'If anyone thought last year was a fluke, we have proven ourselves again'

Faiz Fazal steers the ball into the off side KCA

Vidarbha have become only the sixth team to successfully defend a Ranji Trophy title, and their captain Faiz Fazal believes the pressure of being defending champions spurred his side on to greater heights.

The second win, a 78-run triumph over Saurashtra, was made even sweeter because it came at Vidarbha's home ground, the VCA Stadium in Nagpur. There was a fair sprinkling of spectators too, given it was a domestic game at a venue that is at a considerable distance from the city.

"Pressure is there, but it's healthy pressure for us," Fazal said. "When a team does well, expectations rise. And expectations come only when you are doing well. We are very lucky to have that pressure, not everyone is so lucky.

"It is not easy to win the Ranji Trophy. To win [across] 11 matches, it's not a fluke. If anyone thought last year was a fluke, we have proven ourselves again. You have to play very well to win a first-class competition, no team can be taken lightly.

"Uttarakhand also came and scored 350 in the first innings against us [in the quarter-final]. The support we had also leads to nervousness. You get the thought that, "Yahan pe to jeetna hi hai [We have to win here]. We can't lose here." We played as a unit and overcame that pressure."

Coach Chandrakant Pandit was wreathed in smiles too. He was the Mumbai coach when they won the 2015-16 title and lost the final the next season, and has been Vidarbha's coach for the last two seasons. Even though he's been in four successive Ranji finals, Pandit said that the nervousness of a big match remained the same.

"Butterflies are there every time," Pandit said. "Sachin Tendulkar also said that before playing first ball, there are butterflies in the stomach every time. Naturally, when you play a final, you are looking for your team's success. The players make the coach. The tension is always there. Prashant [Vaidya, the Vidarbha Cricket Association vice-chairman] knows how I have spent the last four nights. I sometimes get up at 2 am or 3 am. Faiz, I have called him at probably 9.30 at night to my room to discuss planning. Naturally, the pressure is there."

Pandit felt that the nature of this year's final, with both teams clawing and scrapping to ensure neither got too far ahead in the match, showed the strong core of character that Vidarbha's players had.

"Every final is important and naturally to maintain your reputation is very important," he said. "The way this final was played, the character inside cricketers played a big role. The game was up and down, there was uncertainty in the game. But the players showed character each time. I give a lot of importance to that.

"Every state thinks about winning the Ranji Trophy when the season starts. In our quest, even the people who participated, the club bowlers who'd bowl for two hours to our players at the nets, we should not forget them. Last year, we sealed the game in first innings against Delhi, in the Irani Trophy too we sealed the game that way. But here, our character was shown. The Vidarbha players will learn from this and continue with this and that character will remain."

Looking back at the season, Fazal said the crucial points his team had picked up early in the season set the tone for the team. "Initially, one department was clicking, the other was not clicking," he said. "But even there, the first match that we saved against Maharashtra was a really good match [Vidarbha drew the match, scoring 501 for 8 after being asked to follow on]. That one point was also very important.

"All of those one extra points wherever we got, sometimes via a bonus point, were crucial to qualify for the knockouts. Topping the table was also important. We prepared really well, and we had very positive vibes through the year and the season."