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A good leader strives to build a team of individuals who will readily line up in front of a raging truck for him. And every team longs for a leader who would take the first position in that line. How one follows can tell a great deal about how he would lead.
Here’s a little story. Before he was about to make his captaincy debut for India, in the 2010 home ODI series against New Zealand, Gautam Gambhir was asked if he would continue to field at the perilous forward short-leg position – at which he took many a blow to his knees – even when he is the captain. Gambhir smiled and said, “Yes, I will”. Sure enough, he did. Not only for India but also for his IPL franchise, Kolkata Knight Riders. It were small yet significant things like this that should be credited for KKR’s surge to the IPL title in 2012. Gambhir led by an example and his team followed.
Now, as he prepares to lead them in another season of IPL, Gambhir is pretty pleased with the squad that KKR have formed in the 2014 Player Auction.
In an interview with iplt20.com, the KKR captain spoke about the new buys of the franchise and gave an insight into his leadership methods.
What is your overall take on the players procured by KKR in the auction?
I’m very happy with what we have got. I believe that when you select a player, you do it knowing that he can win you matches. Therefore, I believe that all 21 players we have picked are match-winners. I did seek a few players in particular and have got most of them. I would not like to name them here but overall I am quite pleased with the squad we have.
In the last couple of years we have seen that slow bowling has been KKR’s strength. Was it an agenda to get some genuine quickies in Morne Morkel, Pat Cummins and Umesh Yadav?
We have had quality pacers like Brett Lee, Marchant de Lange, James Pattinson and Ryan McLaren in our ranks in the past. Since we play most of our matches at Eden Gardens, where the wicket is slow and low, we generally field a spin-heavy attack. That must have given people the perception that we rely a bit too much on the slower bowlers.
Was the strengthening of pace department done also keeping in mind that IPL may move overseas this year?
I am a firm believer that it’s the bowlers who win you matches, no matter the format. As a captain, I am a big fan of having raw pace at my disposal because when you are quick through the air, the surface becomes irrelevant. Yes, at the back of my mind, I was thinking on the lines of having an appropriate pace attack in case the tournament moves to South Africa. However, now that we are playing in the UAE and India, we still have all bases covered.
Wrist spinners are often at the receiving end in T20 cricket. What was the reason behind investing so much on Piyush Chawla?
Wrist spinners are wicket-takers and we thought it would be good to have one. Also, until the last year we had young spinners like Sarabjeet Ladda and Iqbal Abdullah but this time we wanted a more experienced hand. Besides, Piyush can also give us some handy runs down the order.
Do you reckon that the 2014 auction has created a sort of level playing field for all franchises?
That’s right. This auction seems to have worked for every franchise, whether they wished to retain the core group of players – like MI and CSK did – or decided to form a team from the scratch, like DD. There was an equal opportunity for all teams to pick players of their choice.
How important was it for you to get Yuvraj Singh in your team? His bid price went up by Rs. 4 crore after KKR started bidding for him.
Yuvi is a match-winner, a once in a lifetime player. We wanted him badly as he could have been a real game-changer for us. I met him after the auction and told him he should thank KKR for those extra 4 crore he got after aggressive bidding from us. But yes, with Yuvraj in their ranks joining the likes of Virat Kohli – who has been batting like a dream –, Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers, RCB are now a real batting powerhouse
Now let’s talk about your captaincy. We have seen you invest a lot of time in the nets with youngsters during IPL. Is it your way of giving something back to the game?
I believe that being a leader off the field is as important as being a captain on it. Off the field leadership includes aligning a player to the ideology of the team, helping him ease into the group and dispel any doubts he might have by having a heart-to-heart chat with the player. This is what I try to do while speaking with youngsters during practice sessions. Besides, I have had a career filled with highs and lows and I believe I can help the younger players by sharing my experiences with them. If he is going through a tough situation that I have faced earlier, it might help him to know how I dealt with it.
You always emphasize on team over individuals but there is no denying of the fact that individuals make the team. How important is defining roles so the team works in cohesion?
It is very important, especially so in a tournament like the IPL where a dressing room consists of people from varied cricketing cultures. As a player it becomes easier for you to contribute when you know exactly what the team expects from you. I am a great believer in team cultures and I think defining the specific roles provides a good base for having a positive team environment. At KKR we stress on individual leadership and encourage players to not only lead themselves but also small groups within the team. I believe that every system is judged by the legacy of the leaders it creates.
You are not very good in hiding your emotions on the field. Is that something you want to change or will we always see an expressive Gautam on the field?
Yes, I tend to be pretty candid about my feelings both on and off the field. That’s how I have always lived my life – I say things like I see them and feel about them. The second thing is, I want to win at all costs and that, at times, leads to heated situations on the field. My methods of leading a team are pretty straightforward. Rather than beating about the bush, I like to explicitly state exactly what I expect from my players. For instance, while leading Delhi in this year’s Ranji Trophy, I made it very clear to the batsmen that since we were playing most matches on green-tops, the onus would be on us to lay platforms for the bowlers. I don’t look for individual goals or brilliance but rather try to create a situation where the team benefits from every individual’s actions.
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.”