Former Indian cricketer who played 5 Tests and 36 ODIs and now coach of the ever so popular Mumbai unit… Chandrakant Pandit leads by example. He is a man who is always so determined and dedicated to his job…a fearless individual who refuses to let team Mumbai be anything but the best. His payoff is the smile that is seen on his face when they do well on the field. In turn the boys look to give their hundred percent for him as he and the support staff together are their biggest support system. His lessons are long remembered even after winning a trophy. CricFit author Binaisha M. Surti met Chandrankant Pandit in Mumbai and had a great discussion with him on a wide variety of aspects ranging from his initial days spent as a student of the game to Mumbai standing a chance to retain the Ranji Trophy and lots more.
Take us through your childhood to the point you realized your passion for cricket? Were there any other sports too which caught your attention?
Pandit: Basically, I never thought that I would play for India. Tennis ball cricket was very popular during in our country and as my brother played cricket I too took interest in it. Some of the top most Mumbai cricketers too have started off by playing tennis ball cricket as it was a craze. Every weekend we would play practise matches and enjoy the game. As a youngster I would always follow my brother and go and watch matches. That is all about how I garnered interest in the sport.
How did your journey take off in the cricketing arena?
Pandit: Once while playing in Chhedanagar in Chembur…our society team was playing against one of the local teams. That particular day Achrekar Sir, our guru had come to meet Mangesh Adhatrao who also trained under him. He was watching the game and suddenly he saw me keeping wickets. Basically I was asked to stand behind the stumps by my brother as I was very young. He did not want me running around every- where and wanted me to stand in one place…that is how I developed my wicket keeping skills…(smiles) Mangesh Adhatrao was asked about me by Achrekar Sir. That is how I was spotted by Achrekar Sir. Later I was asked to come to Jolly Gymkhana and play…and that was the first time I played season ball cricket. That is how I started my cricket career.
Further, I was asked to change my school to Shardashram. But it was very tough to convince my parents. There was one particular day which changed my luck in a big way. Achrekar Sir came to my house at 12:30 am to convince my father. My father said that it is not possible for me to only play cricket because we being from a middle class family…we need our children to also work and earn money, so he has to study as well. Achrekar Sir just removed a thousand rupees from his pocket, and he told my father that I will pay you this amount every month…but this child should play cricket…that is the beginning of my story.
Ramakant Achrekar Sir always had a great eye to spot talent and you too are one of his gems. What was he like as a coach and do you implement his tactics too while coaching today?
Pandit: Sir always believed that every player should go out in the middle and play matches. He had a very good vision. He always used to go to various games and that is how he would spot talent. I remember, when he had spotted me… he told my father that I would probably play for India someday. Of course I never thought about it during that age…but it definitely got me very motivated. Achrekar Sir has a brilliant vision and it is proved with so many cricketers starting from Tendulkar himself.He would make us play a lot of games so that we would get a chance to practise. That was the best part about Achrekar Sir. He used to always talk a lot about the technical aspects of the game. He was disciplined too, asking the boys to roll the pitch…the reason behind it was so that we knew how the pitch behaved. The minor aspects of the game would be written down by him on paper and we would discuss it at the end of days play. That is how I learnt a lot of things and I do the same thing today, nothing has changed.
You have always had high regard for Ashok Mankad when you played for the Mafatlal team. What were the key aspects that you picked up from the great man?
Pandit: There are 2 people… One is Achrekar Sir who I owe everything too. Similarly when I started playing cricket at a higher level it was Ashok Mankad who did a lot for me. The best part I learnt from him was how to lead and manage the team and the confidence he showed in me when I was all of 19…as I played for the first time for team Mafatlal. I was surprised when he announced the name for captaincy. There were so many good cricketers but he still instilled his belief in me. The captainship aspect of how to get the best out of a player, how to read pitches, how to read various situations and how one can come out of dangerous and tense situations. Sunil Gavaskar had given me a very valuable advice earlier…to go and watch the game. The same way the first advice Kaka gave me was that whatever I do, I should make my own decisions. Then I could go back to him in case I needed help. He further told me not to think that I am leading 7 to 8 Test Cricketers at such a young age. I also developed the habit of watching matches, sitting next to him and discussing important aspects of the sport.
How would you sum up your journey from being a cricketer to now coaching a champion team like Mumbai?
Pandit: Well they are 2 completely different aspects. As a cricketer one is totally involved in the game, looks to enjoy it and at the same time is keen to perform and get the desired results. You are confident that as a player you will perform in the middle. As a coach it is completely different when you are sitting outside the rope, watching others perform expecting them to do something which you have planned. The planning is done from the outside and unfortunately one has a limitation that you cannot go inside and do it. These are two different skills altogether. While coaching one has to take under consideration many aspects. You have to handle 15 players all those minds are working in a different directions and then even you need to take care of the support staff. Experience helps me to keep them together and further get the best out of them. I try my best to inculcate in them what I have learnt from my seniors. The process in very important. the result will automatically follow.
Performance wise which would you term as the biggest highlight of your cricketing career?
Pandit:I was very lucky while playing the game against Karnataka, as I was dropped on zero. One of the best innings I went on to play was during this match as I scored 157 runs, in the presence of Gundappa Viswanath. He was also my hero during those days. When he came up to me, tapped my back and said congratulations…it made my day. I forgot everything around and just kept watching him. I never thought that one day he would come and pat me on my back. Another innings I played in Australia which I played as a second wicket-keeper. There too I got a 130 runs against a good attack. All these have been big highlights.
