VVS Laxman is into his fifth year as mentor of Sunrisers Hyderabad. In this interaction with a group of journalists, he speaks about the challenges of the job, demarcated coaching responsibilities, and keeping the team environment stable.
Can you talk about the conversations you have with the batting group?
The communication is very simple - take responsibility, don't leave it to the next batsman, make sure the number of dot balls is less, and look to put pressure on the bowling always. Look to take singles, rotate the strike, and whenever the opportunity comes, go and play your natural game. You want one of the top three to play till the end. Once that happens, you have a set batsman in the middle and around him the other batsmen can come and express themselves. And that's been our strength.
If you see, the batting has been very consistent right from the first match. And you're not dependent on one or two batsmen. Whoever went in - whether it is KW [Kane Williamson], [David] Warner, Shikhar, Yuvraj or Moises Henriques - has played some important knocks for the franchise. Naman Ojha played a fantastic knock against KXIP, when we were under pressure. [Deepak] Hooda did a couple of finishing jobs for us.
No. 6 and 7 didn't get many batting opportunities, which is a positive. That means that the top five have done the job well for us.
As part of the coaching staff, how do you ensure, regardless of wins and losses, that there is a certain tempo created within the team? How do you recognise when you need to go and talk and when to take a step back?
Win or lose, you have to be very consistent with your communication. So we don't really talk about the results. We talk about the processes, we talk about the execution of our plans. We will just address that instead of the result, how much we were able to achieve in terms of our game plan, and if at all we didn't achieve, what was the reason? So it is more of an interaction than actually dictating to the players, and it has been very good. That's why our environment is very relaxed, because if you are inconsistent with your outcome, or if you are not equanimous with outcome, then you create a panic within the team environment. We never ever want to do it, we never did that.
"We try to keep team meetings as specific as possible [...] and we never have a team meeting for more than 15-20 minutes"
How do you demarcate coaching responsibilities within the group?
Tom [Moody] is the head coach. Simon [Helmot] is the assistant coach, Murali [Muttiah Muralitharan] is the bowling coach and I am the mentor. Tom runs the meetings, Tom runs the practice sessions. Me, Murali and Tom sit together and develop the strategy, along with David Warner. Then the strategy is put across to the team and we have a team meeting where everyone contributes. Everyone contributes in the team meeting, where we discuss each and every batsman and also each and every bowler we are going to face.
Are the team meetings long?
No, we try to keep team meetings as specific as possible. You are playing the same team twice - it is more about understanding the opposition teams we are going to play, and we do that in the pre-season camp. Once the tournament starts it is very specific and we never have a team meeting for more than 15-20 minutes.
What was the focus during the auction this year?
One area which was a matter of concern for us was our spin-bowling department, and we were very clear that Rashid [Khan] was an excellent prospect. He was someone doing excellent work for Afghanistan, not only restricting the flow of runs but also picking up the wickets of some good batsmen. That's why we wanted Rashid to be there.
We got [Mohammad] Nabi in this year because we wanted a spin-bowling allrounder. Then we had CJ [Chris Jordan] and Ben Laughlin because we know that they can be the perfect replacement for Mustafizur [Rahman] when he left. Fizz was excellent for us last year, but we also knew that he wasn't going to be a part of the tournament for a long time. Because he was in Sri Lanka, he was going to join the team later and was going to leave early. Both CJ and Laughlin are good yorker bowlers and we wanted these guys who are good at the death and with the new ball to be part of the squad.
It's just about identifying the right skill set and making sure that the security is there. Irrespective of how talented or experienced they are, it's important to give confidence to the player. We are not judging the player by one or two performances. That's the philosophy of Sunrisers. While people may or may not agree, we want to give that security to the player and give him enough chances where he can showcase his talent.
Is there an unchecked box?
One area I feel we would like more results is, some of our uncapped batsmen have not realised their potential or not played to their potential. While the bowlers have done well, I feel with the amount of security and opportunities the uncapped batsmen get in our franchise, they have not been able to deliver as much as we would love them to. That's something we are very keen on communicating to them that [there is] no pressure but it is also important for you to realise that we want you go out there and express yourselves, and we don't want to judge you on one or two matches.
What is the most difficult or challenging part of your job?
I have never ever found it challenging at all. I won't say it's a challenge or difficult, but I feel for the players who don't get an opportunity for the entire season to play a single match. I was also one of them when I was playing for Kochi Tuskers or when I played for Deccan Chargers. I didn't get the number of matches I thought I deserved, or I wanted to get to showcase what I can do for the franchise.
So I feel for those players. Tom, Murali, and as a franchise we feel for them. We are very inclusive, so those players are also very important for us. But unfortunately they won't get a game. And it's a positive because if certain players are not getting a game, it means the players who get a game are doing well. That's why we don't chop and change much. But we feel for those players - they are wanted and they are part of the family.