He no longer wears the captain’s hat, but Rahul Dravid, in his new role as the Rajasthan Royals mentor, has been as busy shaping the team’s fortunes just like when he was playing. After leading his team to the Playoffs in Pepsi IPL 2013, he is now helping them go the extra mile and lift the trophy in 2014.
While he continues to engage with the younger cricketers, the hardworking and diligent former captain can be seen making notes on the white boards, operating the bowling machine as he wholeheartedly works with the support staff in preparing the team for the contests.
Speaking about his role, Dravid said that it is about ensuring an environment which empowers the players to make informed decisions and back themselves on the field. While speaking to IPLT20.com about his role and the team, he elaborated on the meticulous planning and strategising that goes into preparing the Royals. He also lauded Shane Watson’s leadership and spoke about RR’s fighting brand of cricket.
Excerpts from his exclusive interview:
How different is your new role as the mentor of RR?
The pressure is lot less because I don’t captain the team. It is about strategy and planning. It involves working with the likes of Paddy Upton, Zubin Bharucha and Monty Desai, and trying to create a good environment for the players so they get what they need. And in the end, they have to do their job to perform in the middle. So we just try and create a good environment and give them a chance to perform and play at their best. And we do lot of the planning and preparation for them, so they have enough information when they go into the game. It gives them the best chance to succeed.
We see more and more careful strategising in T20. What is your view on that?
It was always going to be important in T20 cricket because every over matters a lot. An over or two can actually cost you a game of T20. So you have to be switched on with your plans and you have to ensure that you have most of your strategies worked out. They don’t always work, but that’s the way the game goes. You can have the best of plans, but in the end, it is about execution. Most teams have plans and ideas, but it is the execution of those plans and skills that finally wins you games. So our job is also to ensure how we can help our players execute their skills better.
Rajat Bhatia spoke about the emphasis on smart cricket in RR, which helped you win against Kolkata Knight Riders in UAE. Can you elaborate?
In the end, you have to empower players to make decisions on their own. They are in the middle and they have to make choices and decisions. All we tell them is to make smart decisions and back themselves to execute those decisions. It may not always work and we may not always succeed, but as long as our players are making the right choices with the bat or the ball, or at least the right choices in their opinion, there is a logical thinking behind the decisions that they are making in the middle. That might not always work out, but at least you have to give yourself the best chance to succeed. You have to play to your strengths. If you have a particular shot, at least back yourself under pressure to hit that or go after the ball that you are most comfortable with under pressure and you have practiced. It is just simple stuff that we discuss.
Can you throw light on the meticulous planning in RR?
We do recognise that we are not necessarily a team of stars and we don’t have the big players, so we know that we have to get the best out of all our young players. So a lot of thought goes into how we prepare and practice for each and every game. There is a lot of work going on behind the scenes; people like Zubin, Monty and Paddy are just ensuring that we give the guys very good practice sessions, which are interesting and exciting. But we also prepare them for the game and try to simulate what they might experience in the match. As far as possible, we try and do that. We try and ensure that we don’t over-complicate it. We try and keep things as simple as possible, so the instructions are clear and it just allows the players to go out and express themselves.
RR players have always spoken about role clarity. How are the roles chalked out specifically for each player?
Roles are important. We do explain them to the players. We sit down with the players at the start of every season and tell them why they are in this team and what we think their roles would be. Of course, there needs to be certain amount of flexibility, but still we explain to them where exactly they might be batting and bowling and what they should practice and how we feel they should practice. So at least we are giving them that information about what their roles might be in this team and how they should go about executing those roles. And then it is up to them – they have to do the difficult part, which is executing the skills.
How do you plan for powerplays and death overs?
It is the most challenging part of the game – the first six overs and the last five overs. It can sometimes cost you. We keep working on it. Our strategy always changes depending on the team we are playing against. We can’t complicate it too much by thinking that we have a master plan or a master strategy. I don’t think anybody really has that. The kind of players you have, if they can execute the sort of money-ball or yorker well under pressure, then that is what wins you games. If the yorker becomes a full-toss, that’s a six depending on the quality of batsman at the other end. Sometimes, it is not that the strategy is wrong, but the execution is. So you need to be careful there, and sometimes, not only focus on strategy, but also on the execution of the skill.
You have always made the most of the resources available to you. What are your methods?
We believe we need to create a very good environment; we also need to be well prepared and well planned. We need to make people feel that they are important to us, irrespective of who they maybe. You never know when somebody might be needed to play crucial role in a match. Of course, we have the big stars and the big players, but we always make the other guys understand that they have very big roles to play as well. And because we don’t have a lot of Indian stars and have young Indian players in our side, it is all the more reason for us to actually make them believe that they are actually an integral part of our team and they play key roles at various stages in the game. We are not a team that will rely on one or two people to win us games. We are the kind of team that will have many contributors during the course of a tournament. And that’s the way we like it. We know that if we are to compete with some of the big teams, we need lot of people to contribute; just one or two guys are not going to do it for us. So the whole process is about empowering these young players and giving them the confidence and belief that they are as good as anyone under pressure.
How has the IPL evolved in terms of competition and innovations?
It’s a fantastic tournament. There is tough competition. Every side is tough. Even though some of the teams are not winning as much, there are some very good players in them. Every game is tough and you have to be well prepared and switch on for every contest, because if you are not, you could easily be beaten.
How have you groomed Shane Watson for captaincy?
I don’t think you need to groom Watto. I think he’s been a fantastic captain. Both on and off the field, he has been superb. He connects really well even with the Indian boys. He obviously connects with the overseas players. But I am impressed with the way he has connected with so many of the Indian players. He is obviously very respected. He is very approachable. People feel very relaxed around him; they feel they can approach him when needed. And on the field as well, tactically he has been very good. So I think he has been a really good captain and the results have shown.
What do you tell the players when they are taking the field?
If you try telling people something at the last moment, you know you have lost them. Last moment is not meant to say anything, but to just keep quiet and let them do what they want. A lot of the preparation happens a lot before. On the day of the game, honestly, we don’t do much. We just let people be and let them play their game. There is not much to tell. If they have prepared well and practiced well and if they feel confident about their game and they have got clear plans, clear roles and clear strategies, they will go out there and be able express themselves. You can’t give pep talks. I personally don’t believe in pep talks and speeches and those things. We don’t do any of that here. If anyone needs a pep talk and speech at the last minute, well then he is at the wrong place.
What has set RR apart from the rest of the teams?
I think there is the RR brand of cricket, which is a fighting brand of cricket. We get different people to perform. We don’t rely on a few stars. People who play against us know that we will always fight. We might not win every game, but we will always fight and compete. We will get the best out of our talent. I think that is something that you could classify as RR, and probably call it the RR brand of cricket.
RR is almost through to the Playoffs for the second consecutive season. With their consistent performances, they really aren’t underdogs.
If you look at our team on paper, you would call us underdogs. I would if I looked at the paper and looked at some of the teams we have come up against, because we don’t have those stars. But we don’t mind the tag. It doesn’t bother us anymore. We know every team is a good team and we have to perform. We don’t think too far ahead. This competition is still open and we know we have to play very good cricket in the next three games and then look at the Playoffs once we get there.