'We were tired of losing all the time'
From being called a Test team, Royal Challengers Bangalore , who ended second from bottom last year, have come a long way to make it to the semi-finals this season. Ray Jennings, who took over as coach this year, has utilised his knowledge of the local conditions shrewdly, while at the same time challenging every player with his tough attitude. Jennings explains Bangalore's revival.
From four losses in a row in the first five games, you have bounced back to enter the semis with four successive wins. What has fuelled this transformation?
The side understands what needs to be done on and off the field. At the same time it has taken me some time to understand what is going on. Obviously, [Anil] Kumble has a played a big part in helping get the mood and the performance on the field at the right level. That, and the hunger and fighting spirit, has come through.
Can you specify how Kumble has made a difference?
As a captain he has been a huge presence. He has bowled himself in pressure situations, in tough periods, and utilised his skills to the maximum. The way he has read the game has been really good, and more importantly he has been a big influence on the Indian players.
There were a few differences between Kumble and KP [Kevin Pietersen] in their captaincy styles. KP came in not knowing a lot of the players. Also his [batting] performances didn't help as well. Kumble has been very good at execution of tactics. His attention to detail, his inputs during the selection meetings, and all the experience he has gathered over the years have been really great.
The coaching staff obviously has played their role too. How much credit do you give them?
The whole management staff is South African. We know the grounds and conditions well. For example, I have played at the Wanderers for 20 years, and the two games we played there, we gave a real good hiding to the opposition.
Kumble has accepted our thought patterns. I have a very hardworking support staff which has a lot of ideas and information on the surfaces and Kumble has heard them all and made his plans. Even management guys like Brijesh Patel and Fraser Castellino have played an equally important role and run the team well. Last year our side was labelled as a party team, but this year we've addressed those issues.
Are there any curfews or restrictions imposed on the team?
Not at all. Obviously one or two players may overstep the mark, but I don't believe in any sort of restrictions. And when your captain and senior players back the views of management, that helps a lot and helps the player become more responsible.
You have always been known to be a tough taskmaster. You reportedly didn't mince words with Virat Kohli at one point. Has your tough stance made the younger Indian players become more responsible?
Without being tough it is going to be hard to implement discipline. I've challenged youngsters like Kohli, [Manish] Pandey, PK [Praveen Kumar], Vinay Kumar, [Balachandra] Akhil and [Shreevats] Goswami to a degree of professionalism. For example, with Kohli, he actually thinks he is good enough just to play as a batsman and be the best fielder in the side. But I asked him to start focusing on the right things and stop worrying about his image and rather worry about performances on the field. Every player in the side thinks he should be in the team, but I want them to practise hard, show their fighting spirit and get into the team and stay there.
What were the areas you stressed on when you took over?
The first, and important thing, is to keep the fun element. Two is fighting spirit; three: the team comes first. And then make sure that you are a happy unit.
In the second half of the tournament, at least one batsman has seemed to play the anchor role for Bangalore. Was that part of strategy?
Yes, to have one guy play the anchor role is probably the right way in Twenty20. Guys like [Jacques] Kallis and [Rahul] Dravid can play that role perfectly. One of the important things for a coach is to know what the strengths and weaknesses of your team are, and then try and set tactics around that.
I'm trying to be consistent, especially with the batting. I think everybody has done reasonably well, except Robin Uthappa. But my gut instinct says Robin will come to the party in the next two days - he is a good enough player to come from a bad run. I want the players to understand I'm backing him not for one or two games but for a period of time, and Kumble is of the same opinion.
Kallis is a good example of a player who seems to be enjoying himself. He has even made it to the South African Twenty20 squad. Do you think his performances in the IPL have influenced the South African selectors to revise their original opinion of him as a Twenty20 player?
Kallis and Mark Boucher put forward my name for the coach's role. I'm very close to both. Kallis is a very special cricketer, as much as Dravid and Kumble. You can see the efforts he has put in and what it means to him. I suppose for any player in the team, it helps if you make him feel he is part of it, and Kallis has responded to all my tactical calls. Probably South African cricket hasn't done that.
Did you assign specific roles to players?
To start with, I didn't know a lot of the players. Even Kumble, I didn't know much about him - I know him from TV and a few handshakes. As you go along, you observe players and realise there is a leader in more than one player. When we started this IPL, we didn't have Boucher, and I didn't feel that anyone was assisting Kevin from the information point of view on the field. Dravid was very quiet, Kumble was quiet, Ross Taylor and Jesse Ryder did not say much. That was one main reason to get Boucher in, because he keeps on giving information to the captain. Now PK is playing his own role as a bowling captain. I would like every player to feel that he is leading the team. That will only help the team play as a unit.
What have the turning points been?
The most important turning point has been the execution of tactics on the field. We had one or two heated meetings where we discussed execution of the plans and the responsibility. The other turning point was Kumble. And finally, the team spirit. The team was tired of losing and they were tired of coming second all the time.
What has changed from last year?
I feel we have overachieved with regards to the label given to us last year about being a Test side. Two games ago we were second-last, and suddenly we are third. That shows the fighting spirit in the side. We have beaten the Chennai Super Kings, Delhi Daredevils and Deccan Chargers, the other semi-finalists. We are good enough to beat any side now.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo