The building blocks of Vidarbha’s success

Any tall building ought to be built on a firm foundation, and the groundwork for this edifice, according to Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal, has been laid, in part, by local tournaments like the Guzder League and the Bapuna Cup. These have helped unearth more talent and served as a feeder line to the Vidarbha senior team.

Vidarbha skipper Faiz Fazal (left) seems pleased with the works of Akshay Wakhare and Akshay Wadkar.   -  S. Sudarshan

When Vidarbha created history by winning the Ranji Trophy as well as the Irani Cup in two successive years, it culminated a process that saw the nerve centre of India's domestic cricket shift away from the traditional powerhouses.

The team’s success over the last couple of years has been built around a group of players who have stepped up in times of crisis. If Wasim Jaffer and Faiz Fazal don’t wear you down, Akshay Wadkar and Aditya Sarwate will. If Umesh Yadav does not blow you away with his pace, Rajneesh Gurbani and Yash Thakur will.

“Look we are a simple team with simple players... It’s not like we didn’t have quality individual players before. It’s just that after winning two Ranji and Irani titles, our mindset and approach have changed,” Vidarbha skipper Fazal says.

Now, any tall building ought to be built on a firm foundation, and the groundwork for this edifice, according to Fazal, has been laid, in part, by local tournaments like the Guzder League and the Bapuna Cup. These have helped unearth more talent and served as a feeder line to the Vidarbha senior team.

“The club tournaments help, no doubt. We have Guzder League here. Bapuna Cup serves as trials for the Ranji Trophy. They changed the format for Guzder this year, but, unfortunately, I didn’t play this time as I was in England playing club cricket,” Fazal says.

Performances rewarded

“There’s (wicketkeeper-batsman) Akshay Wadkar who was noticed because of his performances in Guzder League. Wadkar had scored a hundred and three fifties and was drafted into the team based on these performances,” Fazal points out.

Wadkar made his first-class debut against Goa in November 2017, and a month later, his maiden century in the Ranji final against Delhi eventually helped Vidarbha clinch the title. Meanwhile, the Bapuna Cup, a multi-day format organised by the Vidarbha Cricket Association since 1996, is usually conducted in the month of September ahead of the Ranji season with outstation teams, too, taking part in it.

But with nine new teams in the fold this season, the VCA was forced to switch to the ODI format to account for the chock-a-block schedule. Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh were the three outstation sides last year.

“If you look at the team right now, guys like (Atharva) Taide and Thakur are young but they are also very mature. They know how to adjust their game according to the situation. That comes from travelling with the team, spending more time with the first team players,” the captain says.

Growing from strength to strength

“Even last year, we used to travel with a squad of 17-18 players. The idea was to take them along even if they weren’t going to be in the XI. You learn a lot just by watching, soaking in the dressing room environment and noticing how a coach or a captain thinks,” Fazal says.

“But it is not like we are giving chances only to the youngsters. It depends on the requirements of the team and what the coach and the selectors feel about the player. They are the ones with the eye for the talent.”

Fazal notes that Vidarbha’s upswing in fortunes began with “(former Board of Control for Cricket in India president) Shashank Manohar who dreamt of Vidarbha winning the Ranji title one day. He laid the foundation with the VCA academy. Then we started getting coaches from outside. Our under-16, under-19 and under-23 teams are all doing so well.

That acts as a feeder for the senior team and when they see us performing so well, they also get motivated. It works both ways. And later with the arrival of (VCA vice-president) Prashant Vaidya and (head coach) Chandrakant Pandit, we grew from strength to strength.”

“The system is getting stronger by the day," says the victorious skipper as Vidarbha continues its winning juggernaut.