Punjab find merit in multiple-captaincy theory
When Kings XI Punjab clinched their first win in their third game, Yuvraj Singh walked out to the post-match ceremony and said, "Thank god, no rain!" Their first two games were affected by weather and they lost both. Nothing seemed to be going right for the team. The bowling didn't look potent, the batting seemed to depend too much on Yuvraj Singh and they were hit by injuries to key players - Brett Lee, Sreesanth, Shaun Marsh, James Hopes and Jerome Taylor. Their latest signing, Yusuf Abdulla, was struggling at this level and Irfan Pathan, no longer a regular in the India line-up, was the strike bowler.
In the background, the think-tank was working furiously to swing things around. Coach Tom Moody asked his team to forget the first two games - "they don't count" - and concentrated on assigning individual roles. Yuvraj Singh, the captain, harped on a similar theme: "Boys, forget the results, even in the next few matches. All we need to do is play with intensity, high energy and get off the park with our heads held high. Let's just go and have fun out there."
Mahela Jayawardene, meanwhile, took Abdulla aside for a chat. "Do what you do in a club game, the basics are the same. You have the ball and you control what you do. We know you are good enough to do this at this level."
These simple little things seems to have worked - Kumar Sangakkara says it's the simple things that always work at the international level. Yuvraj's speech, he says, took the sting out of the twin losses and helped the youngsters move along.
Around this time, with the group having spent a while together, the leadership roles became clear. "The best thing for us is that our seniors - Yuvraj, Mahela and Sangakkara - get along really well with each other and have no egos in working together and that spirit has caught on with the team," says Moody.
This is, in effect, the multiple-captaincy that became a controversy for Kolkata Knight Riders but has, with this Punjab troika, worked seamlessly. "We don't want to guide him [Yuvraj] too much; we want him to be his own captain and he is well on the way in doing that," Sangakkara says. "At the end of the day you can't think like another person. You have to stamp your own individuality. Our job is to provide information - not too much as it can get confusing but enough to give him options so that he can make the final call. Yuvraj is a good man and I am finding him a very clear-headed leader. He has a nice way of putting the youngsters at ease."
Slowly, the leadership took effect, in the detail like what to bowl in which over. Sangakkara, who was the acting captain in the end overs of the last game against Mumbai, says they assigned Abdulla to bowl at the death. He has a good yorker and got a wicket early on in that game but didn't bowl it in the end. Why? "He told me he was not confident of bowling it with the dew under lights. He would prefer to bowl slower ones and hitting the back of length. It helps to set your fields accordingly. You would rather want a bowler who is clear in what he wants to do instead of telling him to do what you think is the ideal." So now, in the nets, Abdulla has been busy trying to replicate the conditions and hurl the yorkers in. He and the team know it's the ideal ball but they won't risk it if he is not confident to bowl it in the middle.
Ditto Ramesh Powar. The team was waiting for the pitches to dry to bring him into the playing eleven. "Powar has shown he's a class act," Sangakkara says. "He knows what to do, what not to do and, most importantly, what he can do." Role clarity seems to be the buzz word for Punjab.
Irfan Pathan has revelled in being the strike bowler. Against Mumbai, he produced his ball of the tournament to get rid of Jayasuriya and came back to remove the dangerous Abhishek Nayar to clinch the game. The on-field success has obviously meant he is in his best spirits off the field. It's like playing for Baroda, where he is the successful strike bowler and there is no pressure on him to hold his place. Irfan says he has just been concentrating on the areas to bowl and carry out the pre-game plans to perfection.
The batting plans too were drawn up: Who is the hitter, who is the rotator, who bats with whom and where do Yuvraj and Mahela bat? Simon Katich, yet to get a game, is also involved in the process. "It would be crazy if you don't use such experience," says Moody.
The evening before a game, the management meets with the young reserve players and gives them specific jobs to do on a matchday; their main task is to keep up the energy levels in the dressing room. The team meetings have been varied. Moody hates monotony.
"I don't see what the players will learn from looking at a white board or a video screen every day," he says. "Sometimes I do it, sometimes it's Yuvraj, sometimes it's a group, sometimes it could be a video. Everyone is having fun in turning up to play. They realize it's a wonderful environment to perform because the cricketing world opens up for them. So working with a set of people who provide their own motivation and energy without you having to provide it has been absolute pleasure as a coach."
There's more good news for this team. Though Ravi Bopara leaves for Tests in England, Brett Lee, James Hopes and possibly Sreesanth too are expected to be fit to play in the later half of the tournament. Asked to nail down the traits for the team's progress, Sangakkara says, "Intensity and focus has helped us to bounce back. As Yuvraj says often it's not the result that matters; it's the way we play out there and deliver our roles. It's these small things that really make the difference in the end." The team knows the road ahead is going to get tougher but if they can continue taking the small steps forward, they realize they can march ahead as a team.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo