| Sanjay Bangar, in Bhubaneswar |
Calcutta: Former India cricketer Sanjay Bangar, the only desi head coach in the IPL, spoke to The Telegraph from Bhubaneswar on Saturday evening.
Bangar, 41, is with the Kings XI Punjab (KXIP), table-toppers in edition No.7.
A third-placed finish in the inaugural event of the IPL, back in 2008, has been KXIP’s best.
Q Is this KXIP’s year?
A We’ve started very well, but around half the tournament remains... It’s best to stay positive, but not look too far ahead. We were able to get impact players at the auction and they’ve delivered for the franchise. Sure, the momentum is with us, but this is a fast-paced format and things could get out of hand.
Seven wins and one loss... Did you expect such an awesome start?
Look, you can’t do all the things right, but we certainly look to do quite a few things correctly. We let players play with freedom, without loading them with this analysis and that. Of course, we put plenty of emphasis on preparing well.
What would you attribute this success to?
The professionalism of the players, the leadership qualities of George Bailey... The professionalism of the franchise as a whole, where the roles are understood and respected.
You aren’t taking any credit...
(Laughs) We, in the support staff, help prepare players. At the end of the day, the Baileys are the ones who perform, not the head coach and other members of the support staff.
Does the franchise have a motto?
Play attractive cricket.
Clearly, KXIP were smart at the auction, in February. How much homework did you do personally?
Not any more than the others who sat at our table... I must compliment the Board and the IPL for bringing the uncapped players too into the auction. That has allowed talent to be fairly evenly distributed. Besides, it brought about transparency.
But did you still worry on some front?
Perhaps, that we didn’t have a big enough name in the spin department. Going for young players was a calculated risk.
Did you lose sleep when an injury made spearhead Mitchell Johnson miss the World T20, which preceded the IPL?
We did have a scare, but Johnson recovered. There were anxious days, yes.
Who is the boss — you or Bailey? Or is co-owner Preity Zinta the super boss?
The franchise has no bosses! We’re lucky that the owners allow the cricketing decisions to be taken by men hired to do so.
What’s it like working with Bailey?
After the last Ashes, I’d read an article on Bailey, which spoke highly of his work ethic... Of how he’d contribute to the team... So, I knew what to expect. Bailey’s been very good with the younger lot and some life-long relationships have been built in the past four-five weeks.
KXIP retained David Miller and Manan Vohra, but the latter hasn’t got a game...
That’s because Manan is competing with Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara. He’ll have to wait. Having some continuity comes into play when a franchise retains somebody.
Miller, Glenn Maxwell, Johnson... They’re match-winners... What has been your approach towards them?
I’ve tried to earn their respect and trust. It’s important for a coach to communicate properly and, hopefully, I haven’t been falling short. Within any team, there has to be clarity about roles. All of us know where we stand.
Young Sandeep Sharma is special...
Sandeep has always had the ability to swing, but what sets him apart is that he has a big heart. He’s not afraid of pitching it up, inviting the batsman to have a go. So, it’s a combination of skill and a big heart.
Your take on Wriddhiman Saha?
Saha’s one of our most crucial players and provides so much flexibility to our batting. He can bat up the order, or come lower down. He’s embraced the challenge and the franchise is giving him the opportunities he deserves.
You’ve been reunited with your India mate Sehwag. He’s been out of the national team for more than a year. Do you see him making a comeback?
I can say with certainty that Viru’s skill hasn’t diminished one bit. There’s no apparent change, which is admirable. Often, batsmen out of favour struggle, but not Viru. He’s 35 and, so, could continue... In fact, I’ll urge him to give it another shot. However, his motivation will matter. Also, whether he has a target.
Do you see KXIP’s success opening up bigger opportunities for you as coach?
(Laughs) I’m only thinking of the ongoing IPL... First, let the tournament finish, hopefully, with us winning. I’m not going to blow my trumpet. Let the people judge — after the IPL.
Your India coach, John Wright, is the Mumbai Indians’ head coach. Did you get to chat with him?
John was very kind... He spoke of his experiences as coach and lifted my confidence. It was a nice interaction, for 10 minutes or so.
Who is an ideal coach?
Someone who communicates in the correct manner, someone who makes players understand that even small contributions matter, someone who takes care of his bench players, as well... We have Shaun Marsh, but he hasn’t been able to get a game. It’s my job to keep him motivated and to make him understand that all decisions are taken keeping the team’s interest in mind.
How do you rate the Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR), a franchise you were briefly associated with, in 2009?
Well, KKR have the strongest line-up of Indian batsmen and plenty of variety in their bowling. We beat KKR in the UAE, but it was a close game... Our bowlers pulled us through. The spread of talent is pretty even and, so, no opposition should be underestimated. We respect everybody.
No hard feelings vis-a-vis KKR?
None at all. It’s a fact that I was among those sent back from South Africa as the squad had to be pruned, but that’s history... I have good friends in Calcutta and my India captain, Sourav Ganguly, is from there. I didn’t have a long career, but he’d been very supportive.
The last one... Does talk of the law of averages bother you?
Haven’t even thought about it! As long as we stick to our plans, do the small things well, we’ll come up trumps. I hope we’ll again play in a manner which does justice to the Kings XI Punjab brand.