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One of the most intriguing things about sport is the fact is that it is united in its diversity. While the nature of one sport could be completely different from that of another, one can borrow various skill-sets from the other.
A hockey player and a footballer can gain from adopting some training methods of one another’s sport pertaining to stamina, agility and awareness. In the same way, a cricketer can benefit by understanding and embracing a certain aspects of baseball and golf. Although the three sports are like chalk, cheese and chocolate, the basic of hitting the ball with a stick remains the same.
International cricket teams have inculcated baseball-style fielding and throwing technique in their training for a decade now. Mike Young, a former American baseball player, has been involved with the Australian, South African and Indian teams in the past as their fielding mentor.
However, it is an Indian cricketer, Ajinkya Rahane, and his Indian coach, Pravin Amre, who have now come up with the idea of adopting the baseball technique in batting.
Amre, a former India batsman and the man who led Mumbai to three Ranji Trophy titles as their coach, has seen Rahane grow from a talented young man to the Test batsman he has become today. He is keen for his ward to establish himself as a complete batsman in all formats of the game.
“One of the biggest challenges for batsmen today is to perform consistently in all three formats,” Amre told iplt20.com. “You have to work on every aspect of your batting – technique and power-hitting, temperament and shot-selection – if you don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a one format specialist.
“I am proud that Ajinkya has proved his mettle with a Test century overseas (in Wellington, New Zealand). I think it’s now time for him to establish himself as a force to reckon with in T20 format, with the World Twenty20. So, I thought of introducing this baseball-style training to him.”
With this idea, Amre has defied the notion that Indian cricket tends to look overseas for innovative coaching.
“As a certified Level 3 coach, I get access to several websites that have information about coaching in various sports,” Amre said. “You can always take things from one sport and inculcate them in another with modifications to suit.
“Cricket teams, for many years, have been using the baseball training technique in their fielding drills. Once, while going through one of these websites I thought, ‘if this technique can help in cricket fielding, why not batting? If it can help the fielders generate more power in their throws, why can’t it help the batsmen generate more power in their stroke?’”
The question led to a few self-conducted experiments in the nets and when Amre was convinced that it worked, he thought of his special ward. While Rahane is tremendously skilled when it comes to timing and placing the ball, power-hitting doesn’t come naturally to him, owing to his skinny frame. Amre thought he had found a way for Ajinkya to generate optimum power in his shots using his existing physical strength.
“I tried some of the things myself in the nets first before making Ajinkya do them,” Amre said. “I wouldn’t have tried it with any other batsman but I could freely involve Ajinkya because I know him so well and he trusts me completely as his coach. That trust is imperative because in the end it’s the player’s career that is on the line.
“Ajinkya is not a very physically strong guy but he is wiry and he has an excellent sense of timing – his game is based on timing and technique. We worked on drills of movements that would enable him to generate more velocity on the ball.
“One particular thing we worked on was using his entire core – in cricket while batting, we use mostly our shoulders, feet and hands. If he could learn to gather the strength of his core and put it into the stroke, the ball will go a distance. Even in the T20s, it’s not about how high you hit the ball but how long you hit it,” Amre explained.
Rahane, who is in Bangladesh with Team India, elucidated the process of training further, saying the major work was in generating more powerful bat-swing while going for big strokes.
“The objective of aligning to such a technique was to use my core to increase my productivity in hitting the ball,” Rahane told iplt20.com. “This was more a top-up to my existing strengths in the Twenty20 format.
“The focus was on to get my bat swing to an optimum level where I could consistently execute a range of shots. We have seen how baseball players use their core strength to get their swing right and we tried to take a leaf out of that and instill it into my training,” Rahane said.
The mentor and the student put in hard yards for the limited number of days available to them in Mumbai to achieve the desired effect. “I had only three to four days with him before he left for Bangladesh,” Amre said. “We were fortunate to have fine indoor facilities at the BKC and MCA to carry out the training. We worked with bowling machines and wet artificial wickets.”
While he facilitated Rahane with all the technical and physical knowhow, Amre’s foremost goal was to give Team India a batsman who believed he could bat the team to victory from any situation.
“Most of all, I tried to instill a belief in him that he can play the big shots. In T20s it’s mostly about confidence and backing yourself to clear the rope.”
He propelled India to the top of the Test rankings in 2009, helped them lift the World Cup in 2011 and then made South Africa the best Test team in the world. Gary Kirsten has established himself as one of the best cricket coaches of all time. And now he has embarked on a new road in his coaching journey, joining the Delhi Daredevils as their head coach.
The 2014 Player Auction was Kirsten’s christening as the coach of an IPL team and thus he was introduced to the riveting territory of world’s most popular Twenty20 tournament. The action in the auction room prepared Kirsten for the excitement in store when the tournament begins.
Here’s what Kirsten told iplt20.com as he took charge of the Delhi Daredevils.
Does this feel a bit like homecoming?
It is actually and it’s nice to be back. I have some very fond memories of India from my three years with the Indian team. I always anticipated that I will be back here. I’ve enjoyed my time in this country. It is nice to be part of the IPL and be involved with Indian cricket again.
How was the auction as a means to start your IPL journey?
It was quite a weird process for me, it was an interesting experience and a very different one from those I have ever had. It was nice to be part of the action between sport and business. I am looking forward to working with a squad of players coming from different countries who all play their cricket very differently. I am looking forward to managing a team of different kinds of players.
How did this appointment come about?
It started with a phone call from my good friend Eric Simons, who was the head coach of Delhi Daredevils. He rang me up and asked what I would be doing after my contract with the Proteas ended. I said I’m not sure and he asked me if I would be interested in joining him at Delhi Daredevils. I said I would and that’s how the conversation began.
A very crucial part of your coaching style is building a personal rapport with players and taking them into confidence. You will not have that time with a team that gathers for a few months in a year. How will that aspect change your coaching method?
Yes, I will have to go about that part very quickly. One thing about the IPL is that it is a very intense competition and you have got to build a team culture. Yes, the time will be less but it can be done. I will have to go about it in a different way. The opportunity to create something within a team is exciting.
How much will your experience with Team India help you manage an IPL team?
It will make a huge difference. In fact, even with the Proteas we had players from five different cultures, so I am used to managing a varied dressing room and working in a cross culture atmosphere. I think it is very important that you understand what makes people tick in their country and how to get the best out of different individuals.
How does the definition of the word coach change when you’re in charge of such a T20 team that plays only one tournament together a year?
I don’t think it changes at all and I don’t think the word coach is a correct one for someone managing an international team. It’s more about managing people rather than coaching players.
You teamed up with Paddy Upton when you were with India and South Africa and he must have helped you a great deal in understanding the mental make-up of the players. Will you miss having him by your side this time?
I would miss him and yes, he has helped me a lot. But he had coaching aspirations and we agreed that it was a good time for us to move in different directions. We shared a great partnership for five years. I know he will add value to every dressing room. He will work with young coaches and help them go about their task. I was a young coach when I came to India and he played a crucial role in my development as a coach. He has given me a few pointers about how to manage an IPL team but he is an opposition now so he would not tell me everything.
Will Eric Simons’s presence in the DD dressing room help you ease into your role?
Yes, it was a factor behind my taking up the job. It is very important for me to have him around because he has been involved with the IPL for four years and he knows the requirements of the tournament well. I will be taking a lot of advice from him.
How is the prospect of working closely with Kevin Pietersen?
I am looking forward to working with him. He is a South African so the rapport will be easy to build. I have had chats with him and he was keen to continue playing for DD. We too wanted him to stay with us. He is a top-class player and we’re really pleased to have him.