Sandhu: Unless you enjoy the game you cannot learn anything
Waiting outside the National Cricket Academy at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore for over two hours, it was refreshing to see a team of coaches go about their business with utmost seriousness. There would be no interruptions to the sessions Balwinder Singh Sandhu conducted. Anyone wanting to meet the man in charge would have to wait for him to get the business part of his day out of the way. As soon as the lecture was finished, the enthusiastic, and yet rather hungry group of lads adjourned to the dining room for some well deserved refreshments. Over a steaming cup of tea that began with Sandhu and K Jayanthilal recounting tales of old, a conversation about the NCA and its workings ensued. Over to Sandhu.
On the infrastructure at the NCA in Bangalore:
The facilities here are easily the best in India. We need some more equipment, but that will be provided in the near future. Still, a lot of work needs to go into the academy, and not only the coaching part, but also in creating a system. That's what I'm working on.
On the specific systems Sandhu is putting in place:
Most of our coaches don't like to write too much, so I'm working on a form, where the coaches will just have to tick boxes to rate various aspects. I'm creating a 'user friendly' form for the coaches to report back about a player's ability, technique, mental and physical aspects. This will help standardise things all around.
On the difference between coaching a Ranji side like Maharashtra and the current position he occupies at the NCA:
Coaching a Ranji side is different. There you are also accountable for the team's performance. You have to coach the team and make them play as a unit and has to translate to results on the field. That's the key difference. Here they will be playing for the NCA team. But those matches are more for assessment of players than anything else. Once the players leave, the real test for them begins. We will provide a platform for them to go play better cricket in the next season at the first class level.
On the manner in which various different exercises are weaved into the daily schedule:
We want to develop all aspects of the game. It's not just the skills, there's mental toughness, physical fitness, yoga, sports psychology...In school we have different classes where different teachers come in and address different aspects. Here too we have divided the day into various sessions and have experts coming in to deal with each of them. They learn one skill, get a break and then move on.
On the fact that the boys at the NCA are eating, sleeping, breathing cricket at the NCA:
See they are not with me all the time. In the morning, Arjun Rana looks after fitness, then we have a yoga session and there's fielding in the afternoon. They are with me only for a part of the time. Once they are off the ground I don't like to talk to them about cricket. If I do that I will be overloading them with information and that is not something I want to do. When the lectures are over I like to meet them on a friendly basis. If they want to discuss something about the game I am always ready to speak to them. The players must have their own lives. We must give them breathing space and they should not feel suffocated here. They are here to learn cricket. That is the first priority, but it is also very important for them to enjoy the game. Without that they will not learn anything.