Chandrakant Pandit: A taskmaster with no-ball fines, olive-oil dishes to lead Vidarbha to glory

Devendra Pandey
Pandit's ultra-disciplined approach has forged Vidarbha into a tough unit. (PTI)

Prashant Vaidya recalls an incident how it was during a former India captain Dilip Vengsarkar's daughter wedding in Mumbai where his evening went in convincing Pandit to come on board as Vidarbha's coach. Pandit was coaching Mumbai then and Vaidya, who is vice-president of Vidarbha Cricket Association, was looking for a coach who can show way to his team to glory.

A couple of years ago, Prashant Vaidya walked into the wedding arena of Dilip Vengsarkar's daughter with one aim: to convince Chandrakant Pandit to coach Vidarbha. Vaidya, who is the vice-president of Vidarbha Cricket Association, knew Pandit would be the ideal man to change Vidarbha's fortunes.

Pandit, by then, had built a reputation for being a coach who ticked all the right boxes: strategy, discipline, old-school work ethic, unorthodox methods which got the best out of players. Vaidya also knew the only downside of Pandit- that some players might not like his hard style initially and it might lead to a few disagreements. But Vaidya, a former India player himself, was certain in his mind that Vidarbha needed that style.

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As 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. Shades of John Wright clutching the collar of Virender Sehwag early in his coaching tenure. "Players have complained but later they all have realised that he is doing this for us. He ensures that we don't miss our direction. We don't talk about inpidual performances. Team is kept above inpidual performance," he says.

Vaidya had no doubts in his mind about Pandit. "When I got him (Pandit) here and if I got complaints, I told myself that I wouldn't complain. I know his methods, I know him personally, I have played with him and I knew he would bring success. I knew he will bring his methods here and that was important to me," Vaidya says.

In his mind, the Vidarbha players were ready for such treatment. They were willing and eager, and were looking for a good mentor to guide them and introduce them to a systematic process. "Ethics and discipline are a big part of Pandit's philosophy."

As ever, Pandit's methods go beyond the field. As he has done with Mumbai in the past, various committees were formed-entertainment, food, fitness, travel- players were deputed to take ownership and it helped in the bonding process. Fazal, who had turned into a fitness maniac in the recent years, was given the task to permanently oversee the food committee along with the physio.

"The rest will have to keep changing their committees except me and physio. Our job is to ensure players eat healthy. I don't eat faltoo stuff; so I will ensure other don't eat too," Fazal, who only uses olive oil in his food preparation, told The Indian Express.

The only player who was excluded from this committee is Wasim Jaffer. Fazal calls him the 'King' of the team. Fines are kept for those who even walk in ten seconds late, or those who wear different team clothes. All had to come in a single-file, in a line, when they come for training and dress code needs to be followed. If not, minimum fine was rupees 500.

"For each no ball, bowler is fined 500 rupees and if bowler gets a wicket on a no ball he will have to pay 1000 rupees. Lalit Yadav had bowled two-three balls. Entertainment committee is given task of movies, not music itna hua nahi is saal. Discipline is key," Fazal says. There is fixed 'kabutar' (pigeon) who is given task to pass messages to Fazal during the course of the game. "You can call him a messenger, sophisticated word," he quips.

Jaffer, who has known Pandit for years, says the coach's commitment and work ethics are impeccable. "He sleeps less, gives more than others, he's constantly thinking about cricket," Jaffer says. Players have been told that whenever Pandit calls they have to be in his room, it can be late in the night or early morning.

The other day Fazal got a call late in the night from Pandit to discuss the next day strategy. "After getting out early in final he called me 9:30 in the night, I didn't want to go but good I went because it made me realize that I am captain of the team and I have to think above my inpidual performance. He changed my mindset," Fazal recalls.