‘Have to look beyond the legacy of Mumbai cricket to keep winning’

Before joining the Mumbai Indians for preparations, the eloquent Aditya Tare spoke on every aspect surrounding Mumbai’s disastrous season.

Aditya Tare (right) admits that Mumbai has struggled as a team this season.   -  Vivek Bendre

On a personal note, Aditya Tare couldn’t have asked for a better start to the season. He was blessed with a daughter when Mumbai opened its Ranji Trophy campaign against Madhya Pradesh in October.

Since then, however, the Mumbai captain has had little to smile about as his team went trophy-less in second successive season. Neither was Tare leading from the front with the bat as he had a terrible season as batsman. To add to it, a finger injury forced him to don the commentator’s role during the inaugural season of T20 Mumbai League.

Before joining the Mumbai Indians for IPL preparations, the eloquent Tare spoke on every aspect surrounding Mumbai’s disastrous season.

How do you look at the season?

We struggled. We struggled in Ranji, in one-dayers, in T20s. It was a challenging season. We missed important players at the time we needed them the most. And then when you have five debutants in Vijay Hazare, two-three debutants in Ranji quarters, we faced those sort of challenges as a team, and yeah, as a captain, for me, the results have been disappointing. Personally, I thought it was very stressful to see the performances we put in across formats.

Did the stress impact your batting or your wicket-keeping?

I have failed as a player this season. I haven’t scored the runs I usually do. When I play well it reflects positively on the team’s results too. That has been disappointing from my end, as a player and captain. You need to have your captain performing from the front. Probably it is my worst year in the six seasons I have played for Mumbai. You can’t expect results when your captain and the other experienced players are not performing. Dhawal was not among the wickets, Surya was not among the runs. I had a complete disastrous season. We were dependent on Siddhesh Lad, who has become a better player now. We made a decision that he should bat up the order, which has shown results. That is one positive you can take, that Lad has stepped up his game, he has accepted more responsibility, and he has done it in all three formats. There are a few positives but overall the experienced guys couldn't take the team forward.

With so many raw fast bowlers, how challenging was it to set fields?

You cannot be aggressive and attacking when you have an inexperienced team. You know the quality will eventually improve, but when they come in they are facing experienced players, also the pitches are better and flatter in first-class and List A, as against age-group or club games. It is quite challenging for a young guy to come in. I can understand one or two players making their debut every season and settling in. But if you have 5-6 young players, you cannot expect them to take this team forward. You have to give them time. Unfortunately we are in a situation where we have to play them. We’ve got injuries, players going on to play for India. If you see someone doing well in club cricket, you have to pick him, for you cannot see anyone else at the moment.

Aditya Tare at a practice session for Mumbai Indians on Sunday.   -  PTI

 

Have you had to sacrifice your personal aspirations after taking up captaincy?

It has helped me in a way. Captaincy brings the best out of me. That is what I have always felt and experienced. Taking on more responsibility has given me a different sort of confidence. It is in my nature. When I was not captain, I knew I was leading my example, my attitude was right, that is what is important when you play team sport. I try to help everyone around. I didn’t aspire to become captain. It came my way, not once but twice. I rejected it the first time but then I took it up as I felt someone like me should be leading. May be, this is the right time for me to lead. I was pretty successful too. But you can’t really say whether that has helped or not helped my game. But I have enjoyed leading Mumbai. I have done it with a lot of intensity, passion. We have experienced a disastrous season but I still love that challenge.

What is it about Mumbai’s obsession with winning Ranji Trophy? Shardul Thakur says even in Maidan cricket, you hardly get to play white-ball. What needs to be done?

The thing is our local cricket is always around red ball, unlimited cricket… Kanga League, Times Shield is three-day. Where else in India in the past have you had three-four-day tournaments? Mumbai has always been a better 4-day team because the local structure is based on unlimited cricket. But there are very few tournaments with white ball or with field restrictions.

This (T20 Mumbai League) has started this year. And in 2 years time you will see the standard of Mumbai team improving because you have a tournament like this and players will be preparing for T20. They will have the experience of playing at Wankhede on better pitches with good players. But before this, we did not have a proper T20 or one-day tournament with rules… you do have Talim Shield but there are no restrictions, it does not make sense.

Last two years you had an experienced coach and selectors. This time it was a new set. How challenging was that?

I have been playing Ranji Trophy for Mumbai for six seasons and I have had four coaches. So there is a lot of change right from the top. Even as a coach, it is difficult to come and deliver right away, to understand players, to understand what went right and wrong previously. There needs to be some sort of communication so that you have feedback. Normally you have 10-12 players from previous season going into next season. So that gives you an idea of strengths and weaknesses of certain individuals. When a new coach comes in, if there is no communication, he will find it difficult to know or understand players.

With Sameer, he was not involved in Mumbai cricket for a period of time. So obviously for him everything was pretty new. Even with the selectors, Ajit was not involved with Mumbai cricket for a while, Nilesh, Sunil More, barring Jatin, 4-5 guys involved in decision making were pretty new. You cannot really judge them in one year. You need to give them three years to select players, trust players. That has not happened.

Given the season you have had, how critical is it to stick to the same set of people? You don’t have a say in it, of course…

Exactly, I don’t have a say in it. I cannot select who the coach is, who the selectors are. I am restricted to a team of 15 players. Sometimes I am not a part of that selection as well. My job as a captain is to look for solutions in the 15 I have and create an atmosphere where everyone has the freedom to go and play with freedom.

I cannot say this guy should or should not be the coach and it is unfair for anyone to trust my words, whether I might like or not like someone. I believe when you give someone an assignment it should be for three years so that there is some stability, players have stability as to who they are working with.

And even the coach and selectors know what they are working with. We had Pravin Amre who came in for just a year… you can't have someone coming in for a year, there needs to be some sort of stability. That would be good.

Where do you think the supply line of bowlers is lacking? You have had three-four left-arm spinners play this year.

I don’t know, man. It will be great if we have variety… a good leg-spinner, an off-spinner. We don’t have a genuine off-spinner since Ramesh Powar last played for Mumbai six years ago. Sai (Sairah Bahutule) retired years back. We haven’t answered that question as well. I have not really thought of where they came from or what was the thought process of identifying that sort of talent? I would love to have three-four guys with different skills and then work around with who is needed or who is in form.

At the moment we have just heaps of left-arm spinners. The year we won we had the bowling scheme on. I felt that was really nice. Firstly we had lot of options just for practice. They get an experience to bowl at players who have played at higher level, like a Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane or Surya (Yadav) or Abhishek Nayar. They get to bowl on these pitches, learn new tricks. Plus we got heaps of bowlers to bowl at us.

Suddenly you find someone with exceptional talent, you try and groom him. Unless you start spotting talent and have such schemes… it was very disappointing that it stopped in just one year, and again, as a Ranji team, we had to call bowlers for practice. That was a ready-made scheme, players got facilities, they were training at BKC, they had some motivation going for them. I guess the scheme needs to come back again.

"Someone as experienced as Nayar who had done extremely well the year before in all formats, suddenly three four-games he wasn't at his best and he was dropped," says Tare.   -  M. Vedhan

 

How challenging was it to deal with Nayar’s exclusion?

It could have been managed well. Someone as experienced as Nayar who had done extremely well the year before in all formats, suddenly three four-games he wasn't at his best and he was dropped. It was difficult, you lose someone of his calibre – both on and off the field, the roles he has played over the past few years – it was difficult. You cannot replace him in a year. You can get any sort of a talent but you cannot replace that sort of a character in a year or two.

Whoever is replacing him, you have to give three-four years to sort of find his feet or fill that role. It was a big loss, especially because he is an all-rounder. He gives us some sort of confidence like we still have Nayar at 7 who can bat around with the tail or even with the red-ball he is exceptional as a bowler. It's not that he was unfit or struggling, purely dropped on form. (It is) difficult to replace someone like him.

How do you go about managing different characters in the team?

It's important that everyone understands first what their responsibility is as a team member. Everyone is on the same page about team goals. That's the beauty of my role that I have to deal with so many different characters. They make me laugh, they make me cry, they make me angry, they make me happy. I face a lot of emotions because of all sorts of characters. And you need these characters. You cannot have 10 Aditya Tares, or 10 Suryakumar Yadavs, or 10 Siddhesh Lads.

You need different characters to build a successful team. My role was never to change anyone. As long as everyone knows their roles are for the team and as long as everyone puts the team ahead of themselves, it's fine. That's what I always stress as a captain that you need to put the team ahead of your personal goals. If you can do that then doesn't matter whether you are eccentric or quiet or whatever. It is challenging. It is very exciting to deal with so many different characters in the team. I love it, I enjoy it actually.

