Monty Desai: 'This West Indies team has a happy dressing room culture'

Monty Desai, who has taken charge as the batting coach of the West Indies side, says that the team's target is to defend the World T20 title, next year.

Monty Desai during a training session with the West Indies team.   -  K.V.S. Giri

From being the coach of Rajasthan Royals to being associated with Afghanistan -- in his long coaching career, Monty Desai has worked with various teams. Now, he has taken charge as the batting coach with the West Indies side, which is currently touring India.

In an exclusive interview with Sportstar, Desai shares his thoughts on various issues…

What made you take up this assignment and how long will you be with the West Indies team?

To put it simply: people, places, and passion are my driving forces! But of course, there were many considerations that went into my decision to join this team. A few key factors were my immense respect for coach (Phil) Simmons, the wonderful and rich history of cricket culture here in the West Indies, and ultimately joining an organisation that I feel very passionate about and believe that I can contribute to in a positive and sustainable way. My contract is for two years, but if all goes well, I hope to be here until the next 50 overs World Cup at least.

What are the major challenges involved in the job?

For me, the challenges are more internal than external. We have an excellent team with strong leadership at the helm. I'm reminded of a lesson well taught to me by my Guru, late Shri Hanumant Singh, which was to “Read the mind and feel the game.”  

In doing so, I am very mindful of the fact that these players have worked with many other coaches in the past, and I want make a cognizant effort to learn what makes each of them tick and analyse their strengths. It is always tempting to come in and make changes right away, but the challenge is in observing quietly and learning enough about the players and team as a whole to ensure that any changes we make are steps in the right direction. There will be missteps and we will have to strategise differently when that happens, but really understanding what we are up against both on the field and off is the first and most challenging course of action.

Batting coach Monty Desai during a practice session ahead of the first T20I in Hyderabad.   -  K.V.S. Giri

 

What impresses you the most about this team?

There are already so many positives coming into this organisation. This team seems to have a happy dressing room culture, excellent work ethic, and strong leadership. There is also a fantastic team voice, affording everyone the freedom to express themselves and still be respected: this goes for every player and staff member on the team. In my time with this team I've experienced first-hand, the sincere planning and preparation that these guys bring to the game every single day. We are still learning in phases to execute our plans which sometimes in crucial moments of the game are missing but we are addressing that as "Team Voice".

As an anecdote, captain (Kieron) Pollard’s training exercise that ‘succces is boring’ is very powerful in promoting these good habits. As a team, we continuously challenge ourselves to enjoy being in the present and work on optimising processes relentlessly with collective team goals in mind.

With the T20 World Cup lined up next year, has the focus shifted to the shorter format?

Yes, the primary focus remains on building winning blocks towards defending the World Cup title. However, as a team we are on a equally significant journey where there is no destination but a collection of milestones that allow us to be proud of our efforts. Our choices and our actions on and off the field should bring smiles to the faces of our loyal fans, the people who have unrelentingly supported and loved the wonderful game cricket. We want to play good brand of cricket consistently in all formats where as a team we want to be respected for our skill execution under pressure and efforts that we put into crucial moments of the game.

How do you define your role as a batting coach?

I am less concerned about the tag of batting coach but rather to be a coach that one more extra pair of hands in support staff who is willing to work, help, and push the team out of their comfort zones and into challenging situations to promote improvement in small but consistent increments, which will lead to more wins. Most importantly, we want everyone to enjoy a happy dressing room culture, and we realise that winning does make a difference to that environment, so I will do everything in my power to support that goal!

West Indies coach Phil Simmons and captain Kieron Pollard at a training session in Hyderabad.   -  K.V.S. GIRI

 

What are the dimensions involved in working with Phil Simmons?

It’s quite simple, really. Simmons is like a father figure for this team. He is very well respected as someone who brings in team values and cares for everyone and everybody's needs. There are invaluable lessons to be learned from his coaching style and great confidence in working with a coach who had a proven track record of success and believes in lifting up everyone around him. He also does demand discipline, but is happy to  give freedom as long as each individual values that with responsibility. I have seen him and our team Manager Rawl Lewis being together after long training hours constantly planning and discussing to ensure things are managed smoothly every single day.

What is the big difference you see in this team compared to any of those in the recent past without the big names?

It doesn't feel right to engage in that comparison. This team is in a rebuilding phase and is already showing some great signs with the kind of performances they put together starting from the Afghanistan series that they recently played. This team has plenty of skills to match up against the best in the business. India is probably considered to most, one of the best teams in the world, and for these guys to be able to compete and also win games against them shows that the West Indian players have an opportunity to leave their own legacy in years to come with some extraordinary individual and great collective performances.

How is the thought process on when you, head coach and captain Pollard are engaged in talking about how to give a definite direction to the team?

As a coach, I feel I was given a pair of ears to listen and hear the needs of the team and a pair of eyes to see the great skills and talent of each player. Consequently, I should start more as a silent observer so that I can fully understand the all of the different personalities and how they relate to our collective goals. With coach Simmons and all of us as support staff with leaders like Kieron Pollard and Jason Holder, we plan to build from there and facilitate the players time and again in remaining on the process of getting closer and closer to both their individual best versions and our team's best version.

What do you have to say about the young talents in West Indies?

I would describe the young talent here as an amalgamation of bright personalities from different regions of West Indies with enormous abilities. Skill-for-skill, from what I have been able to see so far, they have the abilities to match the best in world cricket! Thusly, we are working on ensuring consistency in every performance by planning and preparing well.

Compared to your previous assignments with Andhra or Canada, how different is this job?

Every assignment has a defined role, and in that way this is no different. Over here my major task is to take care of the Batting department. This includes development of individual players, strategising, implementing designs to work on small incremental progress, among other things. However, every assignment also varies from the ones before in big and small ways. One difference in the West Indies is having to train for all three formats with different oppositions internationally, so when we're up against the best versus the best of every country the intensity is felt at different  levels. We are developing an approach and an attitude for such challenges at the highest levels.

How difficult is it for you to be part of a strategy team which is keen to outplay India?

This question is totally fair. I am absolutely a proud Indian, but I also love this game unconditionally, and have since as far back as I can remember.  We have to understand there are always going to be limited placements around the world with full member teams and when an opportunity like this comes around, to work with this caliber of a team, both former world champions and current T20 world champions, that is an opportunity one must take. India is, in many ways, dominating world cricket in all formats, so more than strategising its about improving our own game plans and execution of our own skills. World Cricket needs more exciting series where a team can match another team with their skill execution for fans to enjoy the game completely! The more we can do to keep cricket internationally compelling with highly competitive series and games that keep fans at the edge of their seats, the better it is for everyone! Let's let cricket be the real winner!

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