For years, a prolific wicketkeeper-batter Naman Ojha had set his ambitions high, and so was his quest to lay hands on the coveted domestic trophy, however, the dream was fulfilled under the tutelage of Aditya Shrivastava. Following remarkable efforts over the last couple of months — Madhya Pradesh clinched their maiden Ranji Trophy title after thumping heavyweights Mumbai in the final by six wickets at M.Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on June 26.
Although the Holkar state (MP before independence) won the last of its four titles in 1952-53, this was the first coveted trophy for Madhya Pradesh since it was formed in the year 1956.
In their quest for the Ranji Trophy, Madhya Pradesh defeated some great sides in the ranks of Gujarat, Meghalaya, Kerala (drew) and Bengal before their final battle against the 41-time champions Mumbai, who themselves were vying for their first red-ball title since 2015-16.
Former Madhya Pradesh captain Naman Ojha, who has 22 centuries and 55 fifties in 146 first-class games, while speaking to Cricket Addictor in an exclusive interview, expressed the joy of MP’s astounding campaign in Ranji Trophy 2022. He’s chuffed to see Madhya Pradesh achieving an unfinished goal.
“They won two years after my retirement and it feels like I have won. We feel like they have fulfilled our dreams,” said Ojha, who holds the record of most dismissals by a wicketkeeper in Ranji Trophy – 471 including 54 stumping.
All players performed well be it batting or bowling department: Naman Ojha
The Aditya Shrivastava-led side included a host of talented players yet to stamp their authority on the international circuit. With 658 runs in nine innings, Rajat Patidar finished the second-highest run-getter of the season and the highest for his team.
Young guns Yash Dubey (614) and Shubham Sharma (608) finished on the list of top 10 scorers of the tournament. Dubey, Sharma, and Patidar slammed centuries in the first innings of the final as MP gained the advantage of a 162-run lead against Mumbai.
Left-arm spinner Kumar Kartikeya was the most impressive player from the team for his vital contributions in the knockouts picking 8/128 match figures in the semi-final against Bengal and chipping in with four wickets in the second innings in the final.
With 32 wickets in six matches, Kartikeya finished second to Mumbai’s Shams Mulani (45) in the leading wicket-takers list.
Pace bowler Anubhav Agarwal made his domestic debut for the state team in Ranji Trophy 2022 and claimed 15 wickets at an average of 21.66. Agarwal’s notable wickets were Prithvi Shaw and Yashasvi Jaiswal in the final. Gaurav Yadav, who picked 23 wickets, complemented Agarwal in the pace department.
Interestingly, the likes of Patidar, Kartikeya and Dubey made their debuts under the captaincy of Ojha. The former Indian player heaped praise on Aditya Shrivastava’s leadership skills, something Ojha didn’t pay heed to during their playing days together.
“We had given these/this set of talented players opportunities with the vision that they will take the team way forward. We give chance to those boys who have the calibre and they will be the ones to write history after us,” Ojha said.
“All players faired well be it batting or bowling department. Everyone played their role effectively but Gaurav Yadav bowled exceptionally and deserves the plaudits for it.
“His thinking was great. We had selected him as a pure batter but never saw the captain’s version in him. I think he will continue the state captaincy as he has the calibre and proved it with the title,” the former MP skipper said on Shrivastava.
Nobody better than Chandrakant Pandit can get performances from players: Naman Ojha
The man behind the whirlwind turnaround is head coach Chandrakant Pandit, who was appointed the coach just before the COVID-19 pandemic times. As a player for Madhya Pradesh, Pandit narrowly missed the final of Ranji Trophy 1998/99 but 23 years later won the coveted trophy as the coach on the very same venue.
Pandit has now won India’s premier domestic tournament with three teams – Mumbai, Vidarbha and Madhya Pradesh being the latest feather to his cap. Pandit made some notable changes in the batting order of the team with Dubey and Himanshu Mantri were promoted to open while cementing Patidar at no.4 to mark Shubham Sharma at no.3.
“He is a brilliant coach and that is why MPCA roped him. Our team wasn’t performing up to the mark for the past two years and I suggested to a senior player to bring him as we lacked in some sphere.
“Even during the COVID times, he worked a lot behind the boys. Looking at this title, it is pretty clear that his thinking and understanding of the game are very high regarding the team. Nobody better than him contemplates how to get the performance out of the boys,” Ojha said about the renowned coach.
MP won the title without the services of key players like all-rounder Venkatesh Iyer and pace bowler Avesh Khan, the pair was with the Indian team on international duty. Ojha, who is one of the 10 players to represent India from MP, pointed out the bench strength and how the return of international players will bolster the team.
“It is a great thing that we have a solid bench strength that we could win the tournament in their absence. Once those two return to the setup, our team will be much stronger,” said Ojha, who is the eighth highest run-scorer in Ranji Trophy overall.
“There was a combined effort in the team. When I was the captain there weren’t such collective efforts. The combination of this team is great and it clicked well this year. The credit goes to coach Chandu (Chandrakant) Pandit.
“We have won the trophy after 41 years so I wholeheartedly congratulate all the players. You should enjoy the success of this victory by taking a 5-10 day break and once you return you prepare in a similar manner to get the results,” he concluded.