Coach Vijay Dahiya is standing up on the table. Shikhar Dhawan joins him there and the champagne and beer flow as the players dance around them to the tune of the popular song Mauja hi Mauja. The Delhi dressing room makes for a perfect postcard moment.
Around this time last year, that Delhi postcard was a carrier of bad news. A few senior players were thinking of leaving the state for greener pastures. Virender Sehwag had an offer from Haryana, Gautam Gambhir and Mithun Manhas were gravitating towards Rajasthan while Aakash Chopra and Ashish Nehra too were on the verge of signing away their Delhi caps. They'd had enough of the political interference and selectorial conspiracies in the DDCA.
There was an under-15 selector who was caught taking money for selections, another age-group selector had made salacious suggestions to the mothers of several young aspirants, and there was a case of a player sending goons to coerce the selectors in picking him. The same rigmarole existed in the 2005-06 season too. "You pick a squad from just 20-30 probables, not 50," the then coach Madan Lal said. "I am shocked to see the way affairs in DDCA are run. You don't need many people to run this, just a few honest people who will think only about cricket." Rewind to 1998 when Kirti Azad had resigned as a Delhi selector. "This is much worse than a political scene," Azad said. "How long can I tolerate such pressures and why should I be a party to the inner-politics of some members of the association?" Welcome to the capital mess.
Last year the players were a disillusioned lot. Reason? A few of them allege that coach Chetan Chauhan didn't have much time for the team. "He was so busy with his media engagements that he would disappear during matches," a player said. "He was not focused on the team at all. We were only happy to see the back of him," another averred.
Infrastructural speed-breakers kept tripping the team. They couldn't use the Feroz Shah Kotla as it was being renovated and were unhappy with the quality of the other grounds and practice facilities. And selection fiascoes were the last straw.
It was then Arun Jaitley, the politician who happens to be the DDCA president, approached the senior players. Assurances were handed out individually that the new season will be free and clean of the dirty mess. "We have been gradually trying to immunise the selection process from any kind of associational activities," Jaitley said on Saturday. "The job at the start of the season was two-fold: let the players, coach and the selectors manage the cricketing activities, and the association provide good infrastructure. We made sure there wouldn't be any political or selectorial flaws."
The senior players were consulted on who should be the new coach, and better practice facilities were provided. After Dahiya was nominated as the coach, he was given the job to get the team gelling as a unit. "He [Jaitley] said a better cricketing atmosphere would be created and it was my job to get the players working as a team," Dahiya said. "I am happy with the support from the administrators. We asked them for an early camp and I think we were one of the few teams that started as early as September. Manoj Prabhakar was brought in as the bowling consultant and that helped the bowlers. We had complete support from the selectors. Of course, there were a few talks on the selection but the atmosphere was cordial."
It began to slowly pay off. The team management wanted to give everyone a chance in this season and barring Gaurav Chabria, everyone else has indeed been given a run. Gambhir, the captain, brought in the much-needed desperation to win. "One thing I wanted to do with Delhi was that it should hurt when they start losing," Gambhir said after the triumph. "We have seen all kinds of lows in the previous seasons; we faced relegation a couple of seasons back and we wanted to prove a point this season.
"It was important to get that feeling of winning Ranji Trophy. Because, there is no use playing first-class cricket if you play for a long time and don't experience that feeling."
In the end, that tilted the scale towards Delhi. UP had just won couple of years back, but Delhi had not got their hands on the trophy for 16 years and the desperation to win proved the difference. At tea on the fourth day, UP were sitting pretty with a 175-run lead, with eight wickets intact, when Gambhir addressed his team: "Remember, you don't win silver, you lose gold. If we go without giving our full effort there is no point in coming so far."
Helped by some injudicious shot selection, Delhi scythed through UP, picking up four quick wickets for the addition of just seven runs. And on the morning of the fourth day, Dahiya told young Pradeep Sangwan, "I am retired, I haven't touched that thing [Ranji Trophy]. This is your first year, just go out there and give your best and enjoy." Sangwan cut through the lower half in a spell that read 5-3-5-3. And the game was over after the openers ensured that the dangerous Praveen Kumar went wicketless with the new ball.
However, success masks many a flaw. Delhi had a video analyst but he didn't travel with them on tour and neither did they make full use of him. There were a couple of selections the Delhi papers went to town with but the players maintain that the changes were purely for cricketing reasons and there was no outside influence. Dahiya admits that perhaps Prabhakar should have been brought in earlier - say three months ahead of the season - as some of the players were wary about changing their techniques. He also wants someone like Bishan Bedi or Maninder Singh to be roped in to help the spinners. Delhi's biggest weak link is the lack of a quality spinner, showcased by the fact that they had bring back a 37-year-old Rahul Sanghvi ahead of the semi-finals.
"The team is a much happier unit now and obviously, success hides many things," a player said. "I would say not everything is 100% perfect but things are definitely under control now." Under control is the operative word there and whether DDCA can continue to keep cricket as the sole focus, only time will tell. In the here and now, it's time for the beer to flow. The 16-year wait is over.