Missing out on experienced players - Pandit
The last time Chandrakant Pandit was in charge of Mumbai's Ranji Trophy team, for the 2004-05 semi-final against Punjab, the team had five Test cricketers. During his three-year stint as coach, Mumbai won two titles, thanks to the presence of a plethora of experienced and international players in the side.
In 2015-16, when Pandit marks a return as the Mumbai coach after over a decade, there isn't a single Test player in Mumbai's squad for the first two matches. Naturally, Pandit has his task cut out to get Mumbai back to winning ways.
"Mumbai have always had experienced players, that is something we are probably missing out on," Pandit told ESPNcricinfo ahead of Mumbai's season-opener against Andhra. "Some of the players have been around for four-five years. That four-to-five years' experience has to be utilised. One has to stand up as a role model especially when we have six-seven youngsters who can look up to them. I always believe whatever force we have, we should believe in it and go forward."
Its legacy of winning the Ranji Trophy as frequently as the local train logjam in the monsoon aside, Mumbai Ranji teams have always seen a plethora of current and former Test players in action. The old Mumbai fans would not have imagined a Ranji squad without a single Test player.
It has happened this year. Even last season, with Wasim Jaffer being injured for most of the season, Mumbai had to field a team without a Test player but Jaffer was present in the dressing room and worked as a mentor for most of the season.
Jaffer has switched to Vidarbha as a professional now. With Zaheer Khan unfit and the duo of Rohit Sharma and Ajinkya Rahane on India duty, Mumbai have had to field a relatively young squad. More than his run-scoring ability, it is the experience factor for which Mumbai will miss Jaffer the most.
"You think about every experienced player who has contributed in the dressing room, there is no replacement at all. Wasim Jaffer has been a great player. He was a pillar for Mumbai," Pandit said. "What he has done in the last so many years, I think that will be missed in the dressing room. He was looked at [as] one of the role models in the dressing room. When I was young, we looked at Vengsarkar, Gavaskar, Patil who inspired us. That is what something will be missed this season."
A young outfit led by Aditya Tare will begin the quest for winning Mumbai's 41st Ranji title. But it will be a humongous challenge for Mumbai, considering seven of the 15 squad members have had single-digit caps in first-class cricket. Pandit feels it's a "huge challenge" to get the best out of youngsters.
Thanks to their consistency in pocketing Ranji titles in the past, anything but a title-winning performance is traditionally treated as a failure. Pandit believes Mumbai cricket is coming to terms with that fact.
"People who are involved in Mumbai cricket, they do understand you can't win it every year. But everyone wants to win," he said. "I am sure they understand that now. We may miss out for another one or two years but the plan is to dominate for five years thereafter [in succession].
"I don't really think about it because some other states have really improved. The competition level, infrastructure and facilities have improved. Naturally every state is going to take advantage of that. We cannot underestimate any other team."
Amol Karhadkar is a correspondent at ESPNcricinfo