Domestic giants Mumbai haven't won the Ranji Trophy since 2015-16. In a bid to strengthen their grip on the domestic circuit again, they now have a third coach - former wicketkeeper Vinayak Samant - in the last four years and a new captain in Shreyas Iyer. Having led the side for the last three seasons, Aditya Tare, the outgoing captain, has seen a young team transition. In this chat with ESPNcricinfo, he talks of their victorious Vijay Hazare campaign, their past performances under him and how Mumbai want to stamp their authority in the the upcoming Ranji Trophy season.
How do you look back at Mumbai's Ranji Trophy performances since you last won the title?
We won in 2015-16 and made it to the final the next season. It was an interesting game because the result was decided on the fifth day in the last session. It was a tough-fought game. Last year, we had a bit of a poor run in all three formats. We have a lot to prove again and we've started off well this season. Winning the Vijay Hazare is a big boost to the team because the entire squad is by and large the same that has played over the last two years. We haven't changed much; especially since last year, we have a lot of players who are still in the squad and to win with that same squad, I think it's a great achievement. Credit to the entire unit because we've bounced back from a poor season last year. So I'm pretty happy with the way the players have reacted, especially the younger ones in the team like Tushar [Deshpande] and Shams [Mulani]. They've both come up and now they've had a great tournament, so it's quite pleasing to see that.
You were unbeaten in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. How is the mood in the camp ahead of the first-class season?
Last year, we failed completely and the performances were completely poor in all three formats. We really looked as if we are not amongst the best teams in the country, which really isn't the case. A few seasons before that, we dominated the Ranji season and we won comfortably. Two years down the line, we were struggling as a team. From that to come and play this tournament (Vijay Hazare Trophy), and win it gives us a lot of confidence. This tournament was really important for us in terms of the confidence and the belief that is within this team, it has really boosted our confidence going forward.
You have a new coach and captain. How are Mumbai planning to regain their on-field authority?
The players are still the same; there's just the leadership change. We've played together for a while now and understand each other, so that's a really good thing to have in this, a lot of players have played three-four seasons together. It gives us a lot of confidence to play with each other and it's a good time for someone like Shreyas [Iyer] to come in as a captain. He's been leading almost everywhere that he's playing now - India A, IPL, and now the Mumbai team. It's great to have him as a leader because he's got a great mentality to win and he's pretty aggressive, pretty positive with the way he plays and I'm sure that will reflect through his captaincy as well. I always felt that his positivity and aggressive approach rubbed onto the others, especially his attitude. He's got great attitude towards the game so that really rubbed on amongst the batters in the team. So if he's the captain now, that will have a good influence on the team. From the captaincy point of view, it's a good change and it will be pretty pleasing - now that we've won one tournament under him - it will be a great motivating factor for him and as well as the team to go forward into the Ranji season.
Compared to the previous season, what will be the main challenge to overcome this time around?
Last year, we struggled a little with injuries. Tushar, who was phenomenal in the one-day tournament, was out of the team completely. He was struggling with his ankle, he had a surgery done and was out of the team. The bowling unit wasn't set as much. When we were playing the Ranji Trophy, we had four or five bowlers who made their debut that year. So it shows that we have an inexperienced bowling attack, but the way they performed in this Vijay Hazare Trophy has been phenomenal and that's the reason why we won a lot of games, because of our bowling performances. That will be a catalyst in this year's Ranji Trophy, where the bowlers are doing well.
Historically, we've always had a lot of good batters in the ranks, but the bowlers haven't been as fluent, coming into the team as the batters are doing. I think the difference would be how well our bowling does in the four-day format. Last year, we struggled a bit with our bowling, little with the batting as well but the bowling was inexperienced. Barring Dhawal [Kulkarni], there was no one who had played even 10 games for us. That plays a huge factor, but now the players will learn from what happened last year, they have the experience of one full season. Even if it goes bad, it will be a great experience for us and it will be a great factor where as a team and especially as a bowling unit we can learn from what went wrong last year. That has happened now positively in the one-day format, I'm sure it'll transfer to happen in the four-day format as well.
"By winning at least one format every season, we want to try and stay relevant in domestic cricket to consider ourselves domestic giants."
Don't you think having so many coaches in three years affects the younger players in terms of adapting to different coaching styles?
True. Even from a coach's point of view, he needs to have some stability, some timespan where he can influence with his coaching style and system. For that, I think one year is not ideal. Ideally, you should have two- or three-year contracts but it's not in the players' hands. Sameer left last year but he left by himself, so it's also got to do with what the coaches feel. It doesn't affect a senior player much but it does really have a lot of influence on a younger player because every coach who comes in, has his own ideas and different players for particular roles. So maybe someone who was doing well last year wouldn't fit into his plans this year. So those sorts of things can happen.
Every coach also needs a lot of experienced players to take the team forward. It's just a part of the game and from the players' point of view, they need to understand and deal with different coaches. That's something that a player can do; he cannot control who the coach can be but at least a young player or even me, I need to adjust to the new coach and what his ideas are. Try and create a rapport where both the parties are thinking towards the betterment of the team. If that goes hand-in-hand, then it's going to work positively.
What has the new coach Vinayak Samant brought in so far in terms of style?
