Parthiv Patel could not have scripted a better end to the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy. He first scored 90 to set up a lead and followed it with 143 to seal the highest successful chase in a final. In this chat with ESPNcricinfo, he dwells into what went into the making of a young Gujarat side, his transformation as captain and how changes in mindset and attitudes contributed towards their recent success.
The Ranji Trophy title is pinnacle of what you have achieved. What has gone into the making of this team?
Basically, it's because of a good plan back in Gujarat. Before the start of the season, we play a lot of practice matches. When we sit to pick the team, our meeting doesn't last more than four-five minutes because the players pick themselves on their performances. We play so many matches before the start of the season that we are ready to hit the ground running. The system for junior cricket is very good and those who perform in district cricket get an opportunity to play in the KSCA or Buchi Babu tournament. So by the time the Ranji comes around, no one has any doubt over whether he is in form or not. Whoever performs walks into the team.
Do you see an attitude shift within the group as a result of success across formats over the last two-three years?
There has been a big difference, no doubt. Our main aim was to survive in the Elite League when I made my Ranji debut in 2004. It was an honest assessment of where we were. Our best player was Niraj Patel, who averaged around 37, so you can understand how the mood was. Then when I took over, we were relegated in the first season. Players were playing for places. The goal was to survive in the Ranji Trophy, and if they were lucky, maybe the Duleep Trophy, not beyond. Luckily by then, I had some experience of playing for India. I knew what it was to be left out. I was helped by a great bunch of young Under-19 players, who came in and ensured players dream big. In the last three-four years alone, guys like Axar [Patel] and Jasprit [Bumrah] have changed that mindset. Manprit [Juneja] has played for India A. IPL has transformed the mindsets a great deal. If you look at the India Under-19 team over the last four-five years, we have always had at least two players in the team. Even now, when we won the Under-19 Asia Cup, we had one lad in the team. It helps to have so much of talent in your state.
Yes, there were a few frustrating years for us when we didn't qualify, we missed out on quotient or run-rate, but we knew that we have a team that can win the Ranji Trophy and we have always been talking about it amongst us. And we can only talk about it if we believe that we can win it. And we always knew that we can win it, and we have got the results to show for it.
How has the mood within the camp changed since the time you have taken over as captain?
It was much different to what it is now. There were differences of opinion, young players didn't open up easily for whatever reason. Captains, coaches and selectors weren't on the same page. For example, the batting first scenario in a four-day game was big for us. Every time we looked at the surface, someone would think we should bowl. I thought we should bat. Selectors thought something else, so as captain you didn't always have the freedom to execute what you thought was best for the side. I couldn't relate to these conflicting thoughts. It took us a while to change that mindset. It's something I'm more comfortable with.
Can you think of an example of this clarity in decision making?
Take for example the semi-final. It was a green track. Two days before the game, everyone suggested we bowl first. I thought differently. I wanted to bat. My thumb rule is unless the wicket is really very green or wet, always bat and put the runs on the board. I may sometimes do the opposite by gut instinct, but largely these are my thoughts. So I decided to bat. I had the freedom to decide what I felt was best for the team, and all of us responded collectively after that to win despite conceding the lead.
How do you view this team's graph? Has it been on the lines of what you expected it to be when you decided to stick to a young group?
Five years ago, we were a mediocre side. Teams used to take us lightly. As a captain I thought I had to build a team. It wasn't that I will get players who will blast 1000-2000 runs. So we had to be patient. As I said, we were almost there but we couldn't go through. So performance wise we were clicking. It wasn't that we were just surviving. And with young side you have to be patient enough. More than that, I personally felt that these guys had talent. They had in them to go through to the next level. I wanted to give them more security as a player so that they can vow there and play their game rather than playing my way or coaches' way or someone else's way. So that was something which I have spoken to the coaches, selectors and they knew we were building a side. We had dropped a few experienced players. It wasn't just a captain's effort. It was an overall effort from coaches and selectors. There was a time where we felt that we should try and think something else. But then obviously you think of dos and don'ts and then you come out with a solution and we stuck to it and the results are here. At times, we thought we needed some experience, and that's how we brought in RP Singh as a professional. His role has been great with a young bowling group.
What all has RP Singh brought to this side?
RP has the knowledge and experience, so when we brought him, it was always as a mentor who could chip in at vital times for us. He was never going to play eight games, even if he was playing for Uttar Pradesh, at this stage of his career. As it is, the bowlers have it tough these days with the travelling and recovery. A bowler who has had a history of injuries, we knew, would have it tough too. So we wanted to use him in a way where he comes into the picture where wickets are helpful, where he can use experience and skills.
We have experience in the batting line-up but there isn't much experience in bowling. Jasprit is away these days on national duty. Rush Kalaria has been around for the last four years or so, but isn't still up to that skill where he can lead the pace attack. That is why we thought we should bring him in for the semi-final and he delivered. RP has been the bridge between the captain and coach when it comes to the bowling department.
Was it just a mental block because of which you took a while to realise this team's potential?
We won two T20 championships and a 50-over championship in the last three years. So the talent and ability was there, it was just a question of belief. Luck also played a part. Last year we didn't have a full game in Tamil Nadu, and a year before I thought we played really well and missed out on quotient. This year too, we lost one full game because of weather, but we didn't want to make any excuses. We didn't last year either. What wasn't there was the kind of belief there is now, especially in long-form cricket, and that only comes with performance. When you see guys hitting 900-1000 runs, taking five-fors in a knockout game, it fires you up as a group. Performing under pressure can't be taught. It's just a case of experience being the best teacher.