Trent Woodhill: 'Kohli and AB the Nadal and Federer of cricket world'

As RCB's Batting Talent Development and Fielding coach, Woodhill's role, as he puts it, is akin to that of a swing coach.

Woodhill has been in the IPL for a decade now and has worked with the likes of Virat Kohli, A.B. de Villiers, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen.   -  K. Murali Kuamr

In a sport that sets great store by tradition, Trent Woodhill can come across as a bit of a radical. He is not emotionally attached to any part of cricket, he says, and not afraid to ask questions.

Woodhill is a coach mistrusting of the coaching manual; a man who favours short, intense training sessions over long ones; an unapologetically bigger fan of T20 cricket than of Test matches.

“I’m sceptical of technique,” he says. “The beauty of India is that you come across so many different batting styles, whereas in the UK and especially Australia, there seems to be a one-size-fits-all approach. A lot of the coaching in both those countries has harmed more players than it’s improved.”

Woodhill first made his name as David Warner's batting coach, back when the latter exploded on the scene with his startling international debut. He has known Steven Smith, another unconventional yet highly successful Australian batsman since he was a teenager.

“Australians don't like things they're not used to seeing,” he says. “Someone like Steven, his record is phenomenal because he was able to stave off intervention from others. Same with David as well. A Mohammed Azharuddin, with that strong bottom-hand grip, hitting everything through the onside and collapsing his head through the offside, would have struggled to make it in Australian cricket.”

Neither Smith nor Warner will be playing for Australia for a year at least – after the ball-tampering scandal in South Africa – but Woodhill is confident their batting will reach the same heights as before. “My anger lies at the people above the players. It's the coach who's pushed a culture that leads you to that point. The players have suffered for the sins of others rather than just that one-off performance in Cape Town.”

Woodhill has been in the IPL for a decade now and has worked with the likes of Virat Kohli, A.B. de Villiers, Virender Sehwag and Kevin Pietersen. The great batsmen all do similar things, he says, but look different doing them. “You have to have balance, watch the ball, have the ability to play late and transfer your weight late through the ball, and read what the bowler is trying to do. They are the things you can’t get away from. But then if you look at the best batsmen in the world at the moment – Root, Williamson, Smith, Kohli or De Villiers – none of them look similar. It’s when we pick a strength of one of them and try to put that into another one that we can come unstuck.”

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Woodhill has been at Royal Challengers Bangalore – where he followed Daniel Vettori from Delhi Daredevils – for four years now. As RCB's Batting Talent Development and Fielding coach, his role, as he puts it, is akin to that of a swing coach while Batting Coach Gary Kirsten discusses strategy and decision-making.

Kohli, he says, is quite simply the most impressive sportsman he's worked with. “He’s definitely fitter than he’s ever been. What that allows you to do is under pressure, you’re able to replicate technique and replicate movement patterns. So he’s less likely than others to play a lazy shot or not execute the way he’d like because his fitness and his mind is so sharp. And that’s where that brilliance lies. And he's extremely talented as well, so it's not just hard work.”

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Woodhill's awe for de Villiers is no less. “AB trains smarter than anybody I’ve worked with. In Kohli and AB, you’ve got the Nadal and Federer of the cricket world. AB and Federer share a similar DNA I think, and the same with Nadal and Kohli. The point’s never dead for Nadal, and the point’s never dead for Virat. And AB, he finds a way as Federer does, in conditions where others struggle.”

Among all the players Woodhill has coached, Kohli, de Villiers and Sehwag stand out, he says, because they have “extreme knowledge” of their own games. “Viru (Sehwag) has taught me more about batting than anyone else. I'll chuck Pietersen in there too. The problem with the eye test is that we're led to believe that Viru didn't move his feet. But Viru transferred weight through the ball better than anyone else in his generation. He was able to cut, hit off his hip, drive beautifully.

"He had the ability to play late with minimum movement. Footwork is only good footwork if it leads to access to the ball. If you can't access the ball, then it doesn't matter how much you move your feet because you're in trouble.”

As a player, Woodhill did not rise beyond grade cricket in Sydney. Working with international cricket's biggest stars was never a problem, he insists, because they did not care for his background and simply wanted to learn. “It was only difficult for your average professional cricketer because they had a sense of, 'This is my VIP room and what are you doing here?' Pietersen and Sehwag made it perfectly clear to me that they had no interest in what I'd done as a cricketer. They were only interested in how I can help them now.”

And those who have come to him have not gone away disappointed.