Samant da has played about 100 first-class games, so he has a lot of experience. He had a lot of energy when he played and he brings that into this team. He's always there, he's always throwing or giving catches. He's pretty hardworking and that's what this team can expect from him and that he'll make us work hard. If that can help the team to go to the next level, it will be great.
Mumbai will be without some key players like Ajinkya Rahane, Rohit Sharma, Prithvi Shaw and Shardul Thakur (injury). How does a team build solid bench strength in these times?
It's a good situation where we get to build players. We get to test the younger lot and they get the experience early on in their career. Six-seven years earlier, you had a lot of experienced players playing together at one time and there was a time when all of them left. They went to other states or retired and suddenly there was a big gap in the team with a lot of young players coming together. So that really tested the bench strength. I would like to take it positively that if Prithvi is going [on tour], someone like Jay Bista will get an opportunity to open. If Shreyas goes, you can have another youngster coming into the team. [Siddhesh] Lad can bat higher up the order. He has been batting lower down throughout his career. If the players go, it's just an opportunity for the next batch to come and deliver for the team and it's upto them how they fare and how they perform and seal their place in the squad. Plus, it's about going from first-class cricket to international level. If boys from the team are doing that, it's a great sign for Mumbai cricket. That's what Mumbai cricket is all about, giving players to the Indian team.
Dhawal was at the top of his game in the Vijay Hazare Trophy. Tushar hit great rhythm and form at the back end of the tournament, which was most crucial. Shams bowled brilliantly throughout the tournament. We had Shivam Dubey, who was playing as an allrounder, but he bowled exceptionally well. So out of five, we had four who were in top form. That's how the results are showing, because the bowling unit has dominated throughout the tournament. It's about taking that confidence into the first-class season irrespective of whether they played lot of games or not. Dubey has played just one first-class game, Shams hasn't made his debut, Tushar played in '16-17, and was injured after that so he'll come after a year-long gap. Obviously, they'll miss that experience, but I think they'll have the confidence of doing well because they've done well in the previous tournament. I think it will be a little easier with the red ball from the bowling point of view because they've done well with the white ball which is a bit difficult job to do. It's better for the batsman. I'm pretty optimistic about our bowling unit doing well in the four-day format.
Mumbai have such a rich history and with that come the expectation. How do you deal with it?
Yes, that's always been the case where Mumbai is used to winning and anything other than winning the championship is always considered a failure. So that's the standard being set and every player who comes into the team is aware of the fact that we have to win the Ranji Trophy every year to be able to call ourselves a successful team. So reaching the final is just one step, but to win the final is what everybody wants. Because the yesteryear players are used to winning every other year, that whole expectation is always built around this team and we cannot control that. We're happy that we're part of such a great history; we just have to take that forward and do our best in winning the Ranji Trophy. It's part and parcel of every Mumbai cricketer's upbringing where we are used to winning Ranji Trophy and that tag will always be behind us. We are expected to win every season.
"It's great to have Shreyas Iyer as a leader because he's got a great mentality to win and he's pretty aggressive, pretty positive with the way he plays and I'm sure that will reflect through his captaincy as well."
What do you define as successful season?
I think to win at least one format of the game every season can be considered a successful year, because in the past 10 years we must have won about four or five trophies. But in the last 12 years we hadn't won a white-ball tournament. So that is a good thing to start off with, but the hardcore Mumbai lovers or ex-players - even for us as players - the Ranji Trophy is way, way bigger. That's something we specially want to win and aim for. But you can't really have that as a criteria, that's my personal opinion. You cannot have that criteria of winning Ranji Trophy every year. You've got a lot of teams catching up, a lot of them have a better set-up than what we have. And every other team comes in to win as well, so there is stiff competition and it's only going to get stiffer because the other teams are catching up with Mumbai. And to be able to produce international players every two years can be a good, successful season. That's what Mumbai is all about.
The expectations are also a good motivating factor, it really inspires you. I remember once when Amol [Muzumdar] was talking to us, he said, "history inspires", which is such a terrific statement. I felt really inspired with the amount of trophies we've won and no other team in the country is anywhere close to us. To have that history behind you, it gives you a great feeling when you step onto the field. We feel really proud of wearing the Mumbai line on our chest.
Personally, how are you looking ahead to the Ranji season without the captaincy responsibilities?
I have less things to worry about. I can look after my batting and keeping, and share my experience as a senior player and try and mentor the younger boys. That's what I'm looking at and obviously the [Vijay Hazare] final knock has given me a lot of confidence. Specially having batted down the order for a bit, I will get situations where either it will be too easy or too tough. It's a great position for someone like me to be there and I can use my experience and try and take the team forward from those situations.
Do you set targets for yourselves in terms of numbers? Like some batsmen say they want to score 1000 runs in a season
Now, 1000 runs has been a sort of benchmark, that if you score 1000 runs, you might come into the Indian team. But how many times have you seen five players scoring 1000 runs in one year? You just have one or two. It's a rare thing where a player is getting there. I have no such number in my mind. I've always played my cricket where I judge myself by my performance which has helped the team win. So even if I score 30 crucial runs which has gotten us out of a tough situation and put us in a winning situation, that's what is more vital for me than scoring 1000 runs and not winning a Ranji Trophy. So for me, winning games, winning championships and contributing in that winning match is more important than going on to score 1000 runs where the team might end up playing the semis or quarters. My motto has been that whichever team I play - club, state, corporate, IPL - my intention is to go and win the game for the team.