April 11, 2013

Knight Riders' engine room

The people who keep Kolkata Knight Riders fit and ready

"Be the first on the training ground and the last off it." I can't find the exact quote or its author, but this paraphrased line projects the Hollywood image of a hard-working, pro athlete walking off the field of a huge empty stadium long after the rest of the squad have showered up. It is an exaggerated and sensationalised picture, but this is what popped into my mind when thinking of a way to introduce our conditioning coach to you.

Bizarrely, this effort that I have described is just the work he does outside of his job description. Adrian le Roux is a tireless worker, helping out with fielding drills and throwing to the batters till the curator has to switch the lights off. Adrian was a trainer with the South African and Indian cricket teams and his main role at Knight Riders is managing workloads and monitoring fitness levels to ensure that the players can stay fresh to perform over the length of the competition. He does all our gym programmes and is in charge of recovery between games. The conditioning for batsmen and bowlers varies widely, as you can imagine, and even within these classes, one individual's needs may vary greatly from another.

This is the epitome of the 'support staff' member. It is a thing of the modern cricketing (and other pro-sports) era. I know it initially raised a few eyebrows, but in this day where sport has become so scientific and the marginal gains so small, it is essential to have specialists who work to bring out the best of the players when it comes to match time. These guys are essential to the performance of the players.

So who are the other 'scientists'? The Kolkata Knight Riders have two physios who look after the players well-being to ensure they are physically prepared to perform on the field. The physio is not just there to patch us up when we're injured. Injury prevention is essential to keep your best players on the pitch. Andrew Leipus, former Indian physio, does the bulk of his work on our days off and his room is manic with guys getting taped and strapped before a game. We also have a full-time masseuse who helps with muscle soreness and injury prevention.

The coaching staff is made up of Trevor Bayliss, Vijay Dahiya and Trevor Penny. While their titles are head coach, assistant coach and fielding coach respectively, they are always on hand to offer help across all three disciplines. Brett Lee is filling in for Wasim Akram as bowling coach. Apart from the actual skills of the various disciplines, these guys are responsible for the planning and tactics adopted in matches. T20 cricket has become very tactical and there are continual changes in teams' approaches, with bowlers looking to combat advances in batting tactics and vice-versa.

Teams in the IPL certainly have bigger support staff than any of the other cricket competitions I've played in. I'd imagine this to be an economics issue. Some teams have a sports psychologist and additional coaching staff, as well, to beef up the coaching bench. Getting the balance right is important and I think Knight Riders get by with a smaller complement because these guys muck in outside of their own roles. Away from their functional roles, they are big players in creating the team culture; their work ethic, professionalism, and positive attitude filter into the team dynamic.

I've seen first-hand how these guys live the excitement and disappointments of the team's fortunes. I'd say it is even tougher to watch from the outside with no direct control of what's unfolding in the middle. One of the key disciplines of a good coach is controlling your emotions, which is no easy task during a tipsy-turvy 20-over match. This makes it important that all the support staff have a good understanding of the game which our guys definitely do.

While each player drives and is responsible for his preparation, this group of people are the necessary tools. Confidence is essentially satisfaction in your preparation, knowing that you've done everything possible to deliver your best in the middle. Apart from actually scoring the runs or taking the wickets, these guys are the backbone of one's performances.

There exists another group of people who are less noticeable, but equally valuable in the running of a team that is constantly on the move and operating within a busy schedule. I've mentioned before how seamless the organisation in the team is. Travel, accommodation, security, clothing, player commitments and organising practice sessions and catering are just some of the things that are taken care of by this group of people who are always around but hardly noticed. The whole set-up makes it easy for players to focus on the job at hand - playing cricket.

Away from cricket, I managed to visit a temple in Jaipur the morning after our match. Some friends had me over for a traditional Rajasthani breakfast and proceeded to show and explain the rituals of their temple. I find the contrast in cultures fascinating and having these opportunities is certainly one of the side benefits of playing cricket.

We've also managed to get the book review blog up and running, and that's been time-consuming but very rewarding. I've already received a lot of help and we're on our way to making a little difference in the Kolkata community.

There was no time for golf this week (despite the arrival of golf fanatic Brendon McCullum), but I came across this humorous exchange on Twitter. In reply to his girlfriend Caroline Wozniacki's proud tweet of being the first ever female to carry his bags, golfer Rory McIlroy replied: 'Definitely the last, too!' Hope the IPL continues to bring much excitement to all of you.

Ryan ten Doeschate is an allrounder for the Netherlands and for Kolkata Knight Riders in the IPL