“Don’t know what they would say today. If first one was a fluke, I am happy with the second fluke again,” off-spinner Akshay Wakhare would say, holding the trophy in his hands. It’s not clear who the critics were as Vidarbha’s triumph last year was a product of careful planning, vision, and investment in grassroots. Be that as it may, those critics’ mouths have definitely been sealed now. Skipper Faiz Fazal remembers the line Wasim Jaffer would often say in team meetings: “No one remembers runners-up; everyone remembers only the champions.”
Fazal’s family had come along with their entire colony for the game. A section in the stands was filled with his neighbours and well-wishers and they unfurled a large banner that read: “Lift the Cup again Faiz”.
Coach Chandrakant Pandit is someone who cares a lot about discipline and team ethics, and has continued to enforce it in Vidarbha. Some have commented that he runs it like a schoolboy team but he had an answer for his critics at the end of it all. “Someone asked me that whether my team plays in school. The same discipline if Australia show, they would say what attitude. But when we do it, it was branded as school ka team. We stood behind each other and the captain also told me, ‘sir, yeh cheez honi hi chahiye (this should happen)’.”
Emotions run over
He turned increasingly emotional. “Chandu Pandit is strict and I talk emotionally – some might not like what I do but I know that’s my job. If the president of VCA has called me, he has done it for me to work here. The way I work is different. Maybe, I can even slap Faiz – and there would be a reason behind it if I did that. Don’t take me wrong, but that is a process that takes you close to the destination. When you have a mission, you try to complete it. They accepted each and every line I said. I am very proud of my boys,” Pandit said.
Vidarbha didn’t have a great start to the season but came back strongly in the final pool games to top the league before dismantling Uttarakhand and Kerala to reach the final. When the chips were down, Jaffer stood up with a mountain of runs, with Fazal, the opener and captain, and Akshay Wadkar contributing consistently. At 40, Jaffer finished with 1,037 runs. The lower order always did its bit with the bat to further boost the team.
However, one man who turned it on in Vidarbha’s greatest hour of need was Aditya Sarwate. Had he had not scored those 49 runs batting at number eight in the second innings, things could have been different in the final.
It helped Vidarbha post 200 runs on a pitch that had got progressively slower and was aiding spin. Later, his six-wicket haul in the second innings (11 wickets in the match ) sealed the deal. He would cherish the fact that he took out Cheteshwar Pujara twice. On the final day, Saurashtra needed 148 runs to win with five wickets in hand. They hoped someone will come up with a minor miracle but it never came.
Vishvarajsinh Jadeja and Kamlesh Makwana tried their best but a change of the ball, perhaps, did them in. Sarwate had Makvana lunging and missing the line completely to be bowled. Next over, Wakhare trapped Prerak Mankad lbw on the backfoot. Jadeja fought on for a while but fell lbw, trying to sweep a full delivery from Sarwate, who went on to get Saurashtra captain Jaydev Unadkat.
The unmissable Sarwate
It was befitting that Sarwate was involved in the curtain call, catching Dharmendrasinh Jadeja’s attempted heave that ended the game. Sarwate, who has a seen a lot of struggle in his personal life as his father was left paralysed after an accident 20 years back, dedicated the man-of-the-match award to his mother Anushree, who took care of the family. Soon, the families of other Vidarbha players started to troop inside the arena.
As the team went into a huddle, Pandit, the coach, asked everyone to walk with hands on each other’s shoulders. The players clicked photographs and hugged the groundstaff for their work. “There was pressure but it was healthy. There would be expectations when someone does well. We played positive through this season, in fact for the last two years. The off-season preparation is very important as it’s not easy to win the Ranji Trophy. If anyone thought last year was a fluke, we have proven it again,” Fazal said.
Umesh Yadav, who played in his first Ranji final, was moved enough to say, “Few years back, people asked where is Vidarbha? Now they know which part of Maharashtra we come from.”
After silverware, wedding bells for Wakhare
Nagpur: On the evening Vidarbha won the Ranji final, their offspinner Akshay Wakhare, the second-highest wicket taker this season for the team, had other things on his mind.
He is getting married on February 10, one day before Vidarbha would be playing in the Irani Trophy. The last few evenings, even as he would plot how to bowl to the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara, he would be planning his wedding.
The morning after Ranji win, he will travel to Ujjain for the wedding. The next morning, he will go to Nagpur for the Irani Trophy. Two days into the match, on February 13, he will be at his wedding reception in Nagpur. Next morning, back to cricket.
His team-mates talk about how he has been planning his wedding for a year now and a smiling Wakhare talks about how he plans to tackle the hectic schedule ahead. “Tension has certainly increased as I am getting married on February 10 and my reception is on 13th. Thoda hotchpotch ho jayega sab. But I will be available for the Irani game.”
Wakhare took three wickets in the second innings of the Ranji final and with 34 wickets in all, he has Vidarbha’s second-highest wicket tally this season.