The stumps weren’t uprooted from the ground, there was no joyous wave of Maharashtra players running out from the ground. Even the customary high-fives were missing.
Instead, the Maharashtra players, with coach Surendra Bhave at the back, formed a line and shook hands with the Bengal players. Later, at the insistence of photographers, the team gathered into a huddle, breaking out into half smiles.
Only half an hour later, did a roar went emanate from the dressing room, startling the crowd of journalists around Lakshmi Ratan Shukla, the Bengal skipper.
The exultations grew in volume followed by loud applause. It was learnt, that the players had applauded a moving speech by Bhave, with a few confessing that the post-game talk left the dressing room emotionally charged.
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Bhave, the only person in this current Maharashtra group who has played a Ranji final — that more than two distant decades ago — said that he had not really prepared a victory speech, instead choosing to speak straight from the heart.
“The boys didn’t really celebrate the victory. It just showed that they wanted to win this semifinal in even better style. However, I just told them that what they had done was a fantastic achievement. Finishing a semi in three days is absolutely brilliant and basically I just wanted to tell them how proud I was of them,” he said.
It is this particular trait of Bhave, that of not overdoing things, that his wards say has been the most helpful. “Bhave sir, never really over-coaches you. He is not always in your ear, telling you to do this or pointing out that you did this wrong. He allows you to analyse your own performance, offering a few suggestions only if he feels the need. He is brought out the best in everyone and the collective feeling is to win the championship for Bhave sir,” says Kedar Jadhav.
The Maharashtra bowling turned it around for them against Mumbai in the second innings. Before going out to bowl, seamer Anupam Sanklecha, who took four wickets that day, says Bhave’s simple words did more good to them than an extravagant pep-talk. “He told us that we were great bowlers who had the ability to take all their wickets. He told us that he didn’t need to spoon-feed any of us as to where to bowl. He trusted us and that showed in our performance,” he says.
Not allowed to lose
Bhave was the captain of the Maharashtra team which lost the 1992-93 final to Punjab in Ludhiana. Invariably, question about the current squad’s similarities with that team, and that of Rohit Motwani (the current skipper) with Bhave himself, pop up. The 47-year-old Bhave took a brief pause, as if searching for the exact words. Then with a smile on his face, he chuckled, “No he isn’t. I lost that final, he is not allowed to do that.”
Later though, Bhave said that the core of this side resembled the one that reached the final 21 years ago. “We had Iqbal (Siddiqui) and Milind (Kulkarni) with the new ball. A good left-arm spinner in Prasant (Ray) who kept things tight. One thing we missed was a bowler who could bat. This team has all that going for it. The batting has fired at the right times, the bowlers have won us matches and in Shrikant (Mundhe) we have a serious medium pacer and a proper batsman and that makes a lot of difference,” he said.
Incidentally, Mundhe and left-arm spinner Akshay Darekar had added 73 runs in an important eighth wicket stand in the quarterfinal against Mumbai, a partnership which helped push Maharashtra closer to Mumbai’s score. Mundhe has been one of the standout performers this season for his side. His 30 wickets in eight games along with contributions lower down the order, have added a more effective dimension to the side.
Maharashtra have now won four games outright in succession, making it six wins this season, another record. Bhave credited the composition of the team as the real X-factor. “These guys being so tight, there is a lot of camaraderie. Someone is willing to step up every time. Also, the soul of the team is in their confidence. They are all gutsy. They don’t care for anyone’s reputation. We have seen ample examples of that in the quarters and semis and I am confident that this brand of fighting cricket will be seen in the final too,” he said.