March 29, 2001

Sandhu: You can't go away from the grammar of the game

Balwinder Singh Sandhu is best known for the banana inswinger with which he bowled Gordon Greenidge in the World Cup final in 1983. The great West Indian opening bat shouldered arms and watched in dismay as the ball shattered the stumps. Despite not having a tremendously successful Test or one-day career, Sandhu has always held a lot of respect with current and former cricketers for his knowledge of the game. His passion for coaching is inspiring and the manner in which he has handled the Maharashtra Ranji team has won him accolades. A level III certified coach trained at the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide, Sandhu has now been appointed head coach of the National Cricket Academy (NCA). The former Mumbai and Indian mediumpacer succeeds Vasu Paranjpe as head coach. Talking exclusively to this correspondent, Sandhu gave valuable insights into his approach to coaching.

Speaking highly of Frank Tyson, Sandhu was all praise for the former English fast bowler, "I was trained by Frank Tyson. Before I met him, I was not that good a coach. Even though I might have had the cricket knowledge, I was not able to communicate ideas well to the players. There were many aspects of coaching that I was not aware of at all. After I came in contact with, and worked with Frank Tyson, I learned a lot. The way he groomed me as a coach was superb. I thought it was my responsibility after that to continue the good work that Tyson did."

Having said that, Sandhu was the first to admit that there were many things wrong with the way cricketers were coached in this country. "Having a uniform system is the need of the hour. I thought it was important for me to pass on what I knew to the coaches at the state and district levels. Once you have a system like that in place, it will be much easier for the players to assimilate things. Right now each coach advocates a different technique and a different approach. Some of the things told to the players these days are not only outdated but even wrong. More sophisticated things have been discovered now." Even so, Sandhu was not excessively critical. "Then again that is not the fault of those coaches because they did not have the chance to interact with good teachers or have any access to relevant information to update their knowledge and methods." Having had the opportunity to train abroad and the exposure of working with greats like Tyson, Sandhu is keen to impart his knowledge to others and this shows in the passion with which he speaks.

Stressing on the need to improve the coaching at the lower age group levels, Sandhu explains that achieving this is not an easy task, "It is more difficult to coach an under-14 side than to coach a Ranji team. The senior teams at least know the cricketing terms. Their knowledge is better. It is so much easier to speak to them as they are on a similar wavelength. To coach younger kids I have to go to their level. I have to joke around, try to speak their language, pamper them a bit. You have to get close to them. With more mature cricketers you can get straight down to the basics. Even when they make silly mistakes, you can't be too critical of the youngsters. At their level they are still going through a learning process and it's important to encourage their natural game."

But with all this knowledge and talent around what is going wrong? Sandhu reflected on that in serious tones, "Too much negative talk is happening at the lower age groups. People these days don't allow the players to grow and develop their natural talent. Take this example - Everyone goes to school and learns the same language. Slowly you develop grammar skills and things like that and one day you can write an essay. Everyone expresses things differently but you have to use the same grammar. You can't go away from the grammar of the game. How one wants to express his cricket is subjective. That should be left to the player. If you want to be an attacking player like Sachin Tendulkar you have to teach him the basics and leave him alone. If somebody wants to bowl fast you have to teach him how to bowl fast and that's it. Then you can get to things like inswing, outswing, cutting the ball off the seam and things like that."

Finally, Sandhu had the highest regard for the latest initiative of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). "The BCCI has done a great job by starting the NCA. The NCA will be able to spread uniformity of coaching at the zonal level. This will filter down to the state and then the district level. The NCA assignment is a big one for me. I am really happy to work at this level," concluded Sandhu. With the first crop of cricketers from the NCA already making their mark at the national level, it is only a matter of time before more young cricketers knock on the doors of national selection. And Sandhu is one man who is willing to blood a good cricketer even if he is young, "If Sachin Tendulkar could play at the young age of 16, then why not someone else who has the potential?" he asked rhetorically. Not one to jump the gun, Sandhu added, "Why not make the lad play against a touring side or at the Ranji level? All this depends on the maturity of the player of course. If the player feels he has the maturity to handle the pressure of the higher level, there's no harm in letting him play." All aspiring youngsters better take notice. Balwinder Sandhu at the helm of the NCA is their, and India's best bet.