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Feature

Methodical and professional, Sriram is ready to 'challenge the norms' with Bangladesh

"What we have not done well will take care of itself as long as we keep improving what we do really well"

Shashank Kishore
Shashank Kishore
26-Aug-2022
Sridharan Sriram has been appointed as technical consultant, but has since been given charge of the T20I team  •  BCB

Sridharan Sriram has been appointed as technical consultant, but has since been given charge of the T20I team  •  BCB

"If I talk sense, they listen to me. If I talk bulls**t, they don't. It's as simple as that."
That was February 2017. Sridharan Sriram was being succinct, as usual. Just minutes earlier, Steve O'Keefe, the left-arm spinner, had spoken glowingly about Sriram's influence and strategic inputs after his 12-wicket haul in Pune had consigned India to one of their heaviest Test defeats at home in recent times.
With the Australia men's team, where he worked with as spin consultant for seven years until two months ago, Sriram had time to build relationships with the players. As Bangladesh's de facto T20 head coach, he will barely get three training sessions to try and lift a team stuck in a rut in the format.
Since 2021, Bangladesh have lost 23 of their 35 T20Is. This includes losses in all their Super 12 games at last year's World Cup and series losses to Pakistan, Afghanistan, West Indies and Zimbabwe. It's an unenviable position to be where Sriram is, but he has the methods, picked up while being a part of the entire coaching spectrum over the past decade.
Bangladesh's set-up is a complex one. For all the powers or freedom a head coach may have, there's always the board president's shadow looming. That is enough pressure to contend with. We aren't even factoring in the weight of expectation from the fanatical supporters.
Sriram, though, isn't fussed. He loves challenges and embraces them. He has had to put in the hard yards to evolve. Sriram's first-class record will tell you he made nearly 10,000 first-class runs. But, as coach, it's his expertise in spin bowling that has made him famous.
"I've just forgotten the fact that I was a player, it doesn't matter how many runs I've scored," he said in his first media interaction since being appointed by the BCB. "I'm here to help other people. Probably one of my biggest strengths is I don't carry baggage of my playing days, or frustrations, or my past into coaching.
"[As coach] you see others with a completely different set of eyes, and my experience dealing with different cultures at the IPL [with Kings XI Punjab - now Punjab Kings - and Royal Challengers Bangalore], with the Indian boys, the Aussie set-up will help. There is a good mix of the east and the west [in my education]. Coming into a culture like Bangladesh, I understand their upbringing, the way they approach the game.
"At the same time, I can bring in that professionalism. I can really set clear expectations on what is required at this level from a professional standpoint, so it's a good culmination of all these [factors] and I'm really looking forward to it."
Mike Hesson, director of cricket at Royal Challengers, has had a ringside view of Sriram's methods. The two first together for a season at Kings XI Punjab [as it was known then] and then later came together at Royal Challengers where they continue to push the bar. Together, they've lifted an underperfoming unit to a consistent one; they've now made the playoffs for three seasons in a row.
"Even though Sri is experienced, he's always looking to get ahead, challenge the norms and that's important in a coaching group, where you want to break boundaries and look for new methods techniques to get that advantage," Hesson told ESPNcricinfo. "He's always looking at trends of the modern game. He always comes back refreshed with ideas to add to the group."
One of Sriram's strengths is building relationships with players he works with. His speciality is spin but he has got enough batting expertise that makes his inputs in that area invaluable too.
"Bangladesh's average is one of the best in the world [when it comes to picking up] the first three wickets. It's not about what they have not done well, it's about reiterating what they are doing well and getting the best out of them"
Sridharan Sriram
Marnus Labuschagne's rapport with Sriram is a good example. When on his first tour to India, with the Australia A team in 2018, an eager Labuschagne got help from Sriram to six a specific weakness against spin. Sriram helped prepare the appropriate surfaces, devised plans to help him employ the sweep and, at times, even facilitated extra sessions, beyond the stipulated time, to get Labuschagne ready.
In Nathan Lyon, Sriram found a fiercely competitive bowler who bought into his ideas whole-heartedly, while also challenging him and identifying areas he could get better at. Sriram convinced Glenn Maxwell that he was not making the most of his bowling ability, apart from helping him adopt a few tweaks to make him a more complete batter against spin. The other aspect Sriram has worked hard at is in trying to keep up with the evolving trends. Data and analytics are an integral part of his coaching methodology.
"From a technical point of view, data has a huge role to play. [But] data without context is like money without food. Sri has taken it to another level where he is able to correlate data with visual evidence," Malolan Rangarajan, talent scout at Royal Challengers, told us. "He's always with his iPad or laptop, looking at videos and planning for the next game, the next scenario.
"Like in the first game in this year's IPL, the plotting of Mayank Agarwal's wicket to Wanindu Hasaranga: I know Sri watched a number of videos, but there wasn't too much data to dictate the kind of fields we set. It was based more on the bowler's strengths, and we came up with an unorthodox field to get him [after the powerplay]. And we had him an over later. I'm not saying Sri is the only guy who does it, but to see such plans come to life in person is amazing. As a coach, when you come up with plans that work, it's distinctive."
For Sriram, each challenge is defined by the end goal. And the process to achieve that begins with solid groundwork. This includes having chats with players to understand what has brought them where they are, what works for them and what doesn't, their habits and routines prior to matches, and in general developing an understanding of where their game is and where they want to elevate it to.
"I'm coming in with a fresh set of eyes. I carry no baggage," Sriram said. "I'm bringing in my ideas and fresh energy, wanting to get the team together and start afresh.
"I was looking at this stat: Bangladesh's average is one of the best in the world [when it comes to picking up] the first three wickets. It's not about what they have not done well, it's about reiterating what they are doing well and getting the best out of them.
"My focus is to be on their strengths and build on what they do really well. What we've not done well will take care of itself as long as we keep improving what we do really well."
Sriram's, in many ways, is a modern-day approach that could deliver the desired results for a team struggling to create its identity. The question is if Bangladesh, so keen to chop and change when things don't go well, are willing to give him time.

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo