Lehmann counting on Gilchrist and Laxman
Deccan Chargers are banking on the experience of Adam Gilchrist and the knowledge of VVS Laxman, who was replaced as captain by Gilchrist after the first IPL, to finish "a lot higher" than their bottom spot in 2008. Darren Lehmann, the team's new coach, also said the side was let down by their bowling and fielding last year and that the second IPL starting on Saturday would be a personal challenge.
"Adam Gilchrist is the captain and he is very experienced," Lehmann told Cricinfo. "But VVS Laxman is an important player for us, too. He has got a wealth of experience, and with that knowledge, we are hoping to make some inroads there."
Deccan started last season as favourites after topping their player purchase cap of US$5 million by signing up explosive batsmen like Gilchrist, Andrew Symonds, Herschelle Gibbs, Shahid Afridi and Rohit Sharma, but disintegrated as the IPL progressed. This time, they have begun on a positive note by winning a warm-up game at the SuperSport Park in Centurion on Monday against Titans by six wickets. Scott Styris, their New Zealand signing, took three for 10 to help dismiss Titans for 99 and scored an unbeaten 36 to wrap up a six-wicket win in 11 overs.
Deccan will open their IPL campaign in Cape Town on Sunday against Kolkata Knight Riders and Lehmann said he wouldn't go "too in-depth" into the team's gameplan. "What I can say is that this time, we are going to play with real passion, play smart, and obviously play better than last year," Lehmann said. "All in all, I thought we batted well last year but our fielding and bowling probably let us down, so that's one area we are certainly going to pick up on."
In fact, nothing went right for Deccan last time even outside the field, starting with Laxman's wrist injury which ruled him out of most of that IPL. A few months later, the team controversially replaced Laxman with Gilchrist as part of a management overhaul that also had Lehmann taking the palce of Robin Singh as coach.
Laxman, who will leave for South Africa on Wednesday night, has since staged a magnificent comeback, scoring 956 runs in 12 Tests at an average of 56.23 with two centuries -- one each against Australia and New Zealand -- and six half-centuries.
Then again, just before the second player auction this February, the team also lost Tim Wright, its chief executive officer, over an apparent difference of opinion over the former IMG official's role in the franchise's management structure.
"There have been a lot of things said but at the end of the day, we just got to perform on the field and that's all we will be trying to do," Lehmann said. "Things just didn't go the team's way; they didn't play very well, and the simple fact is we've got to improve that this year. We know that as a team, and we will be doing our utmost to do that this year. In Twenty20, everything needs to come together at the same time. We need to field very well, bowl really smartly and also make an effort. These are things we are trying to improve. It's a good challenge."
Lehmann said the short preparation time available for this IPL would not be a problem because most of his players have been playing international cricket through the year - Gibbs will join the team after the one-day series between South Africa and Australia ends on April 17.
"That's not a worry," he said. "We just need to get together and get our plans in place on where to go. Besides, most teams don't have a long preparation period anyway this year because of the move to South Africa so everyone is on the same boat. So the idea is to move as quick as you can, and as best as you can."
Deccan, however, will be have the services of Symonds only for the last two weeks of this IPL after the Australia allrounder was named in the national one-day squad for the series against Pakistan in Abu Dhabi from April 22-May 7. But Lehmann hopes that the team's new signings - Dwayne Smith and Fidel Edwards - will contribute to some early wins. Edwards took two wickets in Monday's warm-up game.
"Edwards has got explosive pace that's one thing you need for a Twenty20 start," Lehmann said. "We expect him to play really well for us and get involved in some early wins with some early wickets. Dwayne Smith is an explosive batsman and a handy allrounder. We have got some depth there, which is really good, and we are looking forward to some inputs from their side as well."
Lehmann also said that his team would be able to adapt to South African conditions better because he, Gilchrist and Laxman have played there before and that experience would work to the team's advantage. Asked where he hoped his team would finish this time, Lehmann said: "Hopefully, a lot higher than last year."
Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo