Rome wasn't built in a day. Some say, it took them nearly three centuries.
Vidarbha took their time as well, to become the best domestic team in India. The journey began in 1929 when their cricket association was instituted. For the next 60 years, the farthest they've reached is the quarter-finals four times: 1970-71, 1995-96, 2014-15 and 2015-16.
In light of Vidarbha's recent dominance - four championships in the past two seasons - coach Chandrakant Pandit and their experienced professional Wasim Jaffer, have come in for generous and well deserved - praise. But the genesis of Vidarbha's journey to the summit of Indian domestic cricket dates back to 2009-ish.
Back then, both Pandit and Jaffer were busy helping Mumbai win the Ranji Trophy for fun and Vidarbha were languishing in the Plate Group - the bottom tier of domestic cricket in the country - when former India and Vidarbha player Prashant Vaidya became the director of VCA's Cricket Academy.
Having retired in 1995-96 after playing four ODIs, Vaidya envisaged a future for the cricketers in the region when no one else was even trying. The team was unfamiliar to winning, and its personnel lacked the self-belief that's needed to succeed in the top-flight. The state of the game in Vidarbha needed a complete overhaul, and in Vaidya, the VCA found a self-motivated and experienced hand to do so..
"The desire was always there - that Vidarbha should have a strong cricketing structure," Vaidya tells ESPNcricinfo. "Even when I was playing for Vidarbha, and afterwards also, I realised we have the talent, but we were lacking in some departments. Lack of confidence, no habit of winning, the desire, the ambition, the attitude and approach that 'yes, even we can do it', that was lacking in the boys.
"Even during my time [Vaidya's first-class career lasted from 1987 to 1996] there were a few talented players in my side, but I'm not sure if they shared the desire. I've always felt that everyone who is playing at the first-class level must have ambition, because that drives you to perform better.
"So in 2009, we started a cricket academy for the age group of 15-19. We had almost 60 boys staying at the hostel of the Old Vidarbha Stadium. We developed an indoor facility too, and that probably brought a new change. We began a professional training pattern and developed a good system. But for those boys to come up to a level - skill-wise, technically or mentally - it took a few years."
Vaidya's first stint with VCA ended in 2012, but from the foundations he laid, emerged Vidarbha's current stars. When he returned as vice-president and chairman of VCA's cricket development committee four years later, he could notice the benefits of instituting those streamlined structures throughout the region.
"R Sanjay, Akshay Wadkar, these are the guys who came up from the camps that we had in 2009," Vaidya says. "In Nagpur, there's a good cricketing culture, but the districts lacked proper structure. So that's been a focus for the past five years.
"Akshay Karnewar, Aditya Thakare and Atharva Taide are the younger gems we have developed from the districts - almost 50% of the team is from the district. In my time, barely anyone would be from there.
I always knew that Pandit's way of coaching will suit our boys. I feel that I've done my part by getting the boys a good teacher, but I was equally confident that the boys were up to it… to receive the teachings - so it works both ways. For a good teacher to succeed, you need students who want to learn too.
"It's all about reaching the grassroots because that's where the untapped talent lies. But it's not just the development of players... we've had to train coaches across the age groups as well. So our focus isn't simply on the players. There has to be a cohesive development across the system.
"Last year, I got a random call from someone about Saurabh Dubey, who played [the] U-23 [tournament] this year. They sent me his video bowling in a tennis-ball tournament in Wardha, and I asked him to come the next day. Former bowling coach Subroto Banerjee called him, and we realised he has some special talent. And we made him stay in our academy for nearly a year, as he adjusted from tennis-ball bowling to red-ball bowling, and it's paid off one year later. His six wickets in the quarter-final helped us reach the semi-finals of the U-23 CK Nayudu Trophy. That is what gives youngsters hope that 'yes, if I'm good I can be picked', you just don't have to be part of our U-15 or U-19 teams to become part of the senior system.
"Away from the field, we have mental-conditioning experts who work with the boys one-on-one, across the age groups. The psychologist talks to the boys - especially the young boys coming from the districts. They are new to the scene, so they may feel a little lost, and that's where our mental conditioning camps help us. On the other hand, a boy from the city may score some runs and become complacent, so it helps them come back to earth too."
This system which works on autopilot is what convinced Pandit and Jaffer to eventually make that move to Vidarbha in 2017. Vaidya played a key role in facilitating both those deals.
"When I took over in 2016, I luckily met Chandu. We had just lost Paras Mhambrey, because he moved on to India A, and Chandu was released by Mumbai. And since I've played with, under and against Chandu - together with his attitude and approach to the game - I was very keen. In fact, I was after him four years back before we signed Sairaj [Bahutule], but I was not part of VCA for some time, and he got a job as a national selector thereafter, but this time I decided I'm not going to miss out on him.
"I always knew that his way of coaching will suit our boys. I feel that I've done my part by getting the boys a good teacher, but I was equally confident that the boys were up to it… to receive the teachings - so it works both ways. For a good teacher to succeed, you need students who want to learn too.
"Jaffer was looking for a different opportunity because he's so connected, wants to play the game, so I was confident that his wealth of experience - and approach towards the game - would definitely help our boys in the dressing room, besides being the mainstay in our batting line-up. For us, we just don't want professionals who can score hundreds or take five-fors, we wanted pros who could guide the youngsters, and both him and Ganesh Satish have done that from the first day they arrived."
"My aim is that the young boys learn about cricketing ethics, besides the technical aspects, from the senior statesmen. To learn how cricket should be approached at different stages of one's game and one's career. Because that is where youngsters may get lost."
As Vidarbha chugged along towards defending their Irani Cup against a power-packed Rest of India side, Vaidya felt overjoyed at how the team has done in the absence of the injured Jaffer and Umesh Yadav.
"With these two men not there, we are still competing very well, that's a good sign," Vaidya says. "It shows that the youngsters have learnt from the seniors. Even without the seniors there, they are carrying on and doing as well. That's been our idea too: develop a bench-strength. And the progress is showing.
"That's a great feeling, but see, we are helping them out because they deserve it. They have the talent and that's why we are backing them - no other reason. So when you invest in someone and they perform - there's so much joy there. Before the Irani Cup match, Pandit and I were discussing that Karnewar could be the match-winner. We thought it would be with the ball, but he did it with the bat! All these boys are really good boys, very humble and disciplined boys, so you feel very happy for them.
Akshay Karnewar, Aditya Thakare and Atharva Taide are the younger gems we have developed from the districts - almost 50% of the team is from the district. In my time, barely anyone would be from there
Vaidya also felt that the team could not have dominated Indian cricket had it not been for their captain. Under Faiz Fazal, Vidarbha became only the third team in history to defend their Ranji and Irani Cup trophies.
"We are lucky to have a leader like Faiz Fazal, he's outstanding," Vaidya says. "I don't think he's got his due share of representation in the higher grade, yet he continues with the same focus. The young boys look up to him. He's not a soft leader, mind you, but he communicates well without being too harsh. At 32, he's as fit as someone in their 20s. It makes the youngsters think about their own career span: if you have the dedication and mental strength, you will succeed."
With two terrific seasons under his belt, Vaidya hopes when he leaves his duties as the head of development at VCA, he'd have done enough to ensure Vidarbha never goes back to the time when they would be languishing in the backwaters of Indian cricket.
"Honestly, what brings me the most satisfaction, if I have to admit, is that we have representation in India's U-19, U-23, A teams as well as the senior side. So it gives us immense satisfaction. We want our boys to play for the country, and it definitely brings joy.
"I want to leave with a set-up that ensures there's a constant flow of youngsters coming in. The parents of some of these boys back home, in the districts, are very comfortable because of what the boys have achieved on the field. They are not only getting monetarily satisfied, but also satisfied with the journey they have made - they've gotten a fair chance to prove themselves.
"As long as I can, I would like to contribute in whatever way. I always had the wish to contribute to the game in Vidarbha, and that shall continue till the end of my life."
Sreshth Shah is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo