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With Pandit in charge, MP players have no time to pause - 'must rectify mistakes before semi-final'

Madhya Pradesh coach talks up "extremely confident" Raghuwanshi, lauds captain Shrivastava for "making 50% of the match" for the team

Daya Sagar
Daya Sagar
10-Jun-2022 • Updated on 17-Aug-2022
Shubham Sharma led the way for Madhya Pradesh in the first innings with his 102  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

Shubham Sharma led the way for Madhya Pradesh in the first innings with his 102  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

The Madhya Pradesh players started preparing for their Ranji Trophy semi-final within minutes of beating Punjab in their quarter-final on Thursday. The job was done quickly on the fourth day, the MP team had lunch, attended a ten-minute meeting with coach Chandrakant Pandit, and were out for an intra-squad match in Alur, near Bengaluru, immediately after.
This, even as the Uttar Pradesh team, that beat Karnataka inside three days, took a couple of days off and Mumbai, who beat Uttarakhand by a record 725-run margin in four days, also went back to their hotel. The fourth semi-finalists*, Bengal, meanwhile, opted for training of a different kind, giving their batters another go after first declaring on 773 for 7 and then bowling Jharkhand out for 298. Pandit, though, has different plans for his players.
"The boys will get some time off only in the evening today," Pandit told ESPNcricinfo on Thursday afternoon. "After that, for the next four days [before the semi-finals start on June 14], we will be back working hard in training. Yes, we have won the quarter-final, but we made some mistakes in the match, which we need to rectify before the next game.
"We dropped three-four catches, and our fielding was ordinary. If we continue being sloppy in the field, we can forget about winning the Ranji Trophy. I have spoken to the boys, and told them firmly that this is not acceptable to me."
This isn't new for players who have spent time with "Chandu Sir" over the years - he is known to be, perhaps, the strictest coach in the circuit. But it's an approach that has yielded results, as Vidarbha's back-to-back Ranji Trophy titles, in 2017-18 and 2018-19, prove.
"People might say that I am a strict, or khadoos [stubborn], but that's who I am. I don't really care too much about what people think or say about me," Pandit said. "My job, my profession, is my priority. I believe in discipline. That's what I have learnt in my 42 years of playing and coaching. You can have good days and bad days, but discipline is not negotiable."
"He is just 18, but he is tough. He is fearless and plays his shots freely. He never looks like he is under pressure. He is a quick-learner, and others should also learn from him. He is a unique gift for Madhya Pradesh cricket"
Chandrakant Pandit on 18-year-old batter Akshat Raghuwanshi
Looking back at the ten-wicket win over a formidable Punjab side, Pandit said, "Watching and playing with people like Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil and Ashok Mankad in Mumbai, I have learnt that any match can be won from any situation if you have the will for it. That's my theory. Even I didn't expect to beat Punjab by ten wickets, but when you have talented, young players, it's always possible for such results to come. The young have the hunger to win.
"Punjab are one of the best teams in the country, they always have a number of good cricketers. This time they had Shubman Gill too. So, obviously, the pressure was on us. And we didn't have Avesh Khan and Venkatesh Iyer.
"But before the game I spoke to the players and told them that if we think about things that are not in our control, we can't move forward. We just wanted to make sure that we put in our best and give our 100%. And all the boys did exactly that. Especially in the first innings, our performance was excellent [they scored 397]. [Before that], our bowlers had given away around 100 runs in the first 20 overs [89 for 1], but then came back well to bowl Punjab out for 219. And then Rajat Patidar [85], Shubham Sharma [102], Himanshu Mantri [89] and the young Akshat Raghuwanshi [69] batted really well."
Shubham was the top-scorer in the game, but the 18-year-old Raghuwanshi, who hit six fours and two sixes, impressed the most in his 109-ball innings. It was just his third first-class match, and he now has scores of 100 [against Meghalaya, on debut], 50 [against Kerala] and this 69. When he started his innings, Patidar was at the other end, but Raghuwanshi dominated the 99-run stand with his strokes all over the ground, and was especially impressive against spin, using his feet well against them and stepping out repeatedly.
"He is extremely confident, and he is an example for the others in the team. I mentioned him in the team meeting today too, and I told everyone that they should learn from him," Pandit said. "He is just 18, but he is tough. He is fearless and plays his shots freely. He never looks like he is under pressure. He is a quick-learner, and others should also learn from him. He is a rare gift for Madhya Pradesh cricket - he got the No. 6 spot because Venkatesh Iyer is not around, but he has filled that gap very well."
Madhya Pradesh's fast-bowling attack was led by Puneet Datey, Anubhav Agarwal and Gaurav Yadav. Datey has been around for a while, Gaurav is comparatively less experienced with just 19 games under his belt now, while Agarwal made his debut this season.
"Our first-choice fast bowlers, Kuldeep Sen, Ishwar Pandey and Arshad Khan, have injuries, so our pace attack was weakened. But the three pacers we had did a very good job," Pandit said. "They bowled to our plans. We always go out with a plan: we knew there wasn't going to be much in the pitch on the first day, and we ended up giving away a lot of runs early on. Then, at lunch, we discussed what we could do to progress, what lines and lengths to bowl, what sort of field placements we should have. I am happy that the three fast bowlers executed the plans so well.
"I must praise our captain, Aditya Shrivastava, too. He used the bowlers very well, and stuck to our plan with the field placements. I always feel that captains can make 50% of the match for you, and that's exactly what Aditya did."
Madhya Pradesh will face Bengal in the semi-final. Bengal have a strong batting line-up, which created a new first-class record during their quarter-final against Jharkhand when their first nine batters all scored 50-plus runs. But that is not a concern for Madhya Pradesh, according to Pandit, who said that his team used to worry about results earlier, but that has changed. They believe they can win from any position against any team.
* The story was updated at 09.33 GMT on June 10, 2022 after the end of the Bengal vs Jharkhand game.

Daya Sagar is a sub-editor with ESPNcricinfo Hindi