Damien Wright's coaching has taken him all around the world, but this year will be his first at the IPL, as bowling coach for the Punjab Kings. He talks about his approach to analytics, and working with fellow-Australian IPL debutants Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson.
Are you generally a coach who uses a lot of analytics and data?
If it's at your disposal, I think it's very important. I don't think it's for all coaches and all players, but for me, I like to make a lot of notes, and take a lot of data down. It just helps you to look at areas to improve, and also what sort of attack we're going to have. We've got some good options, so it allows you to go, "Oh at this ground we can go this way" and whatnot. So it is very useful.
Is death bowling one of those key areas? Only the Rajasthan Royals had a worse record in the death overs last season.
Last year, in Abu Dhabi, it was a little bit different in regards to conditions. We're back in India now, and we have one of the greatest bowlers in the world, Mohammed Shami, in our team, who's very helpful with that sort of information. It can help new [players like] Riley Meredith and Jhye Richardson, [to know] about grounds and things like that. But yeah it was an area we had to improve, and it's certainly no secret what we're trying to do in our training. We're also going to have options, with the two I just mentioned and Chris Jordan's been such a fantastic cricketer for a number of years now. He's also got so much experience in that area and will probably take a major role in that.
As a coach are you partial to fast bowlers?
(Laughs) Yeah I have to say I probably am, a little bit.
I do love working with the spinners. It's such a great thing to experience over here, working with legspin, offspin, all of that. You see the ball move so much more in India than it does in my home conditions in Australia. I've had some great chats already with M Ashwin. [Ravi] Bishnoi is a young and enthusiastic guy who bowls a bit different to Ashwin - so it's learning as you go with that stuff. But we've got Anil Kumble [director of cricket operations] here as a coach, so I think if I need to talk to anyone about some areas of spin bowling, I've probably got the best in the business to help me out.
You've been coaching for about ten years now. Have you coached in these conditions before? What are the challenges, especially with fast bowling?
I've come over and played a few times in India but I've also coached in the Champions League Trophy in 2014, with Hobart Hurricanes. I was head coach at the time, and we had a pretty successful campaign - we made it through to the last four and KKR knocked us out. It certainly is challenging, with fast bowling in particular. I think the ball in conditions here can swing a lot up front, at night, in humidity, so that's something we've got to really utilise as a weapon.
But the other difficult part is a lot of dew. That is very common over here. We've trained at night a couple of times and you can already see how wet the ball gets and how difficult it is sometimes for the bowlers to hold it. They're the little challenges for the pace bowlers.
You played a fair bit of T20 towards the back end of your career. T20 looks a lot different these days. What does a modern coach in this format have to do to evolve?
I don't look at it like it's really hard. It's exciting, the game's evolving all the time. I think we're seeing so many different [versions] of even the shorter formats, you know? You've got the ten-over [T10] competition in Dubai, and The Hundred about to begin over in England. You've got to come up with your message and your styles and things that are going to work for you.
Funnily enough, we had a chat with Anil at training yesterday and we had a game situation, centre-wicket if you like, and the good old yorker is still a pretty good delivery. The game might be getting shorter and changing more, but if you can show that you can execute your skills when you're put in those situations, it's pretty much all it comes down to.
What makes the ideal T20 bowler?
It can be broken down to the key areas of the game. There's bowlers that are really fired up in the powerplay - that's a very difficult time to bowl. Through the middle you've got your allrounders generally and spin bowlers that are able to hold things [together]. And the death, that's the part where you have to have the execution on song, to be able to nail yorkers, or if you've got a very good slower bouncer, to get that right. It's such a game of chess as it goes down.
Ideally you've got to have somebody like Shami up front, swinging the new ball. And Jhye, specifically in those areas where the ball moves through the air. I think it's really important to swing the new ball. In the middle you can have some good-quality spinners. Someone like Riley for us is a fantastic addition, to have that raw pace and to be able to take wickets. It's really important to take wickets at every phase. And then at the end you want the best yorker bowler - [Lasith] Malinga, who's unbelievable, has shown us how to do it over so many years. Somebody like that, ideally, in your perfect team.
I can't quite explain the exact bowler that I want - probably want about four of them! They're all a little about those specific skills, if you know what I mean.
From a coaching perspective, how do you train for something like that? Do bowlers specifically train for the phases they're good at?
You still have your good old-fashioned nets, for people to get ready to play the game. We're very lucky with the set-up we have over here to prepare our players. Plenty of wickets - there's centre wickets, there's tired wickets, all sorts of stuff. You have a big group of people you're training with, and specific training sessions as well. We've done a lot of game scenarios, different set-ups - chasing, defending - depending on what it is.
What you really want is for them all to be able to bowl in those periods when required, or needed. It's not just, you know, someone's going to play a part up front and that's it. It might be a key area that you're very good at [bowling at the start], and we're going to improve you through the middle and at the end, if that's the case, or the other way round. If you're able to do that, then you can have a very balanced attack going into your tournament and you can throw the ball to anyone at any given time.
The other teams are analysing your [attack] as well, so you've got to be able to throw a few curveballs, get ahead of the game a little bit and try to upset their rhythm and hang on as long as you can in a 20-over match.
Is it hard getting that sort of a rapport when it's a short tournament?
