Pune: 'We are the champions, we are the champions'. This chant reverberated across the Maharashtra Cricket Association Stadium in Gahunje in Pune on Friday as soon as pacer Shardul Thakur disturbed the furniture of Saurashtra's Hardik Rathod to take his fifth wicket of the match as Mumbai lifted the Ranji Trophy for the 41st time. Mumbai beat Saurashtra within three days to win the match by an innings and 21 runs.
Leading the chants was all-rounder Abhishek Nayar, who had just played his fifth Ranji final. When Aditya Tare was presented the giant trophy by India's chairman of selectors Sandeep Patil, the Mumbai skipper specifically called for Nayar to help him hold aloft domestic cricket's biggest prize.
The 32-year-old all-rounder has not just been instrumental on the field, but off it too. Being the only senior player in this young squad, Nayar's prime responsibility was to keep this team together. And to do so, he emphasised on team building activities. He took the boys to Khandala for a few days as part of their training activities.
"We have done some crazy things in our pre-season training. We would go running on hills, push cars upwards on slopes, climb rocks, run with buckets filled with water… I had also included Rohit Sharma for these activities. Then, while the season was on, our team building activities was restricted to our hotels but they were a must anyway. We would never miss a session," Nayar revealed to mid-day.
Before the final, Nayar had organised an awards night, musical chairs, painting competition, mimicry, karaoke and casino night for his teammates in their hotel. "The awards night was crazy and hilarious. I can't tell you much but one of the games was about picking around 25-30 words and making a story out of it. Some of the words were abuses. The team that created the best story would win the award.
"For the casino night, I had brought my equipment along. There was one game, where we kept obstacles and a team of two, who were blindfolded, had to clear these obstacles. This helped in developing the trust factor among teammates. We always ensured that at least eight to 10 players had dinner together. We also went out for movies together," explained Nayar.
On Day Two of the Ranji final, Mumbai were not in a particularly promising situation at one stage and Nayar addressed an important issue after the day's play. "I noticed that our players were not sitting together. It was important that we be together even on a bad day and we spoke about it the same night. Sometimes there are small little things that make a huge difference," said Nayar, who also admitted that there was never a dearth of talent in this Mumbai team.
"There is a lot of talent in this team, so all that was required to win the championship, was performing as a unit, where everyone enjoyed each other's success. That's why it is said, 'united we stand, divided we fall'," he signed off.
Saurashtra 235 & 115 (C Pujara 27, J Shah 17; S Thakur 5-26, B Sandhu 2-21) lost to Mumbai 371 (S Iyer 117, S Lad 88, S Yadav 48; J Unadkat 4-118, H Rathod 3-73) by an innings & 21 runs