Andhra bear fruit of keeping faith



Andhra have been the only unbeaten side so far in Vijay Hazare Trophy © TNN

Their Ranji Trophy season could have looked way better with a bit of luck, they were so unfortunate to miss out on Syed Mushtaq Ali qualification on net run rate and now they are the only team in the Vijay Hazare Trophy to remain unbeaten thus far. The rise of Andhra cricket this domestic season has been a wonderful story.

From a side that was languishing at the bottom of the table across formats in 2015-16 to giving the top teams in their group a run for their money in 2017-18, a lot has to be attributed to coach Sanath Kumar, who was appointed in September 2016.

To put it in captain Hanuma Vihari’s words, “His impact is huge because he is very firm.”

It was just about sensible thinking from Sanath, a former Karnataka player, that brought the results. He analysed what Andhra’s shortcomings were earlier and addressed them after taking office. So how did he do it?

Chopping and changing, check. Attitude, check. Fitness, check. Backing the players, check.

“Generally what happens in Andhra, every season 20-25 guys play the season. Every two games there is a change, say, whereas in the last two years, we are sticking with the same players and backing them. If you are going to perform and work hard, definitely we are going to back you. It is as simple as that,” Sanath explained.

Indian cricket has seen a revolution in terms of fitness, thanks to one man Virat Kohli. First he showed the way himself about what you can achieve with top fitness levels in sport. Now there’s a certain benchmark – the Yo-Yo Test etc. – if you have to even think of getting closer to representing India. Sanath took a leaf out of Kohli’s book to elevate Andhra.

“We have worked very hard on the fitness and the fielding part. Probably, last year our fielding was very, very average. Comparatively, the fielding has improved in a big way this year. Same with fitness, it has improved in a big way this year. All these things are making a big difference according to me,” he says with a gentle smile.

So how does Sanath lift a player’s morale? Here’s an example with Ricky Bhui.

“Someone like Ricky Bhui has so much time to play his shots, and he always tried to play too many shots square of the wicket while he was new to the crease. That was his mistake. He approached me saying “Sir, a lot of people are saying that there is something wrong with my technique” but I told him that it was the other way round; that he had too much time to play his shots and that he was too comfortable. All he had to do was play straight and safe initially until he got his eye in.

“Your mindset should be to play straight, that’s all, and there’s nothing wrong with your technique otherwise,” I said to him. He has to take challenges and responsibility in his stride. That’s when he will enjoy. When you can take everything as a challenge and enjoy it, that is when you start performing. Otherwise, if you keep worrying all the time, that’s when you start to put pressure on yourself. These are the things I talk to him about, and this year he has been absolutely outstanding,” the 55-year-old detailed.

The results showed. Ricky Bhui has made a big impact in the middle-order, standing tall in testing times. He was the second highest run-getter of the Ranji Trophy season for the team with over 500 runs, had a good outing in the Zonal T20 league and has been very impressive in the Vijay Hazare Trophy as well.

His recent unbeaten 56 in a 191-run chase against Goa spoke volumes of the maturity he showed at the age of 21. Wickets kept tumbling, but he held one end tight with a calm head on his shoulders and even had crucial partnerships for the 8th, 9th and 10th wickets and won Andhra the game with three balls to spare.

Talking about wins, Sanath has made a conscious effort to make the team understand that focusing on process becomes primary and thinking about results comes secondary.

“What I am telling the boys is not to worry about the results at all. Just enjoy the process of whatever we are doing on the field. Give your 100 percent. There is no point in thinking about results. If you really give your best and focus on the process, most of the times, the results will come. We have been sticking to this for a long time now.” he reveals.

No doubt Andhra have had close shaves with the other two formats, but their qualification to the knockouts in Vijay Hazare now gives them an opportunity to cap off the season on a high.

“Definitely it is important (to take the next step in this tournament) because the boys have been playing very good cricket but the recognition will come if they will play well in the finals and perform there. Because normally no one will remember whatever happened in the league stages,” he opined.

The captain is as good as the team they say and Vihari has led from the front with the bat – he was the top run-getter of the side in the Ranji Trophy and has been impressive in white-ball cricket as well. So what’s that one thing that has pleased the captain this season?

“The response from the boys on the ground. The plans we made and how we have executed it has been pleasing. Every team has certain plans against the opponents and how you execute them is most important. We executed our plans well in most of the games. We played 16 games and we lost only one T20 game and conceded only one first innings lead. It is not just about the results but how we played is also very pleasing,” the 24-year-old said.

One of the notable changes among the Andhra players has been the attitude that they have shown on the field. Vihari explains the difference between pushing for a win and just competing.

“If you are just trying to compete then you are not playing your best cricket. You are not putting in your 100 percent. You are not sure about your own game. You are not sure about your teammates’ game as well. When you know your teammates’ strength then you try to play well and win the game rather than just being there and trying to compete. But we know we can win against any team. As you saw on Sunday (February 11), Tamil Nadu were playing at home and the pitch was conducive to their strengths. We went out there and played our best,” he told.

The captain-coach combo becomes vital to a team’s success and in Sanath, Vihari has found an able guru.

“He gives me all the confidence and the freedom to express myself. He tells me “On the ground, you are the boss”. He does not put too much pressure on anyone. He backs everyone and gives them enough space to express themselves and perform,” Vihari proudly lauds Sanath.

“If you see the squad in the last couple years, our 11 or the squad of 15, you won’t see a lot of changes. That is the biggest change we have brought in as we want to give the players the confidence that their place is secured. There won’t be any insecurities in the team if they fail or perform,” Vihari says comparing the pre-Sanath era.

Looking forward, the duo is keen on getting a leg-spinner on board, having had the problem of closing out games against Baroda and Odisha, which would have made their Ranji journey more fruitful.

Wrist spinners anyway have taken Indian cricket by storm and in general are tough to pick, especially for the lower-order. Karn Sharma and a few others are on Andhra’s radar, but nothing has been finalised yet.

“When the season started, Vihari and I spoke to the selectors regarding the need for a good leg-spinner or an extra spinner who can bat well, which would provide a good balance to the side. We are thinking about Karn, but we haven’t approached him or the team he plays for, so we will know about that only next season.

“We have two left-arm spinners actually. We have one really good left-arm spinner called Ashish – a talent from the U-19 circuit. He has done extremely well in the U-19 four-day games and won us a few games himself,” Sanath opened up.

The plans, the thought process, the execution, the foresight have all been good thus far and Andhra cricket seems to be in safe hands for now.

© Cricbuzz


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