Shitanshu Kotak — From player to coach in a jiffy

"It has been a big team effort this season. Ravindra Jadeja took a lot of wickets. Initially, our plan was to play on result-oriented wickets and be prepared to take defeat in our stride. We decided to play aggressive cricket even at the cost of losing," says the Saurashtra coach, Shitanshu Kotak.

Shitanshu Kotak became the coach of the Saurashtra team after playing one Ranji Trophy match in the 2013-14 season.   -  Vivek Bendre

Shitanshu Kotak has played for Saurashtra and Bharat Petroleum for 22 years. He also represented the Kenilworth Wardens Cricket Club in the Birmingham League for 20 years. He became the coach of the Saurashtra team after playing one Ranji Trophy match in the 2013-14 season.

“If you want to be a champion team, you have to improve all the time. I was offered the job of coaching 15 to 20 fringe players at Warwickshire County by the club’s Elite Cricket Development Manager, Paul Greetham. I think my time with England and (playing) cricket is over. My hands are full with coaching Saurashtra and now the assistant coach position with Gujarat Lions,” Kotak said in an interview to Sportstar.

On the current season:

It has been a big team effort this season. Ravindra (Jadeja) took a lot of wickets. Initially, our plan was to play on result-oriented wickets (in Saurashtra’s case spin and rank turners) and be prepared to take defeat in our stride. We decided to play aggressive cricket even at the cost of losing. For example, we played the fourth game against Services on a green-top. We got the first innings lead and they declared some 20 minutes before start on the last day, giving us 300-odd runs to win the match. Most of the teams would have said that since we already had 19 points from three games, we should have gone for three points.

But I thought that the other teams will start winning games towards the close of the league and then everything would be too close for comfort. I told the team to go for a win and by lunch we were four down. But we still decided to go after the target and we won by four wickets. We had this mentality as a unit. The captain also agreed with me. So overall, I look for players who will look for the prosperity of the team. After playing five or 10 years of first-class cricket, if you are still at it for your own survival, I am sorry to say, they cannot be in the team.

On the team’s response when Pujara and Jadeja were busy with the national team:

I keep options open and I am ready with replacements for the strong players in the team. I decided to keep a squad of 20 wherein, if a player was injured, there is a ready replacement. For example, left-arm seamer Hardik Rathod came in place of Saurya Sanandiya for the quarterfinal (against Vidarbha). Now, we have Prerak Mankad in the team. He played in the Twenty20 matches. He’s a decent all-rounder. When Ravindra is not available, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja will come in. We have also given chances to Mohsin Dodia. He’s 30-plus, but this season he scored five centuries in district matches. I said I don’t care about the age, if he’s willing to perform. He has scored important runs for us.

On working on his bowlers:

I wanted the bowlers to score runs. There is no point in them being clever and thinking that ‘we will bat at No. 11 and kauwa udayega (hit the ball in the air)’. Why cannot they bat properly? So I made sure that they had the correct basics to bat, correct as it can get. I also made sure that they faced enough balls through normal bowling and throw-downs. In India, if you are bowling on a turning track, fast bowlers are useless. They bowl five overs in a game. Then they become dull while fielding. In these circumstances, if they score some runs, their involvement will be a lot more. If you are in the (playing) XI, why don’t you want to score runs? They have started enjoying. Jaydev Unadkat has scored so many runs this season. Last year, it was like, ‘ Jayega, ek chakka marega (will go in, hit a six and get out)’. He did not have the belief that he’s a batsman. I sent him higher up in two or three games in the Twenty20 league and he hit some big shots and got runs. He scored a 92 in the Ranji Trophy this season and another half-century. So, this is coming quicker than I actually expected.

His advice to Jadeja:

I told Ravindra that he’s a different batsman while playing for Saurashtra and India. What difference does it make just because he was going at No. 7 or No. 8 for the Indian team and No. 5 for Saurashtra? For India, he was getting out even before the next batsman was ready to come in. With four wickets in hand, he starts worrying that no one is left behind and plays a rash shot. I told him it’s not his job to see who is left in the dressing room. His job is to bat. I follow the same philosophy with the bowlers and this attitude and approach has worked very well. In more than half the games, the lower order contributed between 150 and 200 runs. It happened against Hyderabad; we were 68 for six in the second innings and we ended up making 215. The lower order has given us benefits this season.

On wanting to be a coach:

I captained Bharat Petroleum for three years in the inter-office tournaments. When Sairaj Bahutule was occupied as coach elsewhere, I was doing it. Coaching BPCL helped me, because I knew how to set up things and the fielding drills. So I was lucky enough in a way. I have done Level 1 and 2 coaching with the BCCI and I have also done Level A and B with the England and Wales Cricket Board. The BCCI has not conducted the Level 3 coaching. It comes once in five years. With BPCL, there were seven or eight former and current India players. I always tried to get to know their mental aspect of the game. I believe in one-to-one sessions with players, rather than big team meetings. I realised that this line of coaching works better.

On Saurashtra’s chances this year:

We have played well as a team this year. I think we are approaching the knockouts in a much stronger way than we did before. Against Mumbai, some years ago, it was a seamer-friendly wicket. We lost the toss, lost quick wickets and, with it, the game. I am trying to prepare a team that will fit in any environment and give a good game to any opposition. For me, the focus would be on the process rather than the result.

On cooling-off period to become coach:

There are two perspectives to this. Some say that after you stop playing, you should take a break of one or two years. I feel that if you take a break, you are detached from the game. If you straightway take up coaching, the benefits can be passed on quickly. That’s what the Australians are doing. The different levels of the coaching course are good, but it is eventually a 10-day course. If a non-cricketer or average cricketer does it, it's because he’s a very clever student and passes Level 3 with a No. 1 ranking, I don’t think that would make him a great coach. But, someone who has spent 20 years on the field, he knows the game inside-out. If he does the coaching course, it would definitely help.