The Mumbai team has not had long meetings. There have also been no long messages or speeches. Players are left to prepare however they want and figure out what works best for them and what doesn’t. This does not mean that the players are left to their own devices. It’s just a way to make players more accountable for their own actions.
Amol Muzumdar, the man who guides them, has seen it all during a first-class career spanning two decades. Even as a player, he invariably played the role of mentor towards the end of his career, especially when he left Mumbai to play for Assam and Andhra. He has also been involved in the Netherlands, South Africa and the IPL at Rajasthan Royals. Much of his coaching philosophy stems from his varied experiences in cricket.
Muzumdar is clear that this is not about him. He won the Ranji Trophy as captain and was part of several title winning teams. His counterpart, Chandrakant Pandit, has a stellar track record as a coach, plotting title wins with Mumbai and Vidarbha in the past. Now he wants to lead Madhya Pradesh to their first title.
Muzumdar and Pandit are old friends and teammates. The mutual respect is evident, but the competitive streak has not been lost. Muzumdar is aware that he doesn’t want to make Mumbai vs Pandit or Muzumdar vs Pandit, tempting as it may be to whip up the match in that sense.
“It’s all about the players,” he said resolutely on the eve of the match. “Of course every team has its own engine room, but at the same time the focus should be on the players. He [Pandit] is a proven customer. This is my first season [as coach]† his must be the umpteenth season. I wouldn’t want to compare. He’s been there, did that.”
Muzumdar clearly set out his priorities the day he was appointed head coach in June 2021. “Getting back on track in red ball cricket” was in bold. Over the course of a Covid shortened season, the focus has been on building a core group of young players who could serve cricket in Mumbai for many years to come. And so far the signs are promising.
“When I took this job, the whole association asked to return to red ball cricket,” he said. “That has been our main focus. So far we have tried to achieve that. Thanks to the guys, they are on track. Red-ball cricket has been a concern for everyone from Mumbai. Looking at the last five-six years, even you [journalists] must have thought so.
“But the guys have done an outstanding job. The focus was on how to get gen next hooked to deliver in Ranji Trophy. With this kind of performance, we’re going to get there. I’m sure these guys will leave Mumbai for a long time.”
Yashasvi Jaiswal has only played in three first-class games but has already amassed three hundred. Prithvi Shaw’s talent has never been questioned; he remains the “leader of the pack”, even though his temperament for cricket in the form of long form and technical adaptations remain areas of concern.
Suved Parkar missed the chance to represent India at the Under-19 World Championship two years ago, but is coming into the final with a reputation as a marathon batter, just like Muzumdar. Then there’s Armaan Jaffer, a prolific age-group go-getter who finally took all that promise to the premier level with a first century semi-final.
Sarfaraz Khan’s form is pandemic proof; he leads this short run charts of the season
by a mile with 803 runs in seven innings, including three hundred. He is 297 runs ahead of Rajat Patidar, his closest competitor in the final. This hunger for big runs in the locker room bodes well for the future. Muzumdar underscores the culture and “processes” – that boring cliché – to bring about a mindset shift that top-notch cricket is just as important as the IPL.
“Personally, I believe it’s about the process and the culture you have in the dressing room and players will automatically accept that,” he said. “We’ve tried to do that, almost all… [players] have bought in the future. Yes, IPL is a culture where people go in to play, but they mustn’t forget their roots, which is domestic cricket.”