After a three-year stint as head coach of the Vidarbha cricket team, in which he won an unprecedented back-to-back double of the Ranji Trophy and Irani Cup, Chandrakant Pandit has decided to switch to Madhya Pradesh.
Pandit is the most successful coach in Indian domestic cricket with four Ranji Trophy titles in five finals. He first coached his home team of Mumbai and won the Ranji Trophy consecutively in 2003 and 2004, before going on to coach Maharashtra, Kerala and Vidarbha.
The 58-year-old, who played five Test matches and 36 One-Day Internationals for India as a wicketkeeper-batsman, is known for having a no-nonsense personality. His coaching style may come across as peculiar to some, but he has a way of finding success. His glorious run with Vidarbha, a state which never came close to the top before he arrived, is a testament to his prowess.
In an interview with Scroll.in, Pandit spoke about his time with Vidarbha, his methods as a coach, and the changes he has witnessed in Indian domestic cricket over the years.
Here are excerpts:
What prompted you to switch from Vidarbha to Madhya Pradesh?
I just wanted to move forward. Having spent three years with Vidarbha, I thought it’s time to move on. I usually don’t spend more than two-three years with one team since I feel that’s a sufficient period of time to make a difference. This works for both sides – I get to face new challenges and the players get to work with new coaches who offer a fresh perspective. I was very, very happy with Vidarbha, the way they supported and motivated me. They gave me a free hand. Prashant Vaidya, Anand Jaiswal, the selection committee and even Shashank Manohar, they all backed my methods. Madhya Pradesh had asked me to join their setup much before anyone else did. There were a few states who had offered me a job even last year, but I wasn’t ready to make a move then.
Your stint with Vidarbha was such a huge success. How do you look back at your time with them?
If you look at their history, they seemed to be satisfied by simply qualifying for the Ranji Trophy. I knew they have plenty of talent in their ranks, they had good potential, the only thing lacking was self-belief. And that’s the thing I worked on. I must say that they responded really well to my methods. I was a little harsh on them at times but they accepted it and that made all the difference. The Vidarbha Cricket Association, too, backed me and I had a free hand. Fortunately, even Wasim Jaffer was there and he was a bridge between me and the players. Both Wasim and I come from the Mumbai culture and we brought that attitude of wanting to win at all times. His inputs in the dressing room and on the field helped the players immensely, which made my job a little easier. But again, all credit to the players. They were very obedient and I found it easy to mould them. They didn’t have any ego and were ready to do anything for me.
Your record as a coach in Indian domestic cricket is unlike any other coach. You are known for bringing in a champion’s mentality. What sets you apart?
It’s difficult to answer that because I don’t count myself as successful. The one thing I focus on the most is the process, not the result. I emphasise on it... a lot. Then, there is discipline. Players who are talented but not disciplined won’t be able to understand what the game demands. I spend a lot of time doing my job. Sometimes, I even call players at 10 pm and discuss strategies with them. Also, I spend a lot of time working out the opposition... figuring out ways to counterattack. So there isn’t anything extraordinary, I just study these things very closely.
You have been associated closely with the game for many decades. What are your thoughts on the health of Indian domestic cricket at the moment?
We obviously have a lot of talent. But the thing is that most players these days give very little importance to days cricket. I’m not blaming the Indian Premier League, but players are always looking for ways to play the shorter formats and thus taking shortcuts. They neglect domestic cricket and are very interested in playing the IPL. Every youngster must spend time playing days cricket. Globally, the popularity of white-ball cricket is increasing but it’s not like the longest format is forgotten. Players get picked for T20 leagues quickly and then their interest in red-ball cricket reduces. Of course, the monetary aspect of it makes a big difference as well. Players are showing discipline, efforts and passion for shorter formats. All this has led to a great change in Indian cricket.
How can this be rectified? What are the ways in which you think the balance can be restored?
One thing that can be done is not picking players in the IPL based on one or two performances. There should be a criteria put in place where youngsters are required to perform for a minimum of two seasons in the Ranji Trophy before they are eligible to be picked up for the IPL. Players are even aware that if they perform in a T20 or two in the domestic season, they could get selected in the IPL, and that could then open up a shortcut to the Indian team. This has brought a big change in their attitude. Players these days have so many tournaments to showcase their white-ball skills and make a name. This wasn’t the case probably 15 years ago, where one could sneak into the Indian team based on a couple of good performances. There is no doubt that the game has changed dramatically, but it’s the job of coaches like me to tell players when and how to use their limited-overs skills.