Yeah it is, but at the IPL you're mixing with the best in the world. And they're all so used to being in these environments now, in this format, and going from one to the other. And what I've seen so far in training has been absolutely brilliant. They've come out of Test matches against England into one-dayers… just seeing the great players come back, they're more than capable of going from format to format within a day or a night. It's quite impressive.
Richardson and Meredith are first-timers. Richardson is potentially going to lead the attack in his first season in the IPL.
It's good, it's healthy competition too. In the auction they [the management] did a marvellous job in regards to where they needed a bit of strike power, and support for Shami. He was sort of the sole man last year, did an awesome job and you know he's going to perform for you throughout this tournament. He just needs a bit of support from other fast bowlers to help him and I thought the two signings were terrific.
I know Riley really well. Jhye I've seen progress through the Big Bash to play for Australia. So he's going to bring great skills. I think the conditions here are going to suit both of them. I'm keen to see how they go, because I think they'll really shine in this tournament.
Could you tell us a bit about both of them, starting with Richardson?
What's really good about Jhye is that in specific roles for the teams he plays with - certainly with the [Perth] Scorchers, and he's done a bit of it with Australia as well - he bowls the really tough overs. He's asked to bowl up front with the new ball, then he's asked to bowl in the different powerplays [in the BBL] - he's bowling one of those overs already, and then he comes back and bowls one at the death. And his numbers are exceptional for somebody who has to do that every game. He knows his role and is able to execute. But he does swing the ball both ways, and that's a hell of a weapon to have. He's got a terrific slower ball and when he wants to bowl a bouncer, it's a pretty good one. We're really grateful and lucky that we've got him.
Meredith is probably thought of as a tearaway fast bowler. Does he have a lot of variations?
I've known Riley a long time. I coached him from his rookie seasons back when I was in Tasmania, and he was always destined to play at the highest level. It was very exciting to see a young fast bowler coming through the Tassie ranks - he was fast and had plenty of skill.
It's been done really well back in Tassie, how they actually progressed his cricket. He was well managed from the very start by Stewart Williamson, who is a great physio back at home. And that's paid off beautifully for Riley and he's doing really well, not just for the [Hobart] Hurricanes but for Australia. His tour of New Zealand was outstanding.
He bowls at a good pace. He really knows one way, which is to attack. That's probably one of the areas we'll talk to him about, on what we're going to do at the death or if he does bowl up front. He's pretty comfortable doing so, but it's probably the end of the innings where he's going to have to work a little bit harder. But he brings so much in regards to exactly what we wanted, which is a bit of firepower.
What are the other strengths of this bowling unit?
The best way to describe this unit is, it's versatile, very flexible. A lot of options, a lot of different ways we could go about things, and I think that's the first time - certainly over the last couple of years - that we've been able to do that. There's a chance to go all-out, strike with fast bowling, or to pull it back with spin options with an allrounder.
It's a well-balanced attack. [Apart from the] two we talked about [Richardson and Riley], there's also Chris Jordan, who's such a dynamic fielder, can hit the ball out of the ground late in the innings and also bowl a fantastic yorker. I'm really excited about the different ways we could go with our attack, supporting our No. 1 man Shami up front.
You also have guys like Arshdeep Singh and Ishan Porel. Who from the domestic bunch has impressed you?
Arshdeep has just arrived; he was in quarantine for a while. But I had a centre-wicket bowl with him, just him and I, last night, and mate, he was fantastic. I think having a left-armer in your attack is also a big tick. I'm really impressed already with the one or two sessions we've had so far - he's got a huge future ahead of him.
I think Ishan as well, we've had a good week together and he's a terrific young fella who is keen to do well. You want people, young kids, who are really willing to work hard to get there. He's bowled with good pace at training so far, good aggression.
And Darshan [Nalkande], he's a quality little allrounder. He's another one who's a bit hungry. You can tell from his eyes he's keen to play, and if his opportunity comes, I know that he'll grab it as well. Those three in particular have been great to work with.
Would you say the fast bowlers are going to be carrying a major part of Punjab's bowling this season?
It's a hard one. We're stacked in that regard - we've got a quality pace attack now, with all the guys we've mentioned. That's actually quite a nice place to be. But watching our legspinners bowl - I've taken the mitt to them - they've had terrific tournaments last year, both Bish and Ashwin. So we've got some quality spinners as well. I wouldn't say we're certainly going to go all pace. We can play to any conditions, and we've got a nice, balanced attack to choose from.
What would a successful season look like for you, personally, in your first time here?
Every team comes here wanting to win. So that is the benchmark. But for us, success would certainly be to make the semi-finals, the last four. I think they were unlucky last year to miss out by a game. And you can tell they're really hungry to make amends for that.
I think that's great - to experience a little bit of disappointment and then to do what they've done in the auction and get it right. I think we're going to see some exciting times from the Punjab Kings. I believe that's where we want to go first. We want to get into that last four, and that would, for me, be the bare minimum that we want to achieve. And then, from there, let's hope we can create a bit of history.
Have you ever worked with anyone on this staff before?
I've had a little bit to do with Andy Flower over the years, crossed paths with him. I've never worked with Andy before but we know each other well, so that was handy. It's always nice to have somebody you're familiar with. But I can say that getting involved with this team and this group, feels like I've known these guys for a long time. So that's credit to Anil and his staff, and all the players we have here.
Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo