Very early into his tenure as the Jammu & Kashmir coach, Milap Mewada realised one thing: this was not a united team. So when Mewada and Irfan Pathan drew up a plan for the future last year, they quickly decided that one thing had to happen.
“We needed to remove the ‘and’ in Jammu and Kashmir and make it J-K,” says Mewada. “There were always two parts in this team — players from Jammu and players from Kashmir. We were able to unite them. We know that no sportsman likes to lose. [But] there were two teams, two different colours, two different mindsets. We made them believe in each other.”
That Mewada, a former Ranji Trophy cricketer and coach from Baroda, and Pathan, currently the J & K team’s mentor, were able to achieve their objective is evident in the team’s results this campaign. J & K finished on top of Group C, advancing to the quarterfinals of the Ranji Trophy for only the third time in its history and the first time since the 2013-14 season.
On the field, Mewada and Pathan operated with a seriousness and professionalism the J & K players had not perhaps known previously. Off it, they organised continual team-building sessions. “We made it mandatory for players to eat dinner in groups of four — we picked players from different parts of the state, those who did not know each other well,” says Mewada. “They had to learn some secrets about one another, something fun they had done. For example, someone admitted to puncturing someone’s tyre, someone had pursued [a girl] and been slapped, someone had shattered someone’s window. They had fun, they felt togetherness and brotherhood.”
Then there came the drawings. Groups of four players had to produce a hand-drawn picture that summed up the team best: one came up with a bunch of logs bound together; another drew a river feeding a turbine, except the river had a few minor streams that branched off, weakening it; a third saw the squad as a tiger hiding inside a goat. “All this made it clear what the players were thinking. Everyone wanted unity,” says Mewada.
At the start of the season, he and Pathan handed every player in the squad a questionnaire. One of those questions was how long J & K had been playing in the Ranji Trophy. Players made various guesses. The next one was how many titles the side had won. “Nobody got that wrong,” smiles Mewada. “So I told them, ‘You have been playing for 50 years and you have not won anything. So don’t play just another season this time. Make it a mission instead.'”