Couch Talk 188 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
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Subash Jayaraman (SJ)– Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is former Indian cricketer, Sanjay Bangar, who is currently the Indian side’s batting coach and the head coach of the IPL franchise team Kings XI Punjab. He talks about the responsibilities of a batting coach, how batting plans are set, how he helps players going through bad patches and the influence of (Sachin) Tendulkar and (Rahul) Dravid on his coaching philosophies amongst other things.
Welcome to the show, Sanjay!
Sanjay Bangar (SB)– Thank you, Subash!
SJ– It is absolutely my pleasure having you on.
You have been the batting coach with the Indian team for a while now, so lets get started there. what are the responsibilities of a batting coach? In your case, what are the extent of your duties with the Indian team?
SB– The extent of my role is to look after the preparation part of the batting group, and that necessarily doesn’t mean just the batsmen but also looking after the batting of the lower order as well. In that case, it is related to the preparation, understanding the needs of the players, understanding where they stand with the game, what form they are in, what are they working on from technical point of view. My role includes all these things.
Let’s talk about the various aspects of the things you just mentioned. In terms of batting plans, with respect to players and as a batting unit, how do you develop those batting plans? For example, we could talk about preparation for a Test series played at home or abroad, or a limited overs tournament. you can start wherever you like.
SB– See, nowadays, international cricket is so cramped, you are playing one format over another format. So, you do not actually get a lot of time wherein there is a period of inactivity before the start of a Test series and then you go into the Test series. Those things are no longer present in international cricket. So, you earned to alter your plans and modify the preparations lightly. So, generally, when we approach the Test format, what we are looking at is the composition that the team is playing. In the last couple of series, we played with the combination of 6 batsmen and 5 specialist bowlers. With that, earlier, all the Indian teams were playing 6 specialist batsmen, a wicket keeper and 4 bowlers. It was the management’s call to go to this composition. There in, we stressed a lot on guys who need to take more responsibilities as far as batting department is concerned, and that made every individual batsman realise that if they got a start, they have to make it count. Apart from that, our preparation is also based on the opposition and the conditions that we play in. when we go to Australia, we make a conscious effort to play the bouncing ball. For that, we use various synthetic balls for the batsmen to get used to. On turning wickets, we prepare a lot about certain factors of batsmanship which are required – trusting your defence, using your feet to get to the pitch of the ball, use of the sweep shot, and also developing the back-foot play against the spinner. Those are the things that we look at purely from preparation point of view, and determined by condition and oppositions that we are playing.
SJ– It is an interesting thing that you said about team composition. 6 + 5, 6 + 1 + 4. when you go with one less batsman, someone gets it and makes it count. By the same token, does that mean that the players – because you only have 6 batsmen including the wicketkeeper- you have to be a lot more defensive and get yourself a chance as opposed to when you have an extra batsman and you have more liberty to attack the bowling. Is that sort of things talked about?
SB– Not entirely, but the thought behind is it that the lower order ahs to contribute. The lower order also has to fill in for the role of chipping in the runs. That is what we saw in the sri Lanka series where the lower order did so well. (Ravichandran) Ashwin, (Amit) Mishra contributing with the bat lower down the order. So, it also gives the bowling all-rounder the onus to take up the responsibility of getting some extra runs.. the thought behind is that if you are playing with 6 batsmen and the wicketkeeper is also a batsman and 4 bowlers, what happens is at most times you will end up getting the extra 50-75 runs, but because you are only having 4 bowlers and the conditions are in favour of the batsmen, then the bowlers will have to work extra hard. they might end up conceding more than 50-75 runs in getting the 10 wickets. It is ok that we are getting less runs, but by having those 5 specialist bowlers, we are suggesting that we will get the opposition out within that sort of score in the first innings.
if you compare it with the second innings, maybe what happens is that instead of probably chasing 250, if your bowling is good you can be chasing 200 or be defending 200 – instead of chasing or defending 275. That was the thought.
You hear a lot about bowling plans, because cricket by nature has bowling as the creative side of it. the bowling is where the action starts and the batsmen are reacting to that. there are bowling plans and when it is a limited overs game, they talk about opening the over, finishing the over, dot ball percentage etc. But, I am assuming there have to be batting plans as well – how to at together in partnerships, and as you said – top order, middle order, lower order and how to just chip in, etc. How do you set that batting plan for a side. how do you give the responsibilities to various players? You can start with Tests, they have more variables.
SB– Test cricket, I don’t think in Test cricket there is one specific plan. I feel the more dynamic planning is related to the shortest format of the game, that is where you talk of how you can minimise dots and how you can target a particular bowler, at what phase of the game you want to accelerate. Whatever target you are looking at – a 6 over, 10th over, 13th over mark, etc. Then you look at position plans, wherein you look at their patters of the bowlers bowling at what stages for them. In turn, it generally also helps the batsman in knowing or anticipating that there are certain bowlers which every batsman is comfortable against. That is what you have in your mind – at this place if I walk in and if this bowler is bowling, I will have the confidence to take him on, and that is what every batsmen tends to do in the shortest format of the game.
even in 50 over cricket the constituents change. In earlier times, our team had one of the highest scoring rate in the last 10 overs. There were also times where in only 4 fielders were allowed outside the circle. The rule changes some time back and that meant that we will have to work out a good run rate between the 30th and 40th over because we are not going to end up scoring a lot of runs in the last 10 overs because of the extra fielder outside the circle. There were certain blocks between eh 30th and 40th over where we didn’t perform well in the South Africa series. We worked on those sets, tried in a different way to approach the game. it is also related to the rule changes, you need to be constantly working on those things.
SJ– In limited overs, there is a lot more planning and strategy, where in you have one on one things, which batsman vs which bowler, what situation in the innings, so on and so forth. Whereas in a Test match, is there much planning or is there much technical aspect that you focus on?
SB– In Test matches, again, you have time on your side and don’t rush into things, so you don’t plan as much as you do with your T20 cricket. Basically, it is occupation of the crease and playing sessions and making sure that you are batting at a particular run rate so you don’t fall behind or become very slow. But again, there, one aspect that you work on is strike rotation and a lot of communication between the batsmen. If at all, in Test cricket, the emphasis is given on communication between the batsmen batting and making sure that contribution is there from the lower order. We work a similar amount of time on lower order batsmen as we spend on the top order batsmen as far as honing the skill is there. There is certain improvement in that aspect.
You mentioned how these days there is not much time, you go from one format to another. You play in the World tournament and then you play in the IPL, and then you play in a few series and then there are Tests. There is not really downtime to work on certain aspects of your batting or just take a break from things. In such situations, say you are in a 4 or 5 Test series like that in England 2 years ago, if there is a batsman going through a tough patch – technical or confidence issues – how do you approach that situation as a batting coach?
SB– Basically, the players that you work with need to trust you and have faith in you. It does take time for any individual who is new to a job. Now I am close to 2 years in the job the trust factor has developed really well between me and the players. When there is a loss of form, it is just going back to basics, trying and understanding what was the ideal performance trait of the player when he was doing well. What routines he had when he was doing well. Whether he is watching the ball out of his hand, whether he is thinking of other things when he going out to bat which are controllable. All these things you get to know when you interact with the batsman one on one, away from the work. it boils down to the rapport that you have, if you have good enough rapport and the player trust, it becomes easier to pass on your inputs to their game as well as their acceptance level of the inputs and whether those inputs are going to be included by the player in his preparation. It is a bit of a process, and I believe that if the process is right, we tend to get the result.
SJ– but, when someone has a bad habit creep into his batting – say, overcompensating or overbalancing. And you try to correct that in the middle of the Test series. Sometimes, you might not get the result by the waves, as you said it is a process. How do you maintain that confidence of the player, that what you have suggested or told them to do is the right thing to do and eventually they will get the results that they want.
SB– Nobody expects overnight results and everybody understands that. OK, you make change and everything happens – it is not like that. There are certain habits that are formed over a period of years. Players are comfortable with certain things, and to move away from that the players need to have a certain conviction and the player needs to believe that whatever inputs is given to them, they are willing to include them. Basically, it is the conviction of the player in accepting the inputs which they may feel that will improve the game. If they take in, this will work for my game, then it becomes a lot easy. Our thing is to plant the seed and walk away; watch and observe how the player is doing there.
SJ– What I really wanted to know was, when you are in the middle of a Test series and a batsman is having trouble outside the off stump and he is edging far too many of them instead of leaving them. How do you technically go about correcting that, and how long of a process is that?
SB– For that, you need to understand that you need to study the technique of a player and apply the biomechanical principle that govern the batsmanship. Basically, the biomechanical principle suggests that batsmanship is all about stability and balance which allows you to play the ball correctly and be in a position to execute your shoot. All those principles about whether the batsman is well batsman or not, whether his alignments are good or not, if he is picking the bat in the right fashion, whether his perception level is good or not, etc. It all starts from the setup phase of the batsman. Generally, the role of a coach, if he is able to connect most things at the setup and the back-end phase of a particular batsman – his setup is good, the weight is equally distributed on both his feet, initial movement of his feet is correct, whether he is setting up for a full ball or not, whether he is picking up his bat, initiating his backlift with his top hand – those things, if the batsman is doing well, he can react to the ball well because he has given himself the best chance biomechanically for the body levers to work against. From a technical point of view, you continuously study these factors of a batsman, and if the batsman is doing these things right, then there is a lot chances of him making lesser mistakes and him becoming a very effective batsman.
SJ– So, when you put certain corrective measures in place to change certain things about the stance, balance, pickup, etc, how long is the process? Do you feign over it every net session, or do you give it some time – you tell them what needs to be done and they go out and try it in the match and in the nets and you go back to verify it? I want to know how the process carries on.
SB– We do certain drills with a view to improve certain things in a player and we continuously do that till a point it becomes second nature, and then constantly monitor it with video footage available. Whether it be foot movement, movement of the player, position of the head in relation to the off stump. It basically means that you identify an issue that eh batsman is facing, then you talk it through to the player and expect him to accept that. then, you start doing those corrective measures through the drills and then constantly make sure that the player is remembering that and is aware of all those things. That is the process. It can work in a matter of 7 days, but it also depends on the individual player takes it on board.
SJ– Let’s say if the player has an issue, do you let the player first sort it out himself and if he cannot, allow him to come to you? Or, do you approach the player as soon as you spot the flaws?
SB– Timing is as much as required. You need to pick the right time. If someone is batting well, and you notice he is scoring well, you don’t want to tamper with his mind or put a doubt in his mind. If something is working for him, and is not causing any problem, it is ok. if there is a pattern of dismissal for the batsman, only then you have to touch upon certain things, and there too the timing is important – the when and how, what sort of mind you approach the player.
SJ– At the highest level, everything is such a mental game, all the players that represent any country have the talent and the skills. The mental aspect becomes the most dominant thing, when you combine the fact that almost all the time you are away from home and on tour. do you approach your coaching philosophy from that point of view?
SB– It is basically that you forge strong relationships and friendships. You do it at a subconscious level wherein the player relies on you and trusts you. It is basically sort of a relationship that is developed over a period of time, it doesn’t happen overnight. You are constantly travelling and the amount of time which we spend off the field together is also equally important for a player-coach relationship to work.
SJ– In your playing career, the Indian side that you played in had a fab-4, fab-5 – some of the greatest batsmen to play for India – Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Virender Sehwag, Saurav Ganguly, VVS Laxman etc. Were there things when you were playing with the Indian side that you picked on, on how they went about their batting routine and how they prepared for certain bowlers, or made changes to their batting technique that you absorbed as a player and used now as a coach?
SB– Between then and now, the preparations have only gone better. The way the cream of the batsmen that you mentioned prepared and the way the current set of cricketers prepare, I think the preparation part because of the additional resources the team has around itself has gone up. the quality of preparation has gone up because of the additional resources that we have. Having said that, the earlier generation were as meticulous about their preparation as the current generation is. That is one thing which the Indian cricket is blessed with – you have certain individuals who are totally dedicated to excellence. I think that legacy of the past generation has been taken by the current generation as well who take pride in wearing that India cap.
SJ– At a more technical level, are there things in terms of routines that these batsmen, Sachin or Rahul, that you have observed that you think can be passed on to the upcoming generations?
SB– It all boils out of preparations – how Rahul Dravid prepares, I have seen him prepare, from close quarters. I’ve seen how Rahul prepares at the NCA at the start of a series, or how Sachin prepares for Shane Warne – which is now part of folklore. Every player, in the present day generation certain individual takes special efforts to be best prepared before the onset of a tour or series. All the batsmen, maybe Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, Rohit Sharma, Ajinkya Rahane or Virat Kohli, or Cheteshwar Pujara – their preparation is as much intense as the preparation of the earlier generation. They come really well prepared to meet the challenges of the series. It could be playing with a tennis ball, a synthetic ball, playing on surfaces which are dry, or loose, where the ball is bounding or gripping or bouncing. Whether they can play with soft hands at the start of the innings – those are the things that generally players do.
Now, you are also head coach of Kings XI Punjab. How does that change your role? Do you still take an active role in looking at the batting of the team or you leave it to others and just look at the overall running and management of the players?
SB– The IPL job is a totally different job. Being the head coach of an IPL team basically, I don’t have to work too far on the techniques of the players but basically laying down plans. it is a managerial role wherein you are concerned with the selection, administration, dealing with different stakeholders of the team like sponsors or owners. It is also in a cramped schedule. You have to set up a plan and do your preparations right. But, I feel that being a coach of an IPL team is far more complex than looking after a particular department of a national team.
SJ– Last question – being the national coach of a national side and an IPL team coach as well, you are basically on the job 365 days an year. How much of an effect does it have on your personal life? How long do you think you can handle this? Gary Kirsten did this for 4 years, and then did an year or two in the IPL. There is there coaching turn overs. Do you have future plans?
SB– I don’t have – not plans, but – I will be on job till 30th of May when the contract ends and the contract with BCCI ended on 31st of March. I will have to wait and see what transpires after that particular period. Again, to take up a job like that you need family that is very supportive. I am very fortunate that I have a very supporting family and a good support system at home to take care of things. It becomes easier nowadays with technology, you can be away and still be in touch with the family. I feel it is a tremendous honour and for having such an honour you have to sacrifice some things that I have been able to do, and I hope to be able to continue to do in the future as well.
SJ– On that note, Sanjay, thank you so much for being on the show. It was an absolute pleasure talking to you!