Ramesh Powar took charge as Mumbai coach for the Vijay Hazare Trophy just 10 days before the tournament got underway. After an embarrassing outing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy, it was not easy for the domestic giant to bounce back - that too, in such a short time.
But Powar - who replaced his close friend Amit Pagnis as the coach - knew that it was just a matter of time before Mumbai returned to winning ways. The idea was simple - back the players and get the best out of them.
As the team travelled to Jaipur for the league stage, Powar and other support staff had long sessions with the players, and gave them clarity in terms of what was expected from them.
“In the first meeting I told them that the last two weeks have been tough, but there is no point crying over it. So, let’s move forward and look at things that are in our hands,” Powar told Sportstar on Monday - a day after Mumbai’s title win.
A disastrous outing in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy did earn a lot of criticism for the Mumbai cricketers, and that, in a way, motivated the players to shun the odds and achieve success. “The boys were very keen on responding to the criticism - a lot of things were said about them. I told them that this is a professional game and we cannot get emotional. We need to put our foot down somewhere and need to address the mistakes and find a new combination,” Powar said.
Confidence is the key
Even though the team had seasoned campaigners - Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Shardul Thakur, Dhawal Kulkarni, Aditya Tare, Prithvi Shaw - it was important to bring back the confidence. “We knew that the mindset had to change, and we had to dominate. You can’t just participate in the tournament, it was about dominating the games. And once you knew what you had to do, you prepared accordingly and that’s exactly what we planned.”
A seasoned coach, Powar is considered as one of the tough task masters and in a bid to get the house in order, he ‘challenged’ the players through their potentials. “I told them that you are not what you think you are. You can be better, and they responded very well. We had a 22-member squad and we prioritised the first 15, and of the 15 too, we shortlisted the final 11. We addressed every player differently - there were one on one sessions, where we spoke about their roles in the team,” Powar said.
The coach remembers telling seasoned campaigner Tare about converting the starts into big scores. While Tare and all the players took things positively, the coaching staff also ensured that the players were given the ‘security’ - something that yielded result. “There was security for players that they would play three or four matches. I was very straight forward and told them what it was. I told the seven players, who did not play, that they could prepare for the next season and help the team this time. They took it positively and worked on improving their game. That was a good thing,” Powar said.
While the support staff offered the team the best of training, the senior players too mentored the younger lot - which eventually helped Mumbai start off on a positive note.
The bubble gain
Another factor that worked for the team was the fact that it stayed inside a bubble for nearly a month. With no distraction, the players had only job in hand - to focus on the game. “That helped in a big way because they were in their rooms and we had meetings of 20-22 minutes with every player during the quarantine in the second half of the day. The whole day was planned by the MCA physio and players knew what they were expected to do on those days,” Powar said.
“The fire was there because of the loss in the Mushtaq Ali Trophy. Everyone was motivated and were preparing well. After the quarantine got over, they were eager to hit the ground and we could manage their energy. We ensured that they did not overdo things. We started with little bit of games, followed by light fielding sessions and gradually, they could hit the nets. If you went to the nets directly, it would not have been possible for fast bowlers to find rhythm…”
Mumbai also rode on Prithvi Shaw - who emerged as the highest individual run scorer in a single edition of the tournament with 827 runs in his kitty. And Powar was all praise for the young batsman - who was dropped from the Indian team after the Pink-ball Test in Adelaide, last December. Coming back to India, he worked on his technique and eventually led Mumbai to Vijay Hazare Trophy win.
“When I met him in Mumbai, he looked a bit distracted as he was trying a lot of things. He was struggling with his batting, but once we landed in Jaipur, in the first practice session, he focused on his batting. He knew from the start that what he wanted to do and we monitored him. Captaincy also played a big role because I could make out that he wanted to captain this team.
“With the body language and the sentences he used in the conversations, it was evident that he took up the role seriously and he wanted to make an impact through captaincy because there were a lot of youngsters. He wanted to be there for the youngsters - and before the finals, he did throwdowns for two hours and did not even bat. He wanted to make an impact with captaincy and batting,” Powar said.
What also impressed the former India spinner was the fact that Shaw did not leave for others to finish the games. “In the final, he wanted to give a quickfire start, so the captaincy did help.”
With no Ranji Trophy this time, many players - who are not part of the IPL - will have a lean period now, and Powar expects them to learn from the sessions and come back stronger next season. After all, practice makes one perfect.
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