Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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Abhishek Nayar isn't feeling additional pressure in his first stint in the CPL, as Trinbago Knight Riders' head coach, and likens the experience to overseeing a "state or a country side", thanks to the presence of a number of senior players. Nayar, the former India allrounder, is also part of Kolkata Knight Riders' support staff as assistant coach and is often credited for unlocking Dinesh Karthik's potential as a finisher in T20s. CPL 2022, however, is his first high-profile head-coach job on the T20 franchise circuit.
"I can assure you that I've enjoyed it [the head-coach role] a lot," Nayar said during a virtual media interaction. "There is less pressure when you have guys like Polly [Kieron Pollard], Sunny [Sunil Narine], [Nicholas] Pooran and [Andre] Russell in the dressing room. There is less pressure because they handle most of it. You know when you have a bunch of experienced cricketers and people who have played at the highest level for a long time and have been great performers, I think it's just about making sure you give them what they need to perform.
"When you're part of a franchise, you just want to make sure that the players get what they want to perform and that's a mindset as a coach and it continues to be so [for me]. So, in terms of pressure, not [much] really, but there's a lot of excitement and for me personally, it has been absolutely enjoyable because it's a great bunch of boys and I almost feel like I'm working not with a great franchise but a state or a country side that plays together all the time. You don't have to worry about getting the guys together or team bonding. Everyone has bonded and the mood in the dressing room is absolutely electric, funny and [we have] a lot of laughs all the time."
In their most recent game - a rain-hit one in St Lucia - Knight Riders lost seven wickets in seven overs during their pursuit of 195 and eventually lost the game by 80 runs via DLS method to the table-topping Barbados Royals. Nayar brushed that aside as an off day and said that he would take such a defeat now rather than during the knockouts.
"I look at it as one bad day that came at the right time," Nayar said. "I feel you rather have a game like that early in the tournament and I believe that when you have a bunch of professionals who are legends in their own right, sometimes a wake-up call early in the tournament is better than later on. We always believe in a tournament that is so long in a period of a month, you want to peak at the right time and I feel that the way things are going we will end [well]."
Earlier this week, Knight Riders women had clinched the inaugural women's CPL title after beating Royals in a low-scorer. Nayar said the men's side hasn't had a discussion on doing the double this season, but believed that Pollard and co. have the experience and pedigree to do the job.
"I think we are a very process-driven franchise and yes the eventual goal is to always win the championship," Nayar said. We've always been a team that has played for gold. The mindset is to win, but like I said it's a process and it's a long process and you just to focus game-by-game and day-by-day and see what we need to do to get the guys in great space and eventually win the title. We haven't spoken about it, but it's something that everyone is determined to do for sure."
Nayar also said Akeal Hosein, the fingerspin-bowling allrounder, is on the road to recovery after he had injured his groin while diving in the infield during Knight Riders' opening fixture, against St Lucia Kings. Hosein has since missed Knight Riders' next two games, but Nayar hinted that he could return to action soon.
"Akeal Hosein is recovering well. He had a very minor strain on his groin. Hopefully he will be fit soon. We're trying to get him some time at the nets before he is match-fit after his injury. He is looking good and he's in great shape and should be back on the field.
"Not sure yet [about his availability for Knight Riders' next match]. Because of the rain we haven't been able to practice yet and he hasn't tested himself yet on the field post his injury, so hopefully we can get a good session in and we can assess from that."
Nayar was particularly enthused about Hosein's rise as West Indies' premier spinner - with or without Narine - and predicted that he would be a long-serving all-format player. Hosein had first attracted Nayar's attention when had travelled to the Caribbean in 2019 along with Karthik, who was the captain of KKR at the time, to scout for talent. Nayar then worked with Hosein at Kolkata Knight Riders, where the latter got a gig as a net bowler.
"I think it [Hosein's growth] has been terrific," Nayar said. "I remember coming here in 2019, prior to Covid when Baz [Brendon McCullum] took over. "I remember Khary [Pierre] being our lead left-arm spinner then and Akeal got a game or two towards the end and the following year is when his resurrection started. I feel he's grown leaps and bounds not only as a bowler but also as a batsman. I think he's become a very capable allrounder now for West Indies.
"I think a lot of credit needs to go to the way he has carried himself and his will to become a better cricketer. I think the one thing that stands out about Akeal is his determination and his willingness to learn. That shows in how he's grown as a cricketer through and through and I have no doubt that in the future he will be someone who is going to serve West Indies for a really long time in all formats."
Nayar also said that USA quick Ali Khan has been sidelined from the entire CPL with injury and that Sri Lanka mystery spinner Maheesh Theekshana is still awaiting a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) from Sri Lanka Cricket (SLC) to link up with Knight Riders after the ongoing Asia Cup in the UAE.
"In terms of Ali Khan, he has been unfortunately ruled out and had a minor surgery," Nayar said. "He [Theekshana] still hasn't received his NOC, so we're kind of hoping for the board to eventually give his NOC and then we will have further updates on that."