Niraj Odedra, the silent assassin of Saurashtra

Odedra earned a promotion, from assistant coach to coach, after the Ranji Trophy 2019-20 triumph.

Niraj Odedra (right) has taken over as Saurashtra’s coach after the departure of Karsan Ghavri.   -  Vijay Soneji

Niraj Odedra likes to keep a low profile. He has been an assistant coach with Saurashtra for a long time. The former off-spinner earned a promotion after the Ranji Trophy 2019-20 triumph when head coach Karsan Ghavri decided not to continue.

Ghavri had arrived at the beginning of the season post Sitanshu Kotak’s departure to India A. Despite being runners-up in 2018-19, Odedra’s designation remained unchanged.

Data: Highs and lows of Ranji Trophy 2019-20

Ghavri was more of a mentor. It was Odedra who ran around with the players; unfortunately he could not relish the victory over Bengal as it was around the time that coronavirus entered India. In fact, the fifth day’s play in Rajkot did not have spectators.

At present, Odedra is relaxing at his farm in Porbandar but the mind is already plotting strategies to shine in limited-overs should the season start in September.

“You ask the players what they want rather than doing what you are keen to do. This is what helped us win the title. And when you have people like Cheteshwar Pujara and Jaydev Unadkat, they make your job easy.”

In a chat with Sportstar, he shared the trade secret of Saurashtra and the changes he wants to implement to crack the Vijay Hazare Trophy and Syed Mushtaq Ali T20 in 2020-21.

Going out of Saurashtra

He feels his players need to go out of Saurashtra to gain more experience. Besides the season and district matches, the only notable tournament in the region is the Saurashtra Premier League, which is doubtful this year.

“Our players need to go and play a lot more matches outside Saurashtra for improvement, in Chennai League and Buchi Babu Tournament, in K. Thimmappiah Memorial Cricket Tournament in Karnataka, Bapuna Cup in Nagpur and other places.

“We have done well in Ranji, what about T20, what about one-day? We can’t sit on our Ranji laurels because we have players who are suited to all formats,” he said.

Niraj Odedra with Cheteshwar Pujara and captain Jaydev Unadkat after Saurashtra won the 2019-20 Ranji Trophy title.   -  Special Arrangement


A full-time trainer

Among the requirements, Odedra wants a full-time trainer. So far, Dr. Abhishek Thakar has been the physio cum trainer of the side. “Shorter format is all about speed and agility. In four-day cricket, you can get away but not in T20,” he said.

There are quite a few video analysts in Saurashtra Cricket Association but nobody travels with the senior side; that is likely to change as well. “If you don’t know the bowlers you are playing against, batsmen you are playing against, it will be tough. I can send videos of bowlers to the batsmen and vice versa. It is that simple. The players need to see how the opponent goes about his business,” said Odedra.

READ: The Saurashtra story and the homecoming of Ranji Trophy

He is proud that his side remained injury-free for most part of the season. “It is due to modern methods of coaching and managing workload.”

Democratic coaching

Odedra believes in the democratic way of coaching and optimum utilisation of net sessions. He designs contests like batsmen versus bowlers for match simulation. “You ask the players what they want rather than doing what you are keen to do. This is what helped us win the title. And when you have people like Cheteshwar Pujara and Jaydev Unadkat, they make your job easy.

“I feel the players run the show and not the coach. There is no point of sending too many messages during drinks break, which coaches often do. No captains like that, trust me. As soon as the team is on the field, I leave everything to the captain,” said Odedra, who monitors the intensity of his bowlers at nets. “You need to manage your bodies. If somebody wants to bowl 18 balls, fine; 34 balls, fine but I will decide when he will bowl in full tilt. You can’t bowl full flatout always. You need to decide when a bowler has to bowl with full intensity.”

Saurashtra’s sessions are spread across four nets. One for side-arm throwdowns, then spinners, fast bowlers and the fourth net is a backup. “If somebody want to work individually on technique, it’s for those players.”

Odedra’s first-class career had ended in 2003-04 with 80 wickets in 26 matches. Now, however, the hunger is back.

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