And the best supporting actor goes to …..

As the curtains came down on the 5th battle of Indian Premier League, the eastern skies of India illuminated with joy and gaiety after their Knights had shut out the advances of the monarchs from the South in their pursuit of a triple crown. Yet another festival of relentless cricketing extravaganza coupled with the behemoth of Media and Commercial song and dance, came to an end. For the crick-o-maniacs it marked the end of a Summer Carnival that will leave a vast void in their hearts and the evening slot of 4 – 11 pm.

And there somewhere beneath all the hype and hoopla, the analyses will begin. Which team showed the maximum improvement? Which one had a steep fall? Which player(s) caught the eye? Which ones had a forgettable edition? Who were the other newsmakers? How much did Indian Cricket gain? And many such deep introspective ponderous thoughts shall sprout. In fact as I write this, there are countless aficionados of this godly game, who are already burning the keyboard to come up with their perspective – each one a unique look at the runs and ruins of the edition just ended.

Customarily, this time of the year, I write a piece that’s a tribute to CSK (Team that I passionately support), for winning the IPL. For almost halfway till yesterday’s game this year’s tribute was forming in my head. What to write, how to frame etc. Somewhere, in the last 20 overs it all went up in thin air. And as I sit down to write the look-back on this year’s edition I thought of focusing on an aspect that isn’t getting much of the airtime or cubic-centimeter space from our Electronic/Print media – The role of the Support Staffs – The Indian Support Staff (In each teams).

IPL is a complex tournament. It certainly isn’t a bed of roses, that many feel it is. It may look rosy though, with such obscene amount of money being involved et al. But with money comes accountability – a thread that isn’t very commonly used in many professional circles in India. (Let me underline this – I said “many” not “all”). Owners spend money, buy talent and hope to win matches, going onto win the tournament. While it all looks so simple, each of those steps is a complex activity and requires a lot of effort, expertise, foresight, vision and executional mastery. Each team has to play at least 16 games (excluding the playoffs), in at least 9 different conditions (8 away games – 8 different conditions + 8 home games – lets say condition remains same), against 16 different kinds of opposition (considering teams are changed every game) and of course, under varied pressure situations depending upon how one is placed on the points table. Its dynamic, complex and stressful.

Its no hidden truth that the teams with the most potent bunch of Indian domestic talent have turned it on consistently in various additions till date. It’s the Vijays/ the Valthatis / the Tiwarys / the Rahanes / the Rayudus / the Balajis / the Yadavs who have been equally (if not more) instrumental in ensuring their sides gained the kind of foothold as they did eventually. And it’s the system that keeps this part of the game alive, that needs to be lauded.

A lot gets written about the Flemings/Bailisss/Simmons/Jennings/Uptons/Lehmanns etc. These blokes are most certainly the movers and shakers of IPL. Each one has a great story to tell on how they are shepherding their respective resource pool towards achieving some great results. However, underneath their much talked about and much publicized world of Coaching lie some lesser known unsung heroes. The true success stories of Indian Cricket.

Lets take a look at some of these stories:

