Making Of Champions: Structural Changes In Madhya Pradesh Cricket That Led To Ranji Trophy Triumph

Minutes after Madhya Pradesh won the Ranji Trophy, a tweet from Indian cricketer Dinesh Karthik went viral. It was a simple congratulatory message, but the last line was telling, where he referred to Chandrakant Pandit as ‘Sir Alex Ferguson of Indian domestic cricket’. Ferguson was arguably one of the greatest managers in the history of club football. Someone whose tactical prowess made Manchester United a global brand in the era of satellite television. Karthik tried to create an analogy with Pandit’s ‘Midas Touch’, which transformed a middle-class domestic team like MP into national champions.

So what went into making MP a formidable domestic side? Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither did Pandit have a “magic wand” that changed things overnight.

It was two years of meticulous planning, understanding the structure, ensuring collaboration from the start and last but not least – successful implementation of ideas.

A few years ago, former India Test wicketkeeper Deep Dasgupta – one of Bengal’s top captains (led the state to consecutive Ranji Trophy finals) – said something about success at Ranji level that fits perfectly with Pandit’s modus operandi.

“Ranji Trophy is very different from test cricket, although it can look structurally the same. There is a very specific code for how teams win the Ranji Trophy. Once you crack that code you always play semi-finals, finals or even win the trophy as Chandu bhai did with Vidarbha’, Dasgupta had said at the time.

Ranji Trophy is like CBSE board exam where you have to get a few areas right – three standard hitters, one solid spinner, preferably left arm and a good new ball pair. Even if you don’t win the championship, you’re there or close by.

Test cricket is like IIT JEE or CAT (where you have to score 99.9 percentile) to get into the coveted IIMs.

For all those who think that Pandit with his enviable resume would have worked wonders on an international level, maybe not the case. He’s cut out for domestic cricket and with teams that don’t give in to superstar culture.

He changed MP’s fortune based on three guiding principles.

One is his understanding of “history” and the state’s cricket culture. He knew what had to happen in the present and kept an eye on the future.

Madhya Pradesh may have won the title in 2022, but it was in 2010 when the MPCA State Cricket Academy in Indore became functional that things started to change.

It was the former BCCI joint secretary and national selector Sanjay Jagdale, a former domestic player of reputation and the heart and soul of MP cricket, who tried to bring professionalism.

Indore has always been the heartbeat of state cricket with its competitive club culture, but it was Jagdale who understood that decentralization was needed to tap into more talent and spread the game beyond Indore and Bhopal.

With the annual grants from BCCI, MPCA has established a large area in places like Sagar, Rewa, Jabalpur and Hosangabad with many age group level tournaments.

“The best of the talent was then absorbed by the state cricket academy who looked after their cricket fees and exposure along with quality coaching,” Jagdale’s voice had a sense of accomplishment, although he is no longer part of the administration.

The likes of Rajat Patidar, Venkatesh Iyer, Avesh Khan along with the Yash Dubeys, Shubham Sharmas, teenage Akshat Raghuvanshi, Gourav Yadavs, Skipper Aditya Shrivastava, Anubhav Agarwals are all products of the system.

MP was a good team but it was Pandit who brought about changes needed to transform it into a championship team, having taken over as coach in the 2020-21 season.

There has been strong resistance from some quarters to the appointment of Pandit, as he is considered a “stubborn man” and “autocratic” as some would argue.

“Actually, some people thought that a man like Chandu, who has no baggage or agenda, will stop anyone with vested interests and therefore not want him. But better sense prevailed,” said Jagdale, who did have a role in convincing the case. establishment. †

The first thing Pandit did was apply for selection committee meetings from senior to all age groups. He made it clear that he will watch matches of U-19, U-25 along with his core mission of Ranji Trophy team.

This was to try to understand the history and the present.

MP teams have been plagued over the years by internal association politics, which became detrimental to choosing a solid team.

There would be five or six quality players, but selectors would succumb to requests from officials and include players of inferior quality, which would affect the team balance.

Pandit grabbed the team sheet and marked a red mark for all those players who have played less than 10 games in the past five seasons.

“If you play six games in six seasons and are happy to only carry the drinks, sorry boss, then you are not in my schedule. I have already removed such players, who like to be on the margins. I wanted players who are always ready to play in the eleven,” said Pandit.

So the solution was to participate in the selection meetings and not disrespect the selectors. Pandit would come up with a sheet of paper and give 15 names that he thought could play any game at any time. That was the second premise.

Has it hurt the selectors’ egos? Sure it did, but for once they swallowed it for the greater good of the state team and the result is there for all to see.

How did this work? Well, MP missed four frontline goers – Avesh Khan (national service), Ishwar Pandey (injury), Puneet Datey (literally out of semi-final and didn’t play final) and IPL sensation Kuldeep Sen (not fully fit for final).

Gourav Yadav and Anubhav Agarwal were in fact fifth and sixth choice seam bowlers, choking Mumbai in the final.

This is the power of the bench he created by getting rid of below average players.

The third principle was about creating a future and he found a young captain in Aditya Shrivastava, who was ready to become a sponge and absorb all the information and apply his tactics to the “T”.

In a larger team, the skipper would use his own mind, but here Aditya was ready to surrender.

It was his eye for talent that landed 18-year-old Akshat Raghuvanshi in an age-group trial match where he decided to become an umpire.

Raghuvanshi had his leg cut earlier in the match, but a few of his shots had impressed Pandit so much that he didn’t “take him out”.

He wanted to see him more and by the end of the match he had decided he was ready for the Ranji Trophy.

Raghuvanshi is already part of U-19 NCA and if there is a U-19 assignment for India this year, he would be part of that setup.

MP is also a team that has no superstars. Avesh, Venkatesh or star-to-be Patidar have serious potential, but they aren’t prima donnas yet.

At the Ranji level, you need a dedicated bunch of fairly decent cricketers to stick with you all season and ready to listen to every word the coach says. The association just has to have faith.

Vidarbha did and now MP has done that for Pandit. That is why Delhi, which has produced so many Indian cricketers, has not won the blue ribbon tournament in ten years.

Chandrakant Pandit is always “madness”, but there was always a method to his madness.

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