On Monday evening, Rajneesh Gurbani was walking around inside the dressing room with a stump in his hand, collecting autographs of his Vidarbha teammates after winning the Ranji Trophy. Memories scribbled on a piece of wood after a season where Gurbani, who got a hat-trick in the final, and his team started with self-belief before daring to dream of winning the Ranji Trophy.
When the moment arrived, with a nine-wicket win over Delhi in Indore, they huddled and screamed: “Vidarbha”. Again and again.
“Now that I have tasted this (success), I want to play for India,” Gurbani told The Indian Express.
It’s been a fairy-tale rise for him, and his team. Three months ago, he hadn’t yet honed the inswinger that stabbed through Delhi’s heart in the final. Three months ago, he had a stutter on his follow-through. Three months ago, the team management and a couple of senior players felt that they could win the trophy but that belief hadn’t percolated to the youngsters.
In many ways, Gurbani was the face of the team’s transformation. A civil engineer, the 24-year-old was also a natural sportsman — gold-medallist runner, excellent badminton player, good in basketball and of course, cricket.
And yet, the first impression of this wiry fast bowler has always been muted. Referring to his frame, a Vidarbha selector had said: “Yeh kya fast bowling karega (What fast bowling can he do)?” Today, Gurbani’s staggering numbers had the answer: 39 wickets, the second highest wicket-taker this season and the most by a fast bowler.
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What was said about Gurbani was felt about Vidarbha, too, with the team languishing in the bottom rungs not very long ago.
The change didn’t come overnight. An academy came up in 2009, talent-spotters got players from districts shifting the focus from Nagpur, and professional coaches were recruited. It all came together this season, with the arrival of Chandrakant Pandit as coach, the presence of Subroto Banerjee as bowling coach, the calming guidance of former India opener Wasim Jaffer, the burning desire of captain Faiz Fazal, and the raw talent of the younger players.
This time, with every rung Vidarbha climbed, so did Gurbani — he claimed five or more wickets in an innings in each of their knockout fixtures.
In the quarterfinal against Kerala, he ran through the top-order and set the tone. In the semi-final, he snared 12 wickets against the in-form Karnataka, as Vidarbha nailed their first final slot by a slender five-run margin.
In the final, he mopped up Delhi’s lower-order with a hat-trick, and yet another five-for to give his side the upper hand. In the second innings, in which he picked two wickets, he provided the early breakthrough, trapping the dangerous Gautam Gambhir in front with a late in-swinger, before getting rid of Delhi’s top-scorer Nitish Rana.
By end of day 3, Sunday, it was clear that the game was Vidarbha’s. Family members had come in, association officials were present, old childhood coaches had travelled to Indore. And when history finally came calling Monday, Vidarbha were not only all ears, but ready to embrace it.