June 5, 2001

Sandhu: Training of coaches is a pressing need in India

The world of cricket coaches is a unique one. You meet all sorts from the failed Ranji Trophy cricketer who conducts little camps for school kids in maidans to the high tech world of Dav Whatmores, Bob Woolmers and their lap top computers. At times the enormity of the task stumps you. At the National Cricket Academy for example, the number of people involved in carrying out the various tasks that make up the day, is far more than you would imagine. At the top of it all is Balwinder Singh Sandhu, a man who has a lot on his mind.

Top most on his mind of course, is his role in the NCA. Never satisfied with levels achieved, Sandhu constantly raises the bar for himself and his wards. "I am constantly evaluating myself. I always try and sort out why I was not more successful at the highest level. This was the information I did not get at my time," began Sandhu. The well built mediumpacer feels he could have done better with more scientific guidance in his playing days. This prompted him to take on the role of coach. "I started by reading up a lot on technique. From there I went to reading up on technique and bio-mechanics. Later on I got to sports psychology. It's a more challenging topic to work with than the others I mentioned and is crucial to the development of a sportsman."

Finding the right talent is crucial in any academy. If the right raw material isn't used, even the best coach in the world cannot help. Sandhu has a refreshingly different view when it comes to what he is looking for in a player. "Most of our coaches feel that a boy who is well behaved is the right kind of student. I am looking for players who are temperamental, aggressive and directionless!" A bit taken aback? There's a perfectly rational explanation. "It is very easy to channelise these cricketers into better players. If the basic aggression is there, all you need to do is channelise the energy. Once that is done, those players will be on a roll," says Sandhu, quietly confident of his methods and abilities as a coach.

Despite being in charge of the NCA, Sandhu is not in the least threatened by the various other coaches who work with the boys. Often insecurity of this kind among coaches and officials have stifled the development of talented cricketers. No such problems at the NCA. "It's not a bad idea to have different coaches for different aspects of the game. But every coach must know the basics well. And indeed must know the coaching methodology and also the bio-mechanics of the game. Most importantly, they must work as a team and learn from each other."

Speaking of the larger issues dogging Indian cricket at the grass roots, Sandhu spoke of the need for greater standardisation. "The most important thing we need to do at the NCA and India level is the training of coaches. All coaches should be at least Level 1 trained," said Sandhu. Most importantly, Sandhu had a plan, suggesting how to go about the matter. "It's a responsibility that each state association needs to take up seriously. A list of such qualified coaches must be released. Once this is done, parents can be encouraged to send their children to one of these coaches."

Towards the end of a long chat that went deep into the world of coaching, Sandhu was a bit emotional. "I was lucky that I came in contact with Frank Tyson. After winning the World Cup in 1983, this is the most important thing that ever happened to me," said Sandhu, remembering fondly his encounter with the former English fast bowling great.

On specifically how Tyson made a difference, Sandhu said, "He gave me a new dimension to coaching. He gave me a direction in which I could use my creativity and grow as a coach. Initially I thought like all coaches think before meeting someone like Frank I can teach what he can." The gratitude in his voice and the sparkle in his eyes said it all a sincere, hard working coach, keen to make a positive contribution to Indian cricket.

Ending on a philosophical note, Sandhu went to the core of his love for coaching, "After meeting Tyson I realised that coaching is like an ocean. The deeper you go, the more you enjoy and the more you enjoy, the deeper you go."