Surendra Bhave (centre) believes Vijay Zol can play for India. Photo Courtesy: Cricket Masters Academy Facebook Page
Surendra Bhave, the Maharashtra coach, looks back at their remarkable campaign in Ranji Trophy 2013-14 in conversation with Nishad Pai Vaidya.
Surendra Bhave has been the man behind Maharashtra’s remarkable run during the Ranji Trophy 2013-14. The former opening batsman has shaped and built a young side and guided them to the final. Although they were beaten by Karnataka, Maharashtra can take a lot of heart from their campaign and there is a lot to look forward to in the near future.
In an exclusive interview with CricketCountry, Bhave looks back at what has been a fantastic season.
CricketCountry (CC): This season, your team talks have become a feature of your planning and preparation. But, what did you talk about at the very first meeting you had before the season started? What was different about your pre-season preparation this time?
Surendra Bhave (SB): Our first discussion was about the importance of team unity and collective effort. You may have four or five players averaging over 50 during a season, but you have to collectively produce the results. What is the point if your players do well individually and the team fails? In the previous season, I had made note of two defeats where we failed while batting first on seaming wickets. So, our batsmen worked on tightening their techniques and we practiced on different surfaces to prepare ourselves.
CC: So, preparing the batsmen for seaming tracks was the major exercise before the season?
SB: Yes, we prepared on different tracks and planned how to go about getting good totals. The bowlers also got a sense of how to get it right irrespective of the surface. In a way, we simulated match situations during training. In cricket, we often talk about discipline, but it is shallow if you restrict it to things like turning up on time etc. As a cricketer, you have to understand your role in the team. It is important to adjust according to the situation and play accordingly. We spoke about the importance of that discipline on the field of play. Take the example of our batsman Sangram Atitkar. During the season, he has moved from No 3 to slot in at 6, then back to 3 before moving down the order. When [Vijay] Zol is around, Sangram has to move down the order. Despite that, he responded very well, especially in the semi-final, where he and Ankeet [Bawne] helped us extend our lead significantly. What could have been an advantage of only 150-200, swelled up to above 300; which made a huge difference.
CC: In recent years, Maharashtra has had a young side. Backing that young talent has finally paid dividends hasn’t it?
SB: There has been a lot of emphasis on youth cricket in Maharashtra since the last eight years, when Mr Ajay Shirke took over. Maharashtra has won a plethora of junior tournaments. People would often ask why the senior team hadn’t done so well. But, the current lot has come together very well. This talented bunch has experienced success and has brought that to a higher level.
CC: Harshad Khadiwale, the opening batsman and Kedar Jadhav, at No 4, have been outstanding this season for Maharashtra. What would you say about the way they have grown?
SB: Harshad Khadiwale is in the traditional mould; he is patient and takes his time in the middle before taking the attack to the opposition. This season, he has evolved into a better batsman. As an opener, he does have a restricted zone early on as he plays in the ‘V’. Although he hasn’t been amongst the runs in the last two games, I can see a big score in the offing.
Kedar is one of the most talented players to emerge from the state of Maharashtra. Earlier, he used to play those brisk and breezy knocks, but then used to fizzle out. However, he has matured this season and has focused on building an innings, similar to what he did during his triple-century last year. He has to take his time in the middle and respect the bowlers early on. In the quarter-final against Mumbai, he did exactly that while facing Zaheer Khan and his men. Kedar was leaving the ball early in his innings and settled into a good rhythm. Later, when they started bowling on the stumps, he started scoring quite easily.
CC: What would you say about Samad Fallah, who has been one of the most consistent performers for Maharashtra in domestic cricket for a few years?
SB: Fallah is a fantastic swing bowler. He may not have the pace, but his swing bowling is exceptional. I haven’t seen anyone like him as he can move it in or away from both right or left-handers. He doesn’t have a big run-up, but his final wrist position is so good. This year, he started slowly, and Sachin Choudhary played a few games instead of him. But, once Choudhary was called for a suspect action, Fallah came back in. This attack has performed well as a unit: Fallah, Anupam Sanklecha, Dominic Joseph and Shrikant Mundhe. Since the others are also doing well, it allows Fallah to attack and push for wickets.
CC: At what point in the season did you feel that you would certainly make it through to the quarter-finals?
SB: The most important match of the season, during the league phase, was the contest against Himachal Pradesh. We had points in the bag, but weren’t completely assured of a place in the quarter-finals. For that game, we took a calculated risk of producing a seaming wicket. Although the opposition had Rishi Dhawan, who had around 46 wickets in the season till then, we backed our strengths. The press asked me the logic behind the decision as Dhawan was doing well and Himachal’s other seamers were also good. But, we approached the game with positive intent and played four seamers. Ultimately, we got the rewards as we won with a bonus point and were almost assured of a spot in the quarter-final before our last league match.
CC: Then of course, we had the big game between Maharashtra and Mumbai, the quarter-final. As an ex-Maharashtra player, who has been involved in numerous contests against the arch-rivals, and as a coach, what did that victory mean to you?
SB: At the risk of sounding arrogant, I would say that we weren’t scared of Mumbai during our playing days. We had Shantanu Sugwekar, Milind Gunjal, Shrikant Kalyani and myself in the ranks; if you look at the records, we did very well against them from 1988 to 1995. Mumbai too knew we were a tough opposition as we had scored a lot of runs against them. Coming back to the present day, as a coach, I could see that the current lot had no fear whatsoever. They backed themselves completely and it was fun to be in that setup. We trailed by 122 runs after the first innings, but that could have been a lot more had Akshay Darekar and Shrikant Mundhe not put up that spirited partnership. Later, we bowled to them in the tight channels and took our catches well. And of course, we had two fantastic innings that won us the game. I knew that this was an exceptional team and whatever the result of the final, they have made Maharashtra proud.
CC: So, when you did concede that lead in the big game, what was the thought and planning before going into the second innings?
SB: Every coach has plans — sometimes they click, sometimes they don’t. The wicket was more suited to our style of play. If you pitched it up, you would get the rewards and we did exactly that. Also, our fielding was fantastic and that brought us back into the game. When we were chasing, many thought we would collapse, but the rest is history.
CC: Vijay Zol has developed very well this season hasn’t he?
SB: Vijay is an outstanding talent and is definitely a prospect for India. Of course, we cannot say when exactly it would happen. Whenever he is with us at Maharashtra, we guide him to play better and perform consistently. He loves scoring big and has everything going for him. Plus, his work ethic is good and he is working hard on his fielding.
CC: Was the performance against Bengal in the semi-final your most clinical of the season?
SB: Yes, it was clinical and dominant. We took confidence from the Mumbai game into this match. At the same time, the players did not get too far ahead of themselves. The Bengal batting didn’t do well when the ball was swinging about. Fallah was on song on Day One and in a way, we were lucky that we didn’t bat first. But, even if we had batted first, we would have backed ourselves. After all, we did well on such tracks earlier in the season.
CC: Despite the result in the final, there are many positives for Maharashtra. How to you see this campaign helping in the long run?
SB: Yes, lots of positives from the finals. This team only lost one match during the entire season in the multi day format. The team is young and hungry for success and with a few additions here and there it looks like a settled unit to perform consistently over a period of time in future.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)