies, guiding youngsters and spurring on the seniors to be better cricketers,” says Vinod Sharma. “Cricket is my life and I just cannot think of anything else,” he asserts.

In a way, Vinod Sharma reminds one of Dronacharya S. M. Arif (badminton) whose passion for the sport was what drove him out of retirement. Only recently did Arif achieve another ‘first’ in Indian coaching — his wards over the last three decades have picked up 200 National titles in different age groups.

Interestingly, unlike many of the coaches who thrive more on flamboyance than on performance, Vinod believes in producing the results by keeping things simple and sticking to the basics. “Well, I simply can’t agree to the concept of making a 16-year-old play T20 cricket in any grade — boys or girls event. You have to have very good basics to lay a strong foundation for him to be a really good cricketer,” he argues.

That Vinod loves simple logic was evident by one of the strangest moves ever made in domestic cricket. Railways was playing against Carl Hooper’s West Indies in 1993-94. After the tourists had scored 400-plus, Railways had to look for openers after the regulars — J. P. Yadav and Amit Phagnis — were injured. And when Vinod opted for Murali Karthik and Shreyas Kanwalkar, he was criticised by the commentators. But, he kept his cool and let his ‘choice’ reply. And it did, putting on 175 runs for the first wicket. How did that happen? “I will tell you. These two had been good with the bat every time they faced the second new ball in all previous matches. This made me look at them as openers. We scored 400-plus and drew the match which was a huge result,” he recalls with a sense of pride.

Doesn’t he get bored of winning? “On the contrary, I still enjoy every moment of success on the field like a newcomer in the team. I repeat that I savour every moment of action on the field — be it a moment of triumph or crisis,” says Vinod Sharma.

On women’s cricket, the successful coach feels that Railways’ dominance certainly pleases him, but he is equally happy with the way teams like Bengal and Delhi had performed in the Hyderabad edition. “This is a good sign of things to come,” he says.

“Definitely, after the BCCI took over, women’s cricket is looking up but I still feel that a two-day National Championship is a must to produce quality cricketers,” argues Vinod Sharma. Significantly, the successful Railways coach rates Mithali Raj as the ‘Sachin Tendulkar of women’s cricket.’ “She has every quality to become a great player. The way she organises her batting is a treat to watch."

Railways has won yet another National Championship and for this gentleman coach, life will go on as usual in the world of cricket. “I have no regrets and have been enjoying whatever job has been assigned to me. I can say that the success story is a reflection of the team effort, including that of the support staff,” he says before joining in the celebrations of the Railways team.