Your association goes a long way with the mighty Sachin Tendulkar. What kind of equation do you share with him?
Pandit: Sachin is a very humble man and is always ready to help cricketers. The Mumbai unit is very lucky as he has visited our nets session. He has so much of love and affection towards Mumbaiand its cricketers. During this season, when Mumbai were playing against M.P, he was very keen on what was happening and kept sending in messages, trying to find out as to what the situation was like on the field. He kept motivating us saying that the boys will do it, that too made a lot of difference. I know him very well since childhood. (Has a sparkle in his eyes when talking about Sachin). He is extremely passionate about the game. I have seen him very closely, the hard work that he has put in, running around and playing matches and continuously playing matches for long durations he was a different man during those days as well. People knew that he would make the cut and he has gone onto prove it. He was born only and only for cricket.
If you had to pick one, which would it be and why? Your stint as a cricketer or your second innings as a coach?
Pandit: As a cricketer would be first because you can do many things because there are hardly any limitations. In cricket, these are two different paths. I would still love to play cricket anyday. Being a coach is a different pleasure altogether. It is an extension of your cricketing career. As a coach, the players which one is trying to develop and educate about the sport, that pleasure is entirely different. During the first journey whatever one has learnt, we pass it on to others. While being a coach we plan out things but we are not physically there.
Do you see any major difference between the Mumbai side of your days and the current team now? How do you help the current lot to evolve and improve their game?
Pandit: Those days the format of the game was different. The longer format was played more than the limited overs matches. Now the version of the games have changed and the new generation plays more of the shorter formats. Those days earning a cap was a big achievement for a cricketer.Today, winning and losing does not matter as long as you are playing the game in a competitive way.Those days also we had the do not give up attitude. We did not like losing the game, and would thus come back very strongly in the next one so the Khadoos attitude was always there. I feel during our days we took failure a little more seriously.
Further speaking about helping the boys to become better cricketers we have certain programmes. Omkar Salvi and I discuss certain plans and what are the areas that need to be worked on them. We have off season camps, where we have 3 months to correct them on various technical aspects. While watching the games, we further note down minute aspects and discuss with them.
Walking down memory lane, you were a part of the tied Test match between India and Australia from Sep 18-22, 1986. Give us a little flashback about this particular historic game?
Pandit: On the previous day I was asked to play as a batsman. Whenever my good friend Kiran More and I discuss about the game. I always tell him because of you I had to keep wickets for 2 days(as he was unwell). Standing behind the stumps, I could hardly receive the balls as it was a good track. At that time I was more prepared as a batsman than a wicket-keeper. The way Dean Jones batted and got 200 runs was commendable. I call myself lucky to be able to play in a historic match like that. This is something which I will always remember.
Having played with the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, Eknath Solkar, Sandeep Patil, Milind Rege and Dilip Vengsarkar. What kind of team mates were they?
Pandit: They were always there to help young cricketers. At the same time they had that typical Khadoos attitude on field. They were competitive and determined to perform well all the time. That was what I picked up from them as a youngster. I was fortunate to share rooms with Vengsarkar and Patil too. All of them were very disciplined and hardworking. Sharing the dressing room with Gavaskar too it was great to see how he prepared, focused on the game, thought and analysed certain aspects.
You have seen Mumbai cricket growing from strength to strength. What are their chances this season of defending the cup?
Pandit: Cricket is an unpredictable game. Mumbai has had a great history of winning the Ranji Trophy. To defend the cup, they have never taken any pressure on themselves. I also believe that as a cricketer and coach one has to start a fresh as it is very important. This year they are doing well and have shown tremendous courage to come out of difficult situations, taken up the responsibility and are playing as a unit. I am very happy to watch them doing well. Hopefully they will continue to do well and can defend the Ranji Trophy.
Do you recall any moments spent with stalwarts like Rusi Surti, Nari Contractor & Farokh Engineer?
Pandit:They have been very senior cricketers. I remember meeting Rusi Surti in Australia. We spent a lot of time during dinner. He had so much of love and affection towards Mumbai and its cricket. Lots of inputs and discussions took place. How the game was played back then, his experience being part of team India. Asa young player one just listens to them in awe. We have so much respect for them. All of them were heroes during our playing days. Nari Contractor used to always advice and guide us when we were in Mafatlal. We were lucky that we could spend time with such great cricketers. Farokh Engineer is always a very jolly person and he too being a wicket-keeper so I always like to spend time with him too.
CPCC has produced exceptional talent like young Aryan Irani. In a recent interview he told me “I am a left arm spinner, thanks to Chandrakant Pandit.” What do you have to say about your student?
Pandit: He has shown tremendous progress and it is a long way to go for him. He is moving ahead step by step. He is a very passionate and sincere cricketer. It is great to see him progress. I am very happy that Aryan is coming up and I am sure that he will achieve something in his life.
Mumbai has players who can turn the game in their favour and have changed the entire scenario? Impact of having top guns in the side?
Pandit: Abhishek Nayar has done it several times for us, he has that never give up attitude. Dhawal and Surya are very determined cricketers. Aditya Tare likes to stay at the crease for as long as possible and dominate the opponents. Siddhesh Lad on the other hand too looks to chip in and see the side winning, or for that matter remove the team from difficult situations just like Nayar. We have a fantastic bunch playing for Mumbai as they continue the Khaddos attitude on field.