'Our success was about man-management'
How did the most unfancied team in the IPL pull off the heist of the year? Darren Berry, director of coaching with the Rajasthan Royals, and assistant coach of Victoria, talks to Cricinfo about how assigning people each member of the team clear-cut individual roles became the cornerstone of one of the most inspiring successes of recent times
When the IPL took off, Rajasthan Royals were the side considered least likely to win the tournament. Did that perception ever bother you or the team?
When we arrived we were quietly confident about our combination. In our first game, against Delhi Daredevils, when we were embarrassed, we only had three internationals and one of them was Darren Lehmann, who was filling in. So we took stock and said, "Let's just stick together as a group", and then we won five games in a row, lost one, and won another six in a row to enter the knockout phase.
The other reason behind my confidence was the presence of Shane Warne. Because of my relationship with Warne - we played cricket together for 15 years and we've been mates for 20 - I knew that with him as captain-coach he would be keen to do well as he never liked to be associated with losing. I sat down and worked out individual roles and ran them by him and he said, "Great, good idea." Jeremy Snape, too, had some involvement and we got that out early to the playing group, telling them "This is what we expect of you."
How important was defining every player's role?
That document played a very important role because everybody in the team knew what we expected them to do. Then for the whole tournament what we did was re-emphasise: "Don't get away from what your role is. If you perform your role and I perform mine, we win." When we lost to Mumbai Indians in the away game, people got away from what they were supposed to do. We had a real serious talk that night and said, "This is not good enough. Tonight you played how you wanted to play, and this is a team. People got a bit selfish, did what they wanted to do. There's our gameplan. Where does it say 'Slog across the line'? Let's play our roles in the next game." So we kept refuelling the motive to succeed rather than fail.
What was the role of the coaches, or man managers as Warne calls them?
The key to our success was our man-management early: we got all the players in one-on-one and I tried to understand them, what made them tick. What happens normally is, a lot of coaches tell people what to do but you've got to actually understand what motivates them. We took bit of a punt giving the roles out early, but in the end they were pretty much spot on.
How much input did you have in picking the squad?
When we arrived in Jaipur we were given a squad of 26-odd players. Shane had some input into the international players but the local players were picked by the franchise and I give credit to them - even if they were widely criticised by a lot of people for picking the wrong people. When we arrived there was a week for the tournament. We played a few practice games and shortlisted the final squad of 15. We only had two trial matches and two training sessions, so in four sessions we picked our squad.
How difficult was it to build a winning unit in such a short time?
Very difficult, no doubt. It's about making people feel at home and part of the family. Having spoken to a lot of Indian players, we realised that within their first-class cricket there are different levels of hierarchy, whereas what we had was the biggest name in world cricket sitting next to Dinesh Salunkhe, who is not even a first-class cricketer. You can't measure how much that made people grow.
Snape and myself, we had experience of handling people in different environments already, and helped make everyone feel part of it. Niraj Patel is a fine example. He hardly played but I kept telling him, "You're gonna get an opportunity", and then he was fantastic. Even if he didn't make many in the final, he forced the issue in those few instances when he got a chance.
|After our close finish against Mumbai, where Niraj and Ravindra Jadeja got the win, my emotions got the better of me and I ran onto the pitch, which I'd never done in the tournament. I was laughing and rolling on the ground. The players were surprised. They said, "Coach, what are you doing?"|
How satisfying was it for you, as a coach, to win the IPL?
When guys like Swapnil [Asnodkar] and Niraj came up to me and hugged me and said, "This is the greatest cricketing experience of my life," as a coach that was huge, and I felt very proud to have had an impact.
There was this unique sense of camaraderie among the Royals. You seemed to be able to make the players believe they were one family?
I believe that was the difference between us and the rest of the sides. It's an immeasurable thing but it was important. During a mini-break in mid-May, when some of us foreigners went to Goa to relax, Asnodkar, who is a native, invited us to have dinner at his family home one night. Warne, Shane Watson, Graeme Smith, myself and Snape got into a car and drove 45 minutes to Swapnil's house. His parents were there along with his grandfather, who came up later and said, in Hindi, "I can die a happy man. Shane Warne sitting in my lounge room ..."
When Yusuf Pathan was selected for India, we all gave him a standing ovation because we all felt part of it - we felt that this tournament launched him to higher levels.
There was Zahir, our bag man. He lost his mother during the tournament, but he stayed on with the side. We wore the black armband in respect. He was important, too. Before leaving to go home he came to my room crying.
You can't quantify emotions and passion in people. It all has to do with trust, honesty and respect, and you only get that if you treat people fairly, evenly.
Rajasthan won a few tight games, including last-ball finishes. Did those help define the character of the side?
I like to think of myself as a fairly level-headed person. But after our close finish against Mumbai, where Niraj and Ravindra Jadeja got the win, my emotions got the better of me and I ran onto the pitch, which I'd never done in the tournament. I was laughing and rolling on the ground. The players were surprised. They said, "Coach, what are you doing?" I was excited because it was not the big stars but two youngsters who did it.
Like Warnie always says, "Good sides win tight games." We had three tight games: in our first game against Deccan Chargers, Warnie got us over the line against [Andrew] Symonds in the last over, then the Mumbai game, and then the grand final, which was like a fairytale.
In any team environment participation from all sections is the key to success. How did you deal with differences of opinion?
We had a common goal. Everyone always has differences, but if you can put your ego in the cupboard and shut it and play for the team's cause, you can progress. We had our differences of opinion even among the think-tank but when we came to the team meetings, we were united. Warnie and I had interesting debates but we never let it come out in front of everyone else. "I disagree", "I agree", "Okay, right", "Good, let's do it". That's how we did it.
From the Indian perspective, I don't think there were any big egos in our side, and that might've been another strength. As for internationals, Graeme Smith and Shane had differences when they played against each other, but here they sat together having Coke as best mates.
Shane Warne is a winner. He wanted to win. Nothing was going to get in the way of winning. So he said, "Come along boys, join me. This is going to be fun, an experience. Who wants to jump on board"? Everyone embraced the concept. So it goes back to what we said before: you make people feel part of it, from the bag man to the superstar at the top, because it's a team.
Was your dressing room full of whiteboards, overhead projectors, flip charts?
It was pretty simple - minimal. We had a whiteboard with four or five points for each game. Our team meeting on the day of the game would average between 15 and 30 minutes. Some teams met for two hours and did video analysis and all that. That definitely was not Warnie's style. A lot of our stuff was based not on the opposition. Instead, we had videos to pump up our team. We asked our video analyst to prepare highlights of our players taking catches and hitting sixes, with music. We never went in there to point out mistakes. We always showed good stuff, so they go into the game feeling good rather than if you show them the bad stuff, where they go in thinking, "What if I make a mistake?"
Your franchise owners were more or less hands-off. Did that make a difference?
I can't speak highly enough of them. Manoj Badale made it clear from the start: "Warne, Berry and Snape - you sort out the cricket, I'll sort out the business. Our lines will not cross." It all comes down to trust. That was our strength. When I read about some of the other franchises, it didn't seem they had the same unity.
What were Warne's final words to the team before they went their separate ways?
Shane said after the final victory, "Boys, we don't know whether this entire group will be together again. Let's make sure tonight is the one of the best nights of our life."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo