“I want them to ask questions and then I try to give them convincing answers. Asking questions is a big step towards growth.” © Getty
Sanath Kumar is an old hand at managing less accomplished teams on the domestic scene. His biggest asset as a coach is instilling confidence in his players and getting them to deliver that little bit extra. The 55-year-old former Karnataka medium pacer now wears a slightly different hat. He is currently guiding a fresh batch of India U-19 players and is relishing every moment of his stint.
The team’s journey this season begins with a month-long tour of Sri Lanka which gets under way on Thursday with a two-day practice match in Colombo. Sanath has been named bowling coach for the tour and will assist coach WV Raman. Sanath believes there is a marked difference in approach between his current wards and the plethora of teams he has coached in the past. Youngsters today are much bolder in their approach to the game both on and off the field, he says, and it plays perfectly to his strengths as a coach.
“Earlier, players were meek and followed everything we said,” Sanath told TOI on the sidelines of the camp at the National Cricket Academy. “As I see it, it’s a positive change. They ask a lot of questions and if they are not convinced, they are unwilling to follow instructions. They don’t hesitate to say, ‘this doesn’t suit me, why should I do it’? This works perfectly for me because I’ve always believed in enriching them. I want them to ask questions and then I try to give them convincing answers. Asking questions is a big step towards growth.”
A back-room worker of repute, Sanath has been instrumental in changing the fortunes of teams like Karnataka, Baroda, Assam and Andhra. Apart from working on tactics, he has also laid emphasis on the mental aspect of the game.
On the importance of players been mentally fit, especially in junior cricket, Sanath pointed out, “Sport for me, to a large extent is played in the mind. For players who are about 18-19 years of age, it is more technical coaching. Once they cross that age, then, it is all about the mind and how they back themselves, their aggression and focus. Planning and positive thinking too play a huge role. I always tell young boys one thing: ‘for people to start believing in you, you have to believe in yourself first’.”
The bowling coach has had very little time to work with the players, but he said it was all about making the best use of the time available. “In short camps like this one, we generally focus more on tactics rather than technique. It is more on the lines of how to read a batsman and how to use the crease, variation and the thought process during bowling.”
Sanath also added that for players to bowl in the right areas consistently, practising constantly is the only option.
“Generally, consistency in landing in one area comes only when you work on your action,” he said. “Normally what happens is when the weight of the bowler is going towards the target, you’ll start landing the ball in one area and you’ll bowl a good line. For that to happen, the technical aspect of a bowler’s game has to be the priority and they have to work on it. These days we see varied bowling actions. That is because they get to bowl only a certain number of overs. They bowl fewer overs these days during matches. I personally feel till the age of 16 or 17 it is fine, but after that they have to bowl more overs. Consistency and accuracy come only with experience.”
With his contract running till October, Sanath said he wasn’t worried about how long he works. The focus, he said, is firmly on the difference he can make in players. “I enjoy whatever I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t really expect anything out of it. I thrive on the challenge of making players better.”