  1. Vikram Rathore (KXIP): As Mandeep Singh strode towards Harsha Bhogale after collecting his Best emerging player of IPL5, he looked excited and proud. And the moment Harsha asked him his reactions he blurted out his heartfelt gratitude for Vikram Rathore – The Assistant Coach of KXIP. Rathore, who played 6 test matches for India and veteran stalwart for Punjab in Ranjis, is the present coach for Punjab and understands the game and its demography in India as well as any long time serving Indian player. His presence in the KXIP dug out proved some inspirational performances by “Indian” contingent that saw KXIP (against all odds), almost making it to the playoffs. While the likes of Azhar Mehmood and David Hussey led the charge, it’s the efforts of Mandeep, Nitin Saini, Gurkirat Singh, Parvinder Awana, Bhargav Bhatt, Siddharth Chitnis etc that brought a new lease of life to this team’s fortunes. And its here, Rathore had a stellar role to play. Of course, he was the right hand man for Gilly while making the informed decisions on the team composition and preparation the domestic conditions (venues) and oppositions.
  2. Monty Desai (Rajasthan Royals): Monty is a unique talent. He has never played active cricket, yet pursued his dreams of associating with the game under the tutelage of late Hanumanth Singh, and got qualified as a Level II Certified Coach from ECB – UK and NCA India. Monty joined Royals, after being recommended to the management by his friend Zubin Barucha and since then have worked with Warnie, Jeremy Snape and Darren Berry to ensure the Indian contingent is in top shape – Cricketwise, physically and mentally. He resides and works as a coach in USA (south east region), however his exploits in Royals is worth a rousing applause. After Warne retired from IPL, Monty got elevated to the position of Royals coach, this season and was seen actively involved in Royals matters with Dravid. He has been instrumental in the rise of the Royals local talents like Rahane, Menaria, Chandila, Sid Trivedi, Amit singh, Ankeet Chavan and Pankaj Singh. And Royals emerged as a force this season because of consistent efforts from the domestic bunch.
  3. T A Sekhar (Delhi Daredevils): In many ways Daredevils bowling looks like a miniature Pace Foundation – Morkel, Pathan, Bracewell, Russell, Yadav, Agarkar, Aaron, Salvi etc. And it doesn’t surprise one bit, because for one thing that T A Sekhar has done well in his life other than getting up every morning, is to produce fast bowling talent with relentless consistency. His efforts for the last 20 years are no less than a social service of the highest order. So to have him in the support system augurs very well for all the fast bowling talents in the Daredevils stable. Sadly, TAS’s expertise has never been used widely in a national context. This season while the Purple cap holder Morkel was on top of his game, it’s the precision of Umesh, the consistency of Pathan and occasional successes of Aaron in addition to that of their spinners (Nadeem and Negi) that ensured Daredevils had the requisite depth. Here worth mentioning would be the role of Aashish Kapoor (the Off Spinner of yesteryears) who has worked hard with the spinners and has also been Delhi’s prime domestic Talent Scout.
  4. Paras Mhambrey (Mumbai Indians): Long before the days of Indian Premier league when the Indian domestic scenario was warming up to the concept of having coaches for the Ranji teams, Mhambrey emerged as one the first ones in the job. His coaching resume is a sparkling one – took Bengal to 2005 and 2006 finals, then coached India A in 2007 before joining Baroda as their Head Coach. Paras, has been instrumental in scouting the domestic bunch for MI (his additional qualification being he enjoys a lot of respect from Sachin, which is probably the biggest qualifications for a job at MI). Though MI was probably the only team which had 9 out of their 11 players as International Players (That reduces the scope for Domestic Players), but successes of Rayudu, Dhawal Kulkarni and occasional performances of Abu Nechim, Yuzvendra Chahal etc. have been under the keen eyes of Mhambrey. (Sadly, on most days Paras was seen sitting with the Ambanis telling them what’s happening on the field for them to understand and react).
  5. Vijay Dahiya (KKR): In the 2004 auction, KKR came in with a mission – To rewrite the fabric, the core of their team. They intended to create a new personality and crux, with one pure intent of constructing a strong team that is well-rounded with skills, have the heart of gladiators and THAT CAN WIN IPL. Thus began a voyage that culminated into the sweet crescendo of being crowned as champions in IPL5. Dahiya, was the mastermind, who proposed a future with a new leader – Gambhir and a team that will be “complete” in most aspects. He along with Dav Whatmore plotted the look and feel of the team and went onto acquire the same tenaciously. Irrespective of who was the head coach (whatmore or Bailiss), one could figure out who was the constant sounding partner for Gauti. (Here I must mention the Dahiya – Gauti connection – Dahiya played his cricket for Delhi, he was once the captain there when Gautam was a rookie opener. Later Dahiya became the Delhi coach in 2007 leading them to the Ranji title after a hiatus of 16 years. Gauti was his captain) His sound understanding of the tactics, and profound knowledge of the cricketing demographics made him scout for some of the most effective domestic talents (Bisla, Tiwary, Shukla, Das, Balaji, Abdulla etc.) and its their performances that finally got KKR to a level of consistency that’s only second to CSK (Making it to 2 consecutive playoffs , with one Title). They certainly are a force to reckon with in the world club T20 stage.
  6. There are others Praveen Amre (Pune Warriors) and Kanwaljeet Singh (Deccan Chargers). However, their contribution was limited as they had to comply with stronger directives from their respective seniors (Ganguly and Lehmann). No wonder these two teams adorned the last 2 positions on the Points table. Their overt dependence on their International Stars and unimaginative usage of domestic talent was a major cause of these teams losing out overall. RCB with Kumble, Prasad and Brijesh Patel manage the domestic quotient within themselves and there again the difference between them and other teams (in the games that they lost) was due to the inconsistency with the domestic talents. CSK, have not used much of Indian support off late with their support teams being fairly seasoned after being therefor 5 years. They haven’t experimented much with their team hence most of the domestic talents are well onboarded in the side. Noteworthy, CSK did have V B Chandrasekhar for the first 3 years when they were searching for the right combination of domestic talent.

The spotlight will always be on the owner (for what and who they are), and the much celebrated coaches who make the big decision of spending the big bucks on the big international names. However a team is complete only when the uncapped players get picked and they are prepped towards delivering on the big stage. Its here champion teams make the difference. Its in this crucial space some of the above names are doing some remarkable work. Its time we acknowledge their efforts. We have had many instances of young players bursting into the international / IPL stage with stellar performances only to sink into the abyss of disillusionment. A support system that can arrest these consistent rise and fall, will only write the pages of a much brighter cricketing future. Its time to invest in this layer – The Supporting Actors!

PS: There are 65 Level C (Level III Certified) coaches in the NCA (National Cricket Academy alamanac). Incidentally except for Amre and Kanwaljeet, none of the above names figure in the list of the so called topmost certified list of coaches. Which does tell a story – but then that’s for another day.


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