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The light behind the stars


Coaching any professional sports team requires a certain level of man management skills, tactical onus and more than that ability to deal with pressure. Cricket coaches have evolved over a period of time. Till the 1990s coaches primarily performed the role of managers. They were involved in managing the players, giving them a few drills and have a say in the playing 11 selection. They were considered as men who operate in the background and most often did not get their due recognition. Enter technology, and suddenly the profile of the coaches changed and their job horizon widened. Let’s have a look at the areas the modern day coaches have to deal with.

First and foremost the coaches should gain the respect of the team members. That may not happen overnight. Some coaches bring a certain level of respect with them. For example, Gary Kirsten and Greg Chappell - having played 100 odd test matches is no mean achievement. When players of this stature advice professional players regarding strategies it is bound to be followed. The main purpose of the coach is to sit with the captain and plot (strategies) the downfall of the opponents. This can be accomplished only if there is mutual respect between the captain and the coach. Whatever strategies the coach devices, it has to be the players under the commands of the captain who implement them. The captain is the ‘boss’ on the field. If the camaraderie between the captain and the coach is lost, results won’t fructify. A case in point being the Peter Moores-Kevin Pieterson example. In many cases the coach has to bend himself to adjust with the temperament of the captain. It may not be easy, as the ego and pride of the coaches may prevent that from happening. But successful combinations like Ganguly-Wright and Ranatunga - Whatmore have worked out because the coaches worked in the background and allowed the captains to dominate.

Secondly, the coaches have to define specific roles to each member of the squad. For example, under Gary Kirsten there was the concept of multiple captains in the field like Zaheer Khan - the bowling captain, Suresh Raina & Virat Kohli - the fielding captains and overseeing them all was MS Dhoni. This associates responsibilities with the players and their confidence rises. Likewise each team member ought to be primarily assigned a role. They need to be told personally what is expected of them. In every team there will be players who are instructed to play the sheet anchor role, some might be asked to provide the late burst in the powerplays and so on. To identify the correct role for each player the coaches should be aware of the potential of each player in the squad and their limitations. They need to work hard on this, observe them carefully and gather inputs from various sources. If this is done wrong, it puts the careers of the players in jeopardy. Irfan Pathan was asked by Chappell to work on his batting, the result being he lost his mojo in bowling.

Bob Woolmer was one of the pioneers to use technology in cricket coaching. More than often he was spotted with the laptop in his hand. After this others started to follow suit. The coaches nowadays bring with them a strong support staff team. This includes video analysts and mental conditioners. The coaches have to work with the support team and identify the strengths and weaknesses of each opposition player and device tactics accordingly. For example, placing a third man for Virender Sehwag and bowling short outside the off stump, makes him play the upper cut towards that fielder. Setting appropriate field settings for specific batsmen is also important. India under Duncan Fletcher seems to follow this. We can see fielders change their position automatically according to the batsman.

Finally man-management. This is a pivotal role the coach has to play, to coax the best out of the players. Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina blossomed under Gary Kirsten. He had individual sessions with every player and brought the best out of them. The dressing room has all sorts of characters. The coach needs to create a cordial atmosphere for all these diverse individuals and make them as a unit. The Pakistan team of the 1990's was an example of bad team management. They had some of the greatest players in their team such as Wasim, Waqar, Inzy, Saleem Malik and Anwar yet the individual ego's of the players resulted in them not playing as a team and being even half as successful as they should have been.

The coaches are one of the most underrated people in cricket and they face a lot of challenges and work harder in the background than the players. It is time we looked beyond the superstars on the TV and appreciated them for making these superstars.

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