CHENNAI: Faiz Fazal has been in the domestic circuit for over 15 seasons. Apart from being part of the Irani Cup side that lifted the trophy in 2015-16, the veteran has only flirted with lifting the Ranji Trophy only once.To lift that trophy has not just been his dream, it is what has been driving him. He has grown up in a state that has three first-class teams and turns out for a side that had limited resources in terms of talent. Vidarbha is among the most drought-hit regions in the country, and Nagpur — the second-capital of Maharashtra — and its catchment area is restricted to 11 districts.
Despite being part of one of the most resource-laden states in India, the region, known for its rich minerals, has historically been plagued with poverty. That divide extends to cricket too, as Mumbai and Maharashtra — the other two first-class teams from the state — have been the traditional powerhouses.
But that didn’t stop Vidarbha from giving India its first Test captain: CK Nayudu. Being part of the Ranji Trophy set-up from 1957-58, Vidarbha has given India only one more Test cricketer: Umesh Yadav.
He was almost plucked out of nowhere thanks to his association with Air India — headquartered in Mumbai — which allowed scouts to notice his pace. But apart from this, Vidarbha has at the most restricted its ambition — realistically — to being among the elite teams, and has spent ages in the plate division.
As 2018 dawned, they were there after 266 first-class matches, scaling the pinnacle of India’s domestic circuit. Vidarbha: Ranji Trophy champions. “It’s tough to put in words the emotions and joy that has come with this,” captain Fazal says.
On Monday, while most of India was still finding ways to counter hangovers, Vidarbha were on the cusp of history. A huge first-innings lead over Delhi meant they had one hand on the trophy. But, complacency was the last thing Vidarbha spoke about in the team meeting on New Year’s Day. While the world was welcoming the new year, they slept, believing that a big party was on. After defeating Karnataka in the semifinal, they had a party where they were told to not overdo it as a bigger one awaited them.
As Wasim Jaffer stroked the winning runs in Indore at 4.50pm, their fairytale was complete.“Every year when Ranji season begins, this used to be the dream. But we never had the kind of experience or mental space that other teams have. Last few seasons, we have been improving. By bringing in coaches from Mumbai, who know what it takes to go all the way, we changed our outlook. Winning needs a different direction and skillsets. These professionals brought with them those aspects.
“Once we found our core thanks to our academy, it was all about right support-staff and preparation. Chandu Sir (Chandrakant Pandit) asked me soon after taking over what my target was as a captain. When I said ‘trophy’, it was all set into motion,” Fazal observes.Vidarbha had been after Pandit for the last seven years. After their coup of sorts this season, he arrived with a task of giving a makeover to Vidarbha’s cricket culture. “This win will not only change the team, but also Vidarbha. Every 14-year and 16-year-old will stand up, raise his hand, and say that he can win. That is the kind of culture I want Vidarbha to have.”
Vidarbha 547 in 163.4 ovs (Akshay Wadkar 133, Siddhesh Neral 74; Navdeep Saini 5/135, Akash Sudan 2/102, Kulwant Khejroliya 2/132) & 32/1 in 5 ovs bt Delhi 295 & 280 in 76 ovs (Dhruv Shorey 62, Nitish Rana 64; Akshay Wakhare 4/95, Aditya Sarwate 3/30, Rajneesh Gurbani 2/92).