Is there a sense in the last few years that Mumbai cricket is past its prime and you are left with tackling the burden of the past? How do you tackle the pressure of anything less than a trophy is a failure when you don't really have the resources like the teams in the past?

The way the results were years back, you know that you had so much quality that most of the times, only half the team batted, the remaining half never got to bat in a match most of the times. That was the quality back then. That sort of cricket was being played around the city. That's what we were famous for, batting long or playing khadoos cricket, as they call it. But times have changed now. The entire game has changed, it's become more attacking. People now love T20 more than Test cricket. Guys are growing up watching different sorts of players. Previously kids would grow up watching Sunil Gavaskar, Dilip Vengsarkar, then Sachin Tendulkar. Now suddenly they grow up watching players like Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, David Warner from so much proximity. Someone like de Villiers has been coming down for IPL for the last 10 years.

You didn't have those sort of resources back then that you saw Gary Sobers or Viv Richards bat from such proximity every year. Had it happened back then, I am sure that generation would also have moulded its game differently based on those legends. We grew up watching Mumbai legends or Indian legends. Now you see the international legends coming down every year, so the younger generation has access to all types of players. That's also creating an impression on their mind. The game hasn't changed but the way it is played has changed a lot. Plus if you see, the Board pays such a huge amount to every state association so every association has money to create that sort of infrastructure. Every association has got everything – practice facility, grounds, gyms, access to good coaches – that we've got.

There is equality at the moment. That is why you see so many teams competing with Mumbai. Previously you would see only a few teams doing that. That's because they have got access to everything as much as we do. The only thing is we have a lot of inspiration to draw from the glorious history behind us. But I don't think history is going to help us win going forward. We have to look beyond the legacy of Mumbai cricket to keep winning. We have been training at BKC for 10 years. I've had a word with the association that the gym that we train it is not good enough to improve our standards. It might be good enough to maintain the standard but during the off-season you can't give justice to 100 players who train there every day in that small space. How can you do justice to them? Plus, we tend to suffer from the monsoon.

The first outdoor session we usually have is two days before the first Ranji game. That's why you see every time Mumbai struggles in the first couple of games. We try and train outside but when you are playing matches at the Wankhede, you need to practice there. Ranji Trophy starting in the first week of October doesn't give us that opportunity to practice as much as we want before the season. We always try and build in the first two games and then we struggle to qualify. I remember the first time I lead the full season, my first outdoor session was in Andhra and we lost to them. Preparation-wise a lot of things need to change. We are not preparing as well as we want to or as well as we should be. For that we need infrastructure. Not just the gym, we need better facilities as well. That's one thing I have told the association. At the moment, what you can do is work around with whatever you have. Try and make them (players) improve their own quality. It's difficult as a captain to handpick players at the moment. Whatever we have right now, we need to give them time.

Do you feel you have it in you to continue leading the team?

It's the biggest challenge that I will face going forward. Whoever steps in to the captain's role, it is going to be a big challenge. Not just me, whoever comes in, it's going to be a big challenge. Doesn't depend on me whether I'll be leading the team or not. But I know I have it in me to change this around. We have had a bad year but I can change it around. It doesn't matte really but I know I can make it happen. Whoever steps in has to do something drastically if we are to win a trophy next season, especially with the quality that we have. We've had disastrous years before but the beauty of this team is next year we have won the championship. I think the best thing that could have happened to us was a disastrous year. You see going forward we will be a different team.

Do you think something as extreme as training in Sri Lanka during off-season like Madhya Pradesh will help Mumbai?

Not really. The timing is more important than anything. We might go and play in Australia but what's the use? The pitches are going to be different than we have back home. We might train in Sri Lanka but the timing of the preparatory camp is more important that the venue. We just need outdoor facility where we do it right before the tournament. We know we can't do it in Mumbai. We have tried doing it but there are always a lot of restrictions from the association. You can't take a lot of people but if you don't prepare with a larger pool, that's not going to happen.

If you are going to prepare with just 15 players – middle of the season you're going to require someone from your next 15 and if he is under-prepared, there's no point bringing him in. You have to prepare with slightly larger squad than you actually need but then there are always these restrictions from the association logistically, the number of players you can carry, where we stay, how many days it will be.

That's something Tamil Nadu doesn't struggle with, Karnataka doesn't struggle with, many teams in North don't struggle with. They just come into the season playing a lot of cricket. Only the states in the West Zone sort of struggle with it; they come from a long break, not just a month almost three months of no cricket.