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Why Chandrakant Pandit won’t be a success with international teams

He is the most successful domestic coach in India, but his disciplinarian style and his ‘my way or high way’ ethic might not suit international teams

Madhya Pradesh captain Aditya Shrivastava (left) with coach Chandrakant Pandit after winning the Ranji Trophy. (PTI)

Every time Chandrakant Pandit coaches a state team to the Ranji Trophy title – he’s now had four triumphs from making five finals in the last six editions – there is the predictable lament in some quarters as to why he is not already coaching India or India ‘A’. It seems a perfectly reasonable question to ask – why is someone who has led even middling sides such as Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh to maiden trophies not handling the cream of Indian cricket’s talent?

A few years ago, the man himself provided more than a hint of an answer. After Vidarbha’s Ranji victory in 2017-18 – during which he’d taken away the players’ mobile phones for the semi-final to prevent distractions – Pandit was asked whether coaching the national team was the next step for him. “If given a chance, yes, why not, always welcome. But somehow I have a doubt because this method won’t work,” Pandit had told Firstpost.

Pandit’s famously disciplinarian style seeks total commitment to his ways not only from players but even from the state cricket association that has brought him in. Selectors, captains, other support staff, they are all essentially secondary to how the head coach seeks to plot his team’s path to the cup. No deviation from the chosen route or disagreement with the decreed approach is tolerated. “A player knows that if he does not act according to the plan, he will have to face sir’s wrath,” senior MP seamer Ishwar Pandey had told this paper ahead of their Ranji final against Mumbai.

Fear does play a role in Pandit’s style. Once when he was coaching Vidarbha, the captain Faiz Fazal has had moments when players have complained about Pandit’s style. One player, who was slapped by Pandit during the Ranji Trophy league game, went on to kiss him after day’s play, after experiencing success.“Players have complained but later they all have realised that he is doing this for us. Team is kept above individual performance,” former player Prashant Vaidya, the then vice-president of Vidarbha cricket association, had once told this newspaper.

The biggest star in this MP side, shorn of a couple of bigger stars, was Rajat Patidar. Nearly everything he did on the Chinnaswamy Stadium field was cheered by the few hundred Royal Challengers Bangalore faithfuls. In the MP first innings, Patidar bashed a 44-ball fifty before he was caught off a no-ball. He walked slowly towards the dressing room, dreading the inevitable dressing-down from a furious Pandit. When the no-ball was called, a relieved Patidar hurried back to the middle and didn’t score a single run for the next 26 deliveries.

Fear may have worked with MP, but can one imagine it working with the Indian team, or even India ‘A’? Pandit relies on regularly sending substitutes with messages – what to bowl, what field to set, what shot to avoid. There is no denying that his method works when there is complete buy-in at domestic level, but can you send in a message telling Virat Kohli to stop playing the cover drive? Or ask Rishabh Pant to avoid the daredevil dash down the pitch? Or insist that skipper Rohit Sharma should only implement the coach’s strategy?

In 2017, Mumbai Ranji team in fact had come to a breaking point. The Mumbai Cricket Association stepped in to terminate his contract at the end of the season. “The MCA managing took the note of various instances where Pandit’s behaviour has been an issue with players. MCA felt we should go for new coach for forthcoming season,” an MCA official had told this newspaper.


Even without approaching that extreme, Indian cricket teams have had bitter fallouts with strong-minded coaches who sought to push ahead with what proved to be unpopular ideas or methods. And don’t forget that Greg Chappell and Anil Kumble commanded considerably more stature across the cricket universe than Pandit.

In a sense, Pandit’s method is more of a football manager’s than that of a cricket coach. It works the best with a set of players who operate at their best under instructions, according to former MP captain Devendra Bundela. It is revealing that Pandit felt MP captain Aditya Shrivastava was a good skipper because he listened to and implemented whatever the coach told him, despite having “his own ideas.”

Dinesh Karthik has called him the Alex Ferguson of the Ranji Trophy, and according to Abhishek Nayar, he is the finest first-class coach in the country. And you cannot really argue against the ultimate results – six Ranji titles as coach.


Another famous taskmaster coach Ray Jennings once said that some players “need a kick up the backside.” The South African would punish wayward bowlers or errant fielders by making them run laps around the ground. He felt confronting players bluntly and forcefully would make them better, but not every type of player can handle that style. Jennings did win the Under-19 World Cup for South Africa in 2014, but as a former South African player once remarked, his ‘my way or the highway’ approach was never going to help Jacques Kallis iron out a batting flaw.

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A certain fascination for such coaches to guide national teams, of course, continues, in the belief that all a talented but temperamental bunch of players needs is a ‘tough’ warden to knock them into a performing unit. It has led to disasters in the past, and will continue to. It leaves little room for the uninhibited expressions of instinct and the rough edges of personalities, both of which are critical components of genius. And genius is what you will often come across at the highest level. Treating professional players like schoolboys will work only at levels below, and that too in specific circumstances, when the entire ecosystem around the team has agreed to follow the leader, no questions asked.

First published on: 03-07-2022 at 09:30:18 am
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