Amol Muzumdar: White-ball cricket should be taken as seriously as Ranji Trophy

Muzumdar, the eight-time Ranji Trophy-winner, will start his maiden stint as head coach of Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy starting November 4.

Amol Muzumdar will start his maiden stint as head coach of Mumbai in the Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 Trophy starting November 4.   -  FILE PHOTO/B. JOTHI RAMALINGAM

When Ajinkya Rahane made his Mumbai debut in 2006, Amol Muzumdar was the captain. Cut to Wednesday, Rahane will lead Mumbai in its Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy opener versus Karnataka, with Muzumdar heading into his maiden assignment as the Mumbai head coach.

Muzumdar, the eight-time Ranji Trophy-winner, spoke about Rahane’s importance for the team at the start of the season in a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar.


What prompted you to take over as the Mumbai coach?

For the past decade, I have been involved in coaching all the time and also following domestic cricket as a BCCI commentator whenever possible. I was also involved with the National Cricket Academy as a batting coach for Under-19 camps for three years. I have always been keen on coaching Mumbai but was waiting for an opportunity at the right time. This year, I thought the time was right primarily for one reason. Ever since I last played for Mumbai in 2008-09 and started playing as a professional, and even during my stints as a commentator, I would hear whispers that Mumbai cricket was on a decline. This is the right time to step and do my bit as much as I can.

Ajinkya Rahane made his Mumbai debut under your captaincy and now he is leading the team in your first assignment as the head coach. How crucial will his presence be, especially with four players having tested positive for COVID-19 minutes before departing to Guwahati?

Extremely important. You are taking me back in 2006 and essentially you are reminding me that am getting old. It’s been 15 years since he has been on the circuit. He carries an aura of having been one of the main players in the Test arena. I feel Mumbai cricket needs his presence right now, his calmness, his ability to handle situations is something to look forward to for everyone in the group. His experience will be vital. We did not want to panic after the four players tested positive. It was settled at the airport, their replacements are here and we are ready to get going.

You have been a batting consultant/ coach for various teams, even at the international stage. How different do you see the challenge of being the head coach?

There’s no doubt about it that one has to deal with different challenges. I have been under a few head coaches - be it South Africa, Netherlands or Rajasthan Royals - and since I am a keen observer, I have learnt a lot from them. As the head coach, it’s necessary to keep your eyes and ears open all the time and keep your mouth shut most of the time. I am really loving these challenges and am ready. We started the campaign on July 16 and since then, I have enjoyed every single minute of it. We toured Oman, which was a learning experience for me.

Can you share a particular incident or experience that's made you even more aware of the responsibilities as a modern-day head coach?

Not really. The game remains the same but the dynamics have evolved a bit, no doubt. Your organisational skills, your foresightedness is critical. You have to plan well in advance. I've made it a point that we plan 15 days in advance. Also, contingency plans have to be taken care of. Call it a good or bad habit, I give a lot of thrust on planning before execution, so we have planned well. Hopefully, we can execute it starting November 4.

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With frequent changes of senior men's team coaches in Mumbai cricket in recent years, did you have second thoughts before accepting the role? You have always said that conventionally if Mumbai has a bad season, captain or coach or both have to make way the next season.

When I think about something, I cannot see the negative side of it. I did not bother about what people are saying. Despite the whispers among the cricket fraternity about Mumbai cricket's decline, I have seen a completely different picture in the last four months. These boys are unbelievably talented. I am not just saying it as the head coach but as a pure cricket enthusiast, I can tell you this Mumbai team is extremely talented. Coming back to your question, I don’t think negative. Instead of thinking “this cannot happen” I keep thinking “why can’t it happen”. I have etched it in my mind in bold that anything is possible.

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Can you tell us about the way you have planned since taking over?

I spent the whole of June watching all the available videos, along with the video analyst, of all the players since I wanted to have a clear idea about the pool. I didn’t want them to get a feeling that I was watching them in action for the first time. I wanted to know their strong points and not weak points but areas to work on for each player even before we got cracking. I didn’t touch base with a player but only kept analysing their videos. So I had the database ready for all the 44 players that were picked by the selectors.

In July, we devoted the first week of training only to fitness. We conducted a few fitness tests on the players and realised that fitness levels required improvement. So in the last three months, we have worked on their fitness and fielding. If we can keep improving in these two areas, then with the natural talent we have, it will be a good sign for Mumbai cricket.

Even while training indoors, we worked on it. And it showed during our Oman tour when we played in hot and humid conditions, with the temperatures in the 40s. It was so hot that they don’t play cricket between 12 noon till 2 pm and we played seven games in 10 days. Nobody got injured or suffered from cramps.

In September, I focussed only on match practice as for almost-a-year-and-a-half, Mumbai didn't have club cricket. We switched into competitive mode. Thanks to all the MCA officials, all the grounds were available.

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What were the gains from the Oman tour?

We knew six prominent players were going to miss the tour due to India and IPL commitments. So in Oman, we could actually test the bench strength beyond the top 15 cricketers. I got a clearer picture. Sometimes, nets may mislead, and a player’s real mettle is tested in a match scenario. The Muscat tour ticked all these boxes and ensured we were on the right track. In Oman, we played three T20s and four 50-over games.

How many practice matches did you play?

We decided to play 50-over matches to test the fitness levels, and the batters could get confidence by scoring a hundred. So we created three teams and a hundred was scored in each of the six games, followed by three T20s. So far we haven’t touched red-ball cricket since we have to focus on the Mushtaq Ali Trophy and the Vijay Hazare Trophy for now.

Despite the focus on white-ball cricket, Mumbai cricket is obsessed with Ranji Trophy success. Do you think it’s time to change with the times and take limited overs’ tournaments as seriously as the Ranji Trophy?

To change with times is the need of the hour. I am not saying Ranji Trophy isn’t important, it’s extremely important. It is the ultimate goal. But white-ball cricket’s importance is increasing with every passing day all over India. With that in mind, it’s imminent to prepare seriously for it and it should be taken as seriously as the Ranji Trophy. Why shouldn’t we make players multi-dimensional cricketers since more or less it’s the same set of players? That’s my objective and the selectors and the apex council are also on the same page. They have given all the support by organising Talim Shield with the white ball. I have no doubt that we are moving ahead.

A head coach is also required to be an excellent man-manager. How do you make that happen?

It will always be a work in progress. That’s what coaching is all about. But man-management is all about keeping a player’s mindset in mind. Having been coaching for almost a decade now, I have realised that you need to give youngsters some space and not get into the “during our times” zone because nobody is interested. It’s extremely important to stay in the present as a coach.

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