K Sanath Kumar has much to be pleased about, having just coached Andhra to the semifinal stage of the Vijay Hazare Trophy all-India 50-over tournament, adding to his reputation of working wonders with teams which are seen as ‘underdogs’ in the domestic circuit. He had previously coached Assam to the Ranji Trophy 2015-16 semifinal.
“I started working with Andhra last year. I saw how the team did in the one-dayers and T20s. We started working on certain aspects and we started specialised training. We started making them play a lot more one-dayers and T20s in practice games,” Sanath tells Wisden India.
“We created match simulations to give them an idea. We set them different targets to understand how you bat in the first 15 overs, how you handle the next 20 overs and how to switch gears in the last 10 overs. So we created different situations and made different teams play,” he explains.
But a discernible angst prevails over the joy in the voice of the former Karnataka first-class cricketer when discussing the role of coaches in the Indian Premier League.
Sanath’s displeasure primarily stems from what he perceives to be a preference for foreign coaches by IPL franchisees for no good enough reason, emphasising that foreign coaches can, in fact, be detrimental to the IPL setup owing to the language barrier.
“Generally, the Indian players are not used to the language. The big players are handled in one way and the smaller players are handled in a different way.
“Why did they make the rule that every XI should have at least seven Indian players? To give exposure to Indian players. There should have been some such rule for the support staff as well. If you’re not able to give exposure to Indian coaches in the IPL, what is the point,” Sanath says.
“Overseas coaches are only coming for two months each year, there’s no commitment. In my term with the Royal Challengers Bangalore, I often got into tussles with the main coaches since I used to back the young Indian players.”
Sanath, who was the RCB assistant coach in the early years, reasons that domestic Indian players are better off under the guidance of Indian staff. Moreover, he isn’t pleased by the manner in which certain franchise players are transferred to roles in the coaching staff in following years without any formal coaching knowledge.
“Teams have majority Indian players so we need Indian support staff to handle them. As far as knowledge or work ethics are concerned Indian coaches are at par with foreign coaches or even much better than them. I’ve worked and interacted with several foreign coaches and I don’t see how they are ahead of us in any way.
“In a lot of cases, one year an individual plays for the franchisees and the next year he comes out as coach. Without even coaching a local side, or a small first-class side, how do you expect them to properly coach a franchise,” says the coach.
“It’s a matter of perception. I personally feel it’s a white-skin syndrome. Nothing can be done about it,” Sanath remarks sarcastically when asked for his solution to the situation.
But that’s not where Sanath’s disappointments end; he feels that the top performers in the Ranji Trophy feel hard done and severely demotivated when franchisees overlook them, particularly when players who haven’t even made it to their domestic teams are sought after for big money.
“So many first-class players perform outstandingly well and they are not even considered in the IPL. A bowler like (Rajneesh) Gurbani who did wonders for Vidarbha wasn’t picked in the IPL. Some unknown guys who don’t even find a place in their domestic team, those guys are playing in the IPL. These are the things BCCI should address.
“I feel the top five run-getters and top-five wicket-takers should be absorbed by IPL teams if they are fit. It is shocking (that they are not).
“You put so much hard work into your first-class performances and prove yourself over a period of time and then you go absolutely unnoticed. Some of these unknown players are picked for crores of rupees and they don’t even play one game. Instead of that pick a try and tested candidate for 25-30 lakhs and give him the reward for performing at the first-class level. These are few things that have to be addressed or you’re literally killing first-class cricket,” said a livid Sanath.
Sanath’s comments might sound harsh but it does merit some questioning as to why franchisees opt for foreign coaches when there are plenty of talent reserves within the country.