April 3, 2013

Season six, bring it on

Time to start on the mad merry-go-round again. (This year, with better use of downtime)

It is almost with disbelief that I reflect on the fact that I started writing this diary a year ago, and that we are now already at the start of the new IPL season.

Our team branding has changed, our personnel have changed, and even the elevated freeway that connects Kolkata to the suburb of Salt Lake has progressed a lot in the last 12 months, but things feel calmingly familiar within the squad.

A week's preparation is already under our belts, and though it has been a disruptive time, with the squad being completed in increments as players jet in from five continents, it feels as though we are all set for tonight's opening match against Delhi Daredevils.

I'm not superstitious, but our first three fixtures - against Daredevils, Rajasthan Royals and Royal Challengers Bangalore - are a replica of last year's schedule. Hopefully this is a good omen and we can get out of the blocks quicker this year.

The focus is firmly back on the cricket as of this morning, and on the challenges that lie ahead of us as defending champions. Do the accolades of the past have a bearing on what lies ahead or is it possible to compartmentalise a period of competition or treat a tournament in isolation? There are certainly mixed views on this, and evidence for and against.

Trevor [Bayliss] and Gautam [Gambhir] have touched on this, and we are focusing on the positives of being the defending champions. Rationally, we have the examples of what we did well to become IPL 5 champions to reproduce, and lessons from that campaign (and the Champions League Twenty20 in South Africa) to learn from. I see it as a clean slate, with the slight advantage of the marginal confidence of that recent success.

Personal achievements go hand in hand with team success. Having players near the top of the run-scoring and wicket-taking lists is important and invariably results in the team doing well. But over-reliance on individuals is a rot to be avoided. The sharing of responsibility is important for success over a significant period. So it is comforting to look back and see that we have had contributions from everyone in the squad.

Through all the IPLs there is a huge amount of downtime or dead time. The schedule is pretty busy, but generally on most days we are commitment-free until late in the afternoon, when the team practises. This year I have decided to take advantage of these happy hours, if I may call them that. I'm going to try to be more productive with my time this year, and have embarked on a project to read and review one book every week while I am out here. Apart from the personal satisfaction I get from reading, the project will be used to raise some money to establish a library here.

I've started with Calcutta by Amit Chaudhuri, an Indian author, and I'm thoroughly absorbed by his depiction of this incredible metropolis and its "citizens".

Today is match day. Eden Gardens is looking fantastic and is the perfect arena to start proceedings. Both teams have to deal with injuries and player availability, but this will not detract from tonight's contest.

Satchi (Sachithra Senanayake) is an exciting addition to our team and I'm personally looking forward to seeing him play. Despite being an international performer I think he's in for a treat with the atmosphere he'll experience at the Gardens tonight.

So with all the cricket preparations done it's time to switch on mentally and ensure that the nerves are made of steel. The excitement from within is immense and the players are chomping at the bit. I hope this season lives up to all expectation and that this IPL surpasses the legend of years gone by. Enjoy the ride.

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

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