As Madhya Pradesh (MP) flattened Punjab at the Alur (3) cricket ground for a 10-wicket win on Thursday, with openers Yash Dubey and Himanshu Mantri running the final laps of a 26-run target, there were no animated gestures or rousing celebrations from the balcony behind the long-off boundary.
The openers also maintained their propriety as they walked back gently after shaking hands with the opposition. It resonated with MP’s convincing texture of play over four days, more so with the chief in his engine room, Chandrakant Pandit.
For Pandit, the heart of his cricket lies in discipline. “It is a sport and you need to learn to handle your wins and losses. Today’s generation gets things into their heads easily and loses focus. Even today, I told them to not take the target easily because anything can happen,” said Pandit from the sidelines after silently guiding his pawns to a well-rounded win.
Madhya Pradesh, in turn, qualified for its first semifinal in five years, and Pandit’s appointment as head coach has summoned fresh command in the dressing-room.
The team manager and liaison officers pause for a moment before approaching him. ,Chandu sir se baat hona mushkil hoga (it will be difficult speaking to Chandu sir)” – was a constant phrase that scribes had to disappointingly gulp down on all four days of play at Alur. Minutes after the win, the MP dressing-room had splattered with chit-chats and discussions while ‘Chandu sir’ was busy speaking to Punjab pacer Siddharth Kaul on the balcony.
And in the snap of a second, the players shot up to the decorum of the quietest room in the vicinity. Pandit was to deliver his final marks, and he ensured there was no space for complacency. While the win was as comfortable as it could be on a flat deck, Pandit rued the four catches MP dropped on the first day.
After pulling Vidarbha into the highs of red-ball cricket in successive years in 2017/18 and 2018/19, Pandit believes he is working on the same lines with his policies and approach remaining intact.
“I played my cricket in Mumbai. Fortunately, I was part of a great team. I never played cricket at a big level, but I was part of a team that had Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, Sandeep Patil, and Ashok Mankad. I must thank Ashok for teaching me how to coach and lead a team. That has helped me a lot. More than any challenge, we were always at one point. So to win, you work on that process. Probably, people call me very strict, you know, typical Bombay khadoos! I am that. That identity is very difficult to create because everything is being done for the betterment of the players and the team. I just keep them tight, that’s all,” Pandit said with a smile.
“They all respect me. I don’t know what they might be saying behind my back, but I don’t care about that because my job and profession are my priority,” he affirmed.
Madhya Pradesh’s Shubham celebrates his century on Tuesday. – Lalith Kalidas
The seasoned coach is impressed with the side’s performance in the absence of senior players Avesh Khan and Venkatesh Iyer, who are away with the Indian team.
“We never thought about a 10-wicket win because Punjab has been one of the best teams in the country and has always had big players. Even Shubman Gill had come. Naturally, the pressure was on us too. But of course, when there is a young team, the intention and intensity were to win. We were missing Iyer and Avesh, but that is what we wanted to learn. How to respond during situations which are not under our control,” Pandit said.
MP’s pace battery had taken a hit with three front-line seamers out injured, yet in their absence, the three-pronged attack of Puneet Datey, Gourav Yadav, Anubhav Agarwal shone brightly.
“Kuldeep Sen was down with an injury. We are working on his recovery. He could be fit in time before our next set of matches. We also have left-arm pacer Arshad Khan, he was injured too. Iswar Pandey also missed the match because of an injury. He had bowled well in the league stage.
“Our fast-bowling unit stood up despite the injuries. Puneet, Anubhav and Gourav did well in this match. I think Puneet was the best pacer in this match,” Pandit said.
Pandit was most impressed by left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya Singh who rattled Punjab with a superb spell of 6/50 in the second innings after a forgettable outing in the first. Kartikeya, who dabbled back into red-ball cricket after his stint with Mumbai Indians in the IPL is MP’s leading wicket taker this season with 19 wickets from seven innings.
“The surface had deteriorated by day three. Fortunately, we had enough runs on the board. We were eyeing a 250-run lead, which didn’t happen after the wickets fell quickly when Patidar got out. We were sure the game was in our hands. Kartik utilized the pitch nicely, and he got all the assistance from the surface. I told him to bowl a little slower in the second innings because initially, he was bowling too quick.
“Even yesterday evening with the new ball, he was quicker. He’s always been picking wickets, even in the league stages. Usually, players who play in the IPL, tend to bowl a lot of wides on return and take some time to settle. But he has recovered nicely from the new ball.”
Pandit also notices the quality of leadership in skipper Aditya Shrivastava and insists planning has been the key to their success. “That has made all the difference because I believe makes 50 per cent of a game.”
The sweetness of the win is probably short-lived as the team gears up for another round of rigorous training for the semifinals.
“I have told them today is the only free day they would get. Next three days, we have to think about working on our weaknesses because a better team awaits, and we have to be ready for it,” Pandit said as the lightness of the moment quickly transited back to the khadoos mindset.