Former New Zealand limited-overs skipper Kyle Mills will ply his trade as Kolkata Knight Riders’ fast bowling coach for the first time this year. And, the 41-year-old is looking forward to the new challenge.
Ever since reaching the United Arab Emirates - where the Indian Premier League (IPL) will be held from September 19 - Mills has ensured that he spends maximum time with the young Knight Riders fast bowlers.
In a chat with Sportstar from Abu Dhabi - where the Knights are stationed - Mills talks about the season and throws light on his equation with the team’s head coach Brendon McCullum.
Q. Most players have not played any form of cricket for nearly six months. Being the bowling coach of KKR, how do you see this? What are the ways of ensuring that the bowlers are back in rhythm before the tournament starts?
A. It is a good challenge for an Indian cricketer because normally they are playing 12 months a year, so this is a different (kind of) physical challenge. (This is) also mental challenge coming into a tournament, which is a high pressure situation with no cricket behind them.
The challenge has been - ever since we have been in the UAE - to get the guys up to speed as quickly as we possibly can. (It has been) about creating match situations in practice, giving them some practice game and getting them into the rhythm and feeling of playing a cricket game. They are all different, it’s very different bowling in the nets to bowling in the match.
So it’s getting boys back into the rhythm of the warm-up before the game, you know, you kind of forget just the little things sometimes, so the quicker we get the guys back up to speed, which I think we have done a pretty good job of - the intra-squad games this week are going to be pretty important for our guys. And then it’s just a matter of boys putting some pressure on each other and book spots in the team.
You and head coach Brendon McCullum go back a long way. So, at KKR, how much of a help will that be - since you know his style of functioning and his coaching style?
Brendon and I understand each other very well. We have known each other since we were 19. I know his strength and weaknesses and he knows mine. The best thing about the relationship between Brendon and I has been that we challenge each other. We are not afraid of challenging each other. He is not a ‘Yes man’ to me and I am not a ‘Yes man’ to him.
If he sees something or I see something, we both are not afraid to voice our opinions to each other and have a good debate and argument about it and then look to move on the same page. That’s how our relationship has always been over the last 20 years. We challenge each other and that seems to have worked.
KKR has some of the promising Indian bowlers - Prasidh Krishna, Kamlesh Nagarkoti, Sandeep Warrier, Shivam Mavi - in its ranks. How do you plan to use them in a long tournament like the IPL? Do you think there would be some rotations?
That’s a good point. There are some lads who are quite young and as pressure cooks up, that can take its toll. It’s really important to start well in the tournament, where you are not chasing the table and the positions.
So, it gives you the luxury to give experience into these young guys and see how they respond to being put under pressure against the biggest players in the world. So, that’s going to be a challenge.
The teams were picked keeping in mind that the tournament would be held in India. But now that the league has been shifted to the UAE, how much of a challenge will it be to get the right combination?
That’s a challenge for every team. For us, half of our games would have been at Eden Gardens (in Kolkata) and everyone else would be in the same boat. Now that the tournament has come across to the UAE, there is a challenge but there are big squads for every team and you kind of have your bases covered.
Let’s put it this way - that can’t be an excuse if you don’t do well in the tournament.
Death bowling has been a concern for KKR in the last few seasons. This time around, what are the plans to ensure that the bowlers perform better at the crucial stages - the death?
It’s a challenge for every team and this team with some young guys in the group, I’m looking forward to this challenge bowling at the death. Sometimes people focus on the death, but its actually how you get yourself in a good position before the death starts.
If you go to the death and the opposition is only two down and you have two players there on 60 and 60, it's going to be hard work. So if you can get to the death- call the death the last four overs- if you can get to that point in a better position than the death will have a better outcome.
So quite often you focus on the last four overs, but start on the right note for those four overs and just have some very specific plans for the last 24 balls and everyone on the same page - wicketkeeper, captain, bowler, team - all on the same page.
And all not fighting different scenarios and different situations, that’s when it can get messy and pressure and erratic bowling can take place. So we all have clear minds on the last 24 balls and we do our thing.