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April 28, 2009
John Buchanan has described the pressure and intensity of coaching in the IPL as greater than anything he experienced in a Test or one-day series. With his Kolkata Knight Riders mired in seventh place and reports of team disharmony surfacing on an almost daily basis in the Indian press, Buchanan now finds himself in the kind of defensive position rarely encountered during his nine years at the helm of the all-conquering Australian team.
Critics have claimed Buchanan's theoretical approach and large coaching entourage have had a detrimental effect on the Knight Riders players. But scheduling and travel issues, not personal criticism, are the factors Buchanan says make an IPL assignment among the toughest coaching posts in cricket.
"The intensity of it is higher than any one-day or Test series I have been involved in," Buchanan told Cricinfo. "From the time the tournament starts to the time is ends, you never stop with the constant travelling and the busy schedule. The thing with Test and one-day series is that you usually play a few of them a year, but for pure intensity, the IPL is far higher than anything I encountered. There is a durability required in international cricket - sometimes you are playing nine months or more a year - but for intensity it doesn't come close."
Buchanan labelled reports of rebellion amongst his players as "unfounded and untrue", and the impact of the so-called fake IPL player blog as insignificant. But tension of a less mutinous kind has contributed to Kolkata's underwhelming performances - they have just one win from four completed matches, and possess the worst net run-rate in the competition - and the team's leadership group sought to address the problem after Monday's heavy defeat to Mumbai.
Rather than head directly back to the team hotel after their humbling 92-run loss in Port Elizabeth, the Knight Riders, at the behest of captain Brendon McCullum, remained in the St George's Park dressing rooms long after play for an impromptu bonding session. Music, beers and even a push-up competition were employed to lighten the mood among the camp, and Buchanan hopes it will go some way to releasing tension for the days and weeks to come.
"It isn't skill, ability or character that's held us back, but for whatever reason - some out of our control, some not - it has been pretty evident that some of the players have been tense," Buchanan said. "We obviously have a high expectation of ourselves, and when things don't go your way players can start to play with less freedom. Last night we copped a hammering, so we thought rather than dwell on it we would look to lighten things up a bit."
Matthew Mott, the Kolkata coach, was similarly optimistic of a turnaround in fortunes after the team's bonding session in the Port Elizabeth changerooms. "I think to have that kind of spirit after a defeat shows there is plenty of character in this team," Mott said. "Winning obviously can disguise many things about a team, but the real test is how you respond when things aren't going your way.
"There was some music, and a push-up competition. [Ashok] Dinda won the push-ups, but [Mashrafe] Mortaza impressed everyone by doing a few one-armed ones. Then Shah Rukh came down and had a really good chat with the boys. He said that he could see that we were all hurting, and that he was still behind us 100%. He also said that he wanted to see us enjoying the game more. I think the boys took a lot of heart out of that. It was good for everyone to sit down with each other for a good hour and a half and get to know each other a little better. There was a fair bit of Coldplay, which I don't think Chris (Gayle) was all that into. He's a pretty committed R&B guy, I think."
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?