Ranji Trophy 2017/18: I can see that Test cap, says Vidarbha captain Faiz Fazal
There’s no joy bigger than leading your team to glory and that satisfactory smile on Faiz Fazal’s face tells it all. The man has been busy giving interviews over the past few days after leading Vidarbha to the maiden Ranji title. As we sit down for a tete-e-tete, his phone rings. A call from a radio station asking the obvious questions and all I hear him saying is, ‘Very happy,’ over and again.
Being a Nagpurian and someone who has followed Faiz’s career since his college days, I can resonate with that feeling. Holding the coveted Ranji Trophy is perhaps the biggest aspiration for a cricketer plying his trade in the domestic circuit. As he disconnects the call, we begin our little conversation over shots of sugarless espresso where he fondly recalls sleeping with his family and trophy that night.
Mr. Prashant Vaidya, the VCA VP, has said that he was looking to rope in Chandrakant Pandit as a coach since a long time now and when Pandit joined Vidarbha, even before meeting the team, he was confident about winning the trophy this year. What difference his presence made to the team?
He wanted to bring discipline in the team. He wanted to create a systematic regime for all of us to follow. He persisted on the importance of following a disciplined routine not only during Ranji Trophy but throughout our cricketing career. He had shown us the path to that coveted trophy and that made a lot of difference.
How was Chandrakant Pandit’s approach different than the previous coaches? He has been termed as ‘khadoos’ by many of his peers. How much truth is there in that?
Khadoos?! Nay! I didn’t find him khadoos. I have a very good rapport with him. I don’t know why people say so. We have had long and engaging discussions throughout the season. He has always been insistent on inculcating a disciplined regime. Perhaps that’s why he has been termed so. But, that disciplined regime has only got us where we are today.
What was the team’s approach going into the tournament this time? How different was it from the past?
The coaches in the past too have worked quite hard with us but Chandu sir had huge experience under his belt. He had been part of Ranji winning Mumbai team both as a coach as well as a player. He defined everybody’s role. Everyone knew what was expected out of them. That made it a lot easier. Honestly, as a captain, it took quite a lot of pressure off me.
Did the ‘underdogs’ tag perturb the team or motivated the team to give it all?
Underdogs?! We were never underdogs. We never considered ourselves as underdogs. We have worked hard just like others. How can we be underdogs?
How important do you feel it is for the captain to lead from the front?
I have personally always loved leading the side. It is something that comes naturally to me. Maybe it’s in my blood. I have worked quite hard the whole season on my fitness regime including my diet, training and batting sessions.
Vidarbha had quite a good number of youngsters in the side and players like Akshay Wadkar and Rajneesh Gurbani have given splendid performances. How did you motivate and nurture them?
The preparations are very important. How you prepare makes a lot of difference. All the youngsters delivered when it was needed. Siddesh Neral took 2 crucial wickets in the semi-final. Rajneesh has been outstanding. Umesh wasn’t fit yet he bowled his heart out. Everyone knew the importance of the game. I didn’t need to motivate anyone as such. All of them are self-motivated and hungry for success.
How has the team benefitted by having a seasoned domestic legend like Wasim Jaffer? How did the team capitalize on his experience of being a part of 8 Ranji winning finals?
There’s no comparison to his presence. He has been a role model to so many of us. I love everything about him. The way he conducts himself, the way he trains, the way he bats – it’s unbelievable! He makes it look so easy. His presence on the field made my job easier. I had someone to look up to. His suggestions used to be so beneficial. He has played a crucial part in our team winning the trophy.
Vidarbha qualified for the semi-final for the first time and the game against Karnataka was a close one. A win by just 5 runs. It was a nerve-shredding thriller. How did you guys deal with the pressure of this high-voltage match? What did you advise to the bowlers in the last overs?
In the last few overs, Karnataka required 20 runs with 3 wickets in hand. The pitch was assisting the fast bowlers. We knew we had to be patient. Not even once did I have a feeling that we were going to lose this match. We kept negativity at bay and concentrated on taking those 3 wickets without bothering to look at the scoreboard.
According to you, what was the turning point for Vidarbha? When was it that you and team were sure of reaching the finals? Like ‘Ab to trophy apnich hai’?
Chandu sir and Wasim bhai never let us think this way. You need to respect the game of cricket. You can’t take it lightly. It can bite you. We never got lenient with our approach or our attitude towards the tournament. We didn’t joke or laugh until the last ball was bowled. The last ball when Wasim bhai pulled, we let our emotions loose and celebrated.
Two years ago, you had said that you want Vidarbha to be the best fielding side. How close do you feel you were to achieving it this season? Was Vidarbha the best fielding side in this season?
We still have a lot of room for improvement. We aren’t the best yet.
How does it feel to be the second highest run scorer of the season with 912 runs at an average of 70 that includes 5 centuries and a fifty? On a personal level, how satisfied are you with your performance in the tournament?
I am quite satisfied and happy about it. I have worked quite hard and to see the results have made me happy. The hard work has paid off. If you aim high, you can sacrifice anything. It’s been over two years since I had any unhealthy food or anything sugary. I had cake the day we won. It tasted sweeter as I had earned it.
How hopeful are you of Vidarbha’s chances in the Irani Trophy?
Woh to jeetna hi hai (Of course, we will win it). We are going to do everything to win it.
Why doesn’t Vidarbha produce international cricketers?
Not everything is in your hands. All you can do is work hard. Keep performing and keep knocking those doors. We need to perform extraordinarily well. You will get noticed only when you end up in top 5. Until now we were doing well. Now, we are excelling at it.
You missed out the U-19 WC bus in 2004 due to an injury and since then it has been a long wait for the national call. How did you cope up in those years? How different would your career graph have been had you made it?
I am thankful that I didn’t play. I might have had a bad World Cup. God had better plans for me, I feel. There’s a right time for everything. I am waiting for my time. I have been playing cricket all along. Doesn’t matter what stage. I love playing the game. My father has been my childhood coach. He corrects me even while I am playing gully cricket with the rubber ball!
You have idolized Rahul Dravid and you got a chance to play under his mentorship during your brief stint with IPL franchise Rajasthan Royals and India A. How was your experience?
There’s so much to learn from him. I just love playing under him. Every day you learn a lot from him. He’s such a simple man. A thorough gentleman. As a junior, I used to watch him train hard in Bangalore. He used to come in the morning and train until night. He has been a great source of inspiration.
On a personal level, what’s the road ahead for you? Are you still eyeing a national call?
I can see that Test cap. I can do anything and am doing everything to earn that. I am ready for it.