Mumbai cricket team has seen five coaches in last eight seasons, out of which four have been wicketkeepers, including newly appointed coach Vinayak Samant. After former India wicketkeeper Sameer Dighe resigned last month, the 45-year-old was named as the coach for the 2018-19 season by Mumbai Cricket Association on Thursday.
Dighe’s tenure lasted just one year and before him another former India stumper Chandrakant Pandit guided Mumbai to 41st Ranji title and final next year before being sacked.
A year before Pandit took over, former Mumbai stumper Sulakshan Kulkarni guided Mumbai for three seasons after taking over from Praveen Amre in 2011-12 season. Incidentally, Mumbai skipper from last three seasons Aditya Tare is also a wicketkeeper.
“Wicket keepers are generally street smart and strategically perfect. They are used to watching the game from behind and close quarters. They have been successful like Chandrakant Pandit what he has done with Mumbai team and Vidarbha last season is a proof,” Samant said.
Samant, known as a man of crisis during his playing days, has joined as a coach at a time when many members of MCA managing committee, who held top positions, had to quit following Bombay High Court orders. The remaining Managing Committee members are functioning under guidance from HC appointed two-member Committee of Administrators. The MCA elections also are set to take place in couple of months.
On the field, Mumbai had one of the worst seasons by their standards as they were ousted by Karnataka in quarter-finals and continued their poor run in limited overs cricket. Samant admitted that the pressure of coaching 41-time Ranji Trophy champions will be much more than batting for Mumbai in tough situations like turning around a game after Mumbai were struggling at 0/5 against Baroda during 2006-07 season and against Karnataka in Mysore in final of 2009-10 season. He scored both the times, fighting half centuries under tough situations. “That time, it was in my hands. But while coaching, I will not be on the field. I can give inputs but will have to depend on the players to implement it. Coach is always at the forefront whether the team performs well or not,” he said.
Manage workload of players
Samant has coached the Mumbai U-23 and U-25 team in the past and knows some junior players well but he knows that it will be tougher to handle some senior players. But, he is ready for the responsibility and wants to share good rapport with every player.
“I want to build good rapport with every player. I will not go by the image of any player. For me every player is equally important. I will give space to senior players and keep them in comfort zone to get the best out of them. I will not stress on long sessions but productive coach sessions, which will benefit every player. My preference will be on quality not quantity. I will also try to manage workload so that players can last full season,” he said.
Mumbai has failed to find quality fast bowler after Shardul Thakur, which has hampered its performance. Thakur has been a part of team India set up and doesn’t remain available for whole season like his senior Dhawal Kulkarni, who has been prone to injuries off late. After off-spinner Ramesh Powar, Mumbai hasn’t been able to find a quality spinner as well. The Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) had even organised a talent search for bowlers in the age group of 16 to 18 years and 19 to 22 years at various centres across Mumbai, Palghar and Thane districts.
Samant who pipped former India player and Powar for the Mumbai job, is aware of the situation and wants to work with newly appointed U-19 coach Wilkin Mota to find quality bowlers. “We have to work with clubs to shortlist bowlers who may not necessarily have speed, but are accurate. I will also work with junior coaches including Wilkin Mota to keep an eye on talented bowlers,” he said.
Rising from Dighe’s shadows
After Sameer Dighe’s retirement, wicketkeeper-batsman Vinayak Samant had incidentally became a regular in Mumbai team. He ended up playing 101 matches during his first-class career from 1995 to 2012. He represented Mumbai in 69 matches from 2002 onwards. Earlier, he had represented Assam in 25 matches and made five appearances for Tripura in later part of his career. He finished his first class career with 309 catches and 37 stumpings. He also scored 3496 runs.
After retirement in 2012, he took up coaching role and led Mumbai U-23 team to their 2015-16 CK Nayudu Trophy triumph, before which he had also coached Mumbai U-25 side. Samant was given the final nod by MCA Managing Committee on Thursday, even though, its Cricket Improvement Committee comprising of former players Balwinder Singh Sandhu, Raju Kulkarni, Kiran Mokashi and Sahil Kukreja had Powar as their first choice. However, the MCA had passed a resolution earlier this year, wherein Powar was barred from being given any coaching assignment, owing to his critical public comments about the association and also for quitting his job as a spin consultant at the MCA Indoor Cricket Academy at Bandra Kurla Complex. Former coach Praveen Amre was also contacted, but his engagement with Delhi Daredevils came in the way.
“I didn’t go away after coaching U-23 team. I was taking up coaching assignments,” said Samant who was involved in brief stints with a couple of English county and South Africa sides. He was the coach of Mumbai North Central franchise Namo Bandra Blasters during the inaugural T20 Mumbai League with Dighe as its mentor.
A known hard worker, he will have to continue working his night shift at Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited (BPCL) office in Sewri. And will start his assignment in a couple of days time with Mumbai team in the KSCA’s Safi Darashah Tournament in Bengaluru.