RANJI TROPHY, 2018-19
“These back to back Ranji wins have not just happened overnight, it has been a result of a long standing process” © Cricbuzz
I know exactly how hard it is to win a Ranji Trophy title. I played in the Ranji Trophy for almost two decades across three different teams, and have not won a single title. God knows how hard I’ve tried to achieve it, leaving no stone unturned, but the long cherished and coveted dream is now one I’ll have to take to my grave.
It takes more than just good cricket and individual performances to win the title. It takes a unit that works like a well-oiled machine, with sufficient replacement parts whenever the need arises.
I have played a fair share of games against Vidarbha – the older one, of course. They seemed to give up easily, ran of ideas and used to resort to negative tactics. Half a decade ago, who would have thought a team like Vidarbha could end up dominating the domestic circuit in the near future. Well, I certainly didn’t.
This current Vidarbha team, however, is anything but whatever I’ve written above.
Professionally, 2014 was a bad year for me. Having played for CSK for six seasons, 2008-2013, and having been regular part of the national sides – even though I didn’t get to play much – I suddenly went unsold in the IPL auctions. At the same time, Tamil Nadu decided to rest me from the T20 format for the season.
I lost the motivation and drive to play or train. Life had thrown a huge log at me, and I didn’t want to get up at all. That’s when I got a call from Pritam Gandhe, who was working with the Vidarbha Cricket Association, saying they were looking for an outstation professional batsman with a lot of experience.
Myriad thoughts swarmed my brain, and I decided to have a word with Hemang Badani who had played for Vidarbha the previous season. He only had good words to say about the association and suddenly I felt a breath of freshness. I signed up for two years, and it was a move that helped me immensely, and even added a few years to my playing career. It made me mentally more conditioned to handle what life throws at you, and I got back to play in the IPL for one last season with the RCB.
As I look back, the first thing that struck me about VCA was the vision that they had very early. A small state comprising just two major cities, they had their challenges right at the onset. But then they were never shy of seeking outside help and experience. Professionals in the form of cricketers and coaches namely Wasim Jaffer, Sairaj Bahutule, Hemang Badani, Subroto Banerjee, Narendra Hirwani and Paras Mhambrey among others were always around giving their inputs to the boys, and that makes a massive difference.
The facilities provided for the cricketers were of the first order, which is essential for any player to develop and play good cricket. Their facilities, I might argue, are even better than with some top state sides around the country. Right from the practice wickets, which were outstanding and readily available anytime of the day, to the gymnasium to the canteen which served healthy, high quality food with a full time operational chef, all the facilities were close to the best. They also ensured that even the players in the academy were treated to the same food that the professionals enjoyed, making sure everyone was able to get the best of what they had to offer and come out well.
Of course they didn’t have the man power or the resources or the talent of a Mumbai or a Delhi or a Tamil Nadu. But then they had recognised this very early and started working towards building potential cricketers of the future much before their counterpart states.
Providing stay, schooling, food and the best of equipment were all part of the process that was in place at the academy. The young boys got to learn too. We often practised along side each other and youngsters, like Rajneesh Gurbani (a sensation last year) and Aditya Thakre, all bowled at players like me and Wasim when we needed a hit at training.
It is fair to say that these back to back Ranji wins have not just happened overnight, it has been a result of a long standing process on part of the association and individuals alike. If you look closer at the current Vidarbha team, it does not boast of any big individual names. Wasim Jaffer or Umesh Yadav may stand out, but then the rest are all unknown commodities. However, the strength and spirit that they have shown has been tremendous. Most of all, playing as a unit has led them to this.
Ranji trophy, in recent times, has seen waves of change. It’s no longer the usual suspects who end up in the semi finals and finals…like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengal or Tamil Nadu. Progressively smaller sides are making it and the 2019 just underlines that statement.
The difference between the so called top sides and the minnows doesn’t exist anymore, simply because the lesser sides of yesterday have pulled up their cricket in a big way. It’s not just the cricket being played on the field, it’s the grounds, support staff, the gyms, overall facilities and the exposure that a cricketer which all amounts to the narrowing of the gap.
I am really happy to see Vidarbha do so well and I can be glad that I was there somewhere in a small part, of the ride and the journey that they have been through over the last half a decade.