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Feature

Chandrakant Pandit's time-tested philosophy fires Madhya Pradesh's Ranji Trophy dream

His methods have brought titles to Mumbai and Vidarbha, and they could now potentially take MP all the way

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
17-Jun-2022
Kumar Kartikeya picked up six wickets in the second innings to see Madhya Pradesh through to the final four, Punjab vs Madhya Pradesh, Ranji Trophy 2021-22, 4th quarter-final, 4th day, Alur, June 9, 2022

From excelling in the IPL for Mumbai Indians, Kumar Kartikeya has made a smooth transition to being a key player in MP's Ranji Trophy campaign  •  ESPNcricinfo Ltd

"Quick, boys."
A voice, not loud enough to boom around the dressing room but loud enough to be heard, gets everyone's attention in the Madhya Pradesh camp.
It's their coach Chandrakant Pandit's first and final reminder that they need to be out of the ground soon. A recovery session, team meeting, and one-on-one chats are lined-up at the hotel. They can't be fatigued by Bengaluru's evening traffic after a long day.
They want to make sure their hour-long commute back to the hotel will last no more than an hour. Within 20 minutes of stumps being called, they're all ready to go. The players troop out, one by one, bags neatly packed and loaded onto the bus.
What does this have to do with cricket and the Ranji Trophy? Well, this peek into the MP camp highlights the importance they have placed in time management, planning and preparation - the ingredients of a most memorable campaign, constructed methodically under Pandit, a man whose methods have brought success to the numerous teams he has coached over the years. Methods that are uncontested.
"I may even slap a player, but there's a reason behind it and he will understand that too," he once said, only half in jest.
He's won Ranji titles with Mumbai and Vidarbha, and he's now coaching MP, who are perfectly placed to reach their first final this century. We aren't even counting the many players he has shaped at the National Cricket Academy or at several junior camps.
For three weeks now, MP's hotel has been their home. Even with bubble restrictions lifted, they've continued taking precautions, and kept to themselves. Instead of a round of golf next door, the players have spent the extra hour at the gym. Rather than trips downtown to visit a mall, watch a movie, or grab a bite, they've indulged in chai and chitchat by the poolside, or competitive games of FIFA, or late-night coffee sessions.
These players have had each other's backs through thick and thin. Team bonding has been the foundation of their Ranji Trophy campaign. It perhaps is with most successful teams, but this feels different. Or maybe it just feels so organic that the vibes resonate across the group without anyone going out of their way to speak about it.
You can see why this is big. MP don't often make Ranji finals. They were last there in 1998-99, when they lost to Karnataka. Pandit, incidentally, was their captain then.
Now there's another opportunity, potentially, should they see off Bengal's challenge on the last day of their semi-final in Alur. MP need six wickets to win, and even a draw will be enough since they've secured the first-innings lead. Bengal need a further 254 runs in a chase of 350.
Kumar Kartikeya picked up three of the four Bengal wickets that fell on Friday. He's itching to get his hands on the Ranji Trophy. When he left home nearly a decade ago, he didn't know he'd make it to the IPL. The Ranji Trophy was all he'd heard of, and dreamt of playing in. If he were to win it now, it would make the trip back home doubly special.
Rajat Patidar has seen different shades of the happiness spectrum over the last six months. In February, he wasn't picked at the IPL auction. In April, he was sitting down to plan his wedding, but had to put it on the backburner. One call from Sanjay Bangar, the Royal Challengers Bangalore head coach, and he was in Mumbai within six hours.
In May, he became the only Indian uncapped player to hit a century in the IPL playoffs. If he adds a Ranji Trophy win to that achievement, he might have a significantly expanded guest list when his much-delayed wedding goes ahead.
Akshat Raghuwanshi, the prankster in the group at 18, whom everyone is fond of, may have not even been here had MP had the services of the India allrounder Venkatesh Iyer. Raghuwanshi was making a mark in age-group cricket when a freak innings - a half-century off twenty-something balls in an impossible chase - made heads turn.
Umpiring in an Under-19 match, Pandit declined to give a plumb lbw early in Raghuwanshi's innings just so he could see more of this talent he'd heard so much about. What he saw certainly impressed him, because he gave Raghuwanshi his Ranji chance straightaway, and he's responded with three half-centuries and a century in his first five innings at this level.
Then there's Aditya Shrivastava, the captain, who was all of five when MP last made it to the final. When he started out in 2015, he was so star-struck around the group that he'd barely mumble a word to the senior players.
Here he is now, as captain, giving pep talks to the entire group - every day, every session, every time they step out onto the field. With the bat, his stubborn 82 in the second innings, his only half-century of the season so far, was as important as the 79 Patidar made in the same innings, the wickets Kartikeya took, or the century Himanshu Mantri made in the first innings.
These are just some of several stories that make up this team, many of which are still waiting to be told. You are unlikely to hear them unless and until MP win. Because that is one of Pandit's simple rules. Talk only after you have something to show for it.
And no one is complaining. Everyone is happy to stick to this instruction. There's the Ranji Trophy on the line, and they're just giving it their all by shutting out external noise, quite literally.
On Saturday, along with Pandit, there will be many others willing them on. Among them, will be all the former players who've shaped MP cricket into what it it today: the Bundelas, the Khurasiyas, the Saxenas and the Ojhas among others. They will all be wishing their team well.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo