Shiv Sundar Das: This is a challenge for me

Taking over from his former team-mate Debashis Mohanty, who quit the services due to personal issues, Das will be mentoring Odisha in this domestic season.

Shiv Sundar Das... his primary objective is to ensure that Odisha takes the big flight.   -  V. Ganesan

Much before Indian cricket found its MSD in the form of a cool but indomitable Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it had a SSD — Shiv Sundar Das — in its ranks.

It’s a different story that SSD's international career was short-lived, but the Odisha batsman did make his presence felt as an opener in the longer format of the game.

Years later, a vastly experienced Das is back in business, albeit as the coach of his State side Odisha. Taking over from his former team-mate Debashis Mohanty, who quit the services due to personal issues, Das will be mentoring the side in this domestic season.

While he has been the batting coach of the side in 2013, and the erstwhile head of the Odisha Cricket Academy, this is Das’ first stint as the full-fledged coach of a State side. Having had sessions with India U-19 at the NCA, Das knows what it takes to deliver. But then, he agrees that coaching a State side will be a big challenge.

“I’ve been coaching for a while, but this is a challenge for me. I will try to carry forward the success and move ahead,” Das tells Sportstar from Bengaluru, where he is doing a session with the India U-16 side.

Though he admits that the new assignment will be a challenge for him, Das also believes that erstwhile coach and his old friend Mohanty had done quite well. However, his primary objective is to ensure that Odisha takes the big flight. “We haven’t produced any national-level talents from Odisha in a while, and my challenge would be to create a good atmosphere, so that the players can express themselves. The immediate goal is to form a core group, which will be able to give better results,” Das, who played 23 Tests and four ODIs for India, says.

At a time when coaching has also changed its dimension and coaches have become more aggressive in approach, Das remains calm and composed. Just like his playing days, he loves being a soft-spoken gentleman. He, however, feels that it is better to remain that way. “At the end of the day, my role is to make players ready and fit for the game. My job will be to achieve the goals for the team, and since I have played for Odisha, I know exactly what the mind-set of the players is. It is important to create an expressive environment, and for that aggressiveness is not needed,” the coach says, adding that being first-class cricketers everyone knows their responsibilities.

But then, the 39-year-old former cricketer, who played 180 first-class matches, is determined to create a happy environment for the youngsters, who are making the cut. “The players coming from the U-16, U-19 and U-23 need to be made comfortable and they must be readied for the next level. That’s my target,” Das says, pointing out that the return of the home and away format will actually help them.

“It is nice to come back to the home and away system. That gives a boost. The wickets, obviously, are different in this format. Playing at home has certain advantages,” he says, adding that over the years, Odisha has done a good job in improving the nature of the wickets. “We have made an effort to make good wickets, where there is plenty of bounce, and the wickets are result-oriented.”

Returning after the India U-16 camp, Das will start training with the Odisha boys from September 1. While there won’t be any professional players in the side this time, Das is counting on the 3-4 weeks’ practice sessions. “We will play a tournament in Pune, and that will be the only game. We didn’t have domestic tournaments this time. Hopefully, the weather will remain good and there will be ample time to get prepared,” Das says, hoping to make the opportunity count.

Despite being one of Odisha's most successful players, it took Das quite a while to become the State's coach. Das, however, is not ready to think too much about that. “I am happy that it has happened. Hopefully, I will be able to help the players,” he says in a soft tone.

In his long career, the Cuttack-based cricketer has always maintained his calmness. And as he begins a new sojourn, he is not in a mood to change much.

In the times of fastness, being soft and steady could pay rich dividends. And, Das would prefer it that way!