I come back with more experience, says Royals head coach Paddy Upton

Rajasthan Royals has brought back Paddy Upton as its head coach and he is happy to be back to the ‘familiar’ set-up.

Paddy Upton, newly appointed head coach of Rajasthan Royals, will pair up with Ajinkya Rahane once again.   -  S. Subramanium

Paddy Upton was at the helm when Rajasthan Royals turned its fortunes around after a bad start and made it to the semifinals of the Indian Premier League (IPL) in 2013.

In that season, the franchise was also the finalist in the now-defunct Champions League.

But the franchise parted ways with the South African mental fitness expert when it was suspended from the league for two seasons, in 2015.

But now as another season of the IPL nears, Royals has brought back Upton as its head coach and he is happy to be back to the ‘familiar’ set-up.

In a free-wheeling chat with Sportstar - his first since taking charge as the Royals head coach - Upton speaks about the forthcoming season and more…


Q) You are back as the head coach of Rajasthan Royals after four long seasons. How do you see the assignment?

A) I am very excited about it for a few reasons. One is that I am coming back to the Rajasthan Royals, an environment I am very familiar with, and is very fond of. I have high regards for the way the franchise is set up and the way the team is run. I come back with more experience. When I started with the Rajasthan Royals, that was the beginning of my T20 head coaching career.

Now, I am coming back with 12 seasons of experience. I am really happy because the team itself now is more experienced, they have got someone like Zubin Bharucha, who has been with the team whole time and is continually evolving, improving the system. There’s lot to look forward to.

Q) When you took charge in 2013, the team had a captain-mentor in Rahul Dravid. But the other players were relatively young and inexperienced. Now, you have some big names like Ajinkya Rahane and Steven Smith along with some unexplored talents. Being the head coach, what are you looking at?

It is about the (right) combination. Previously, the Royals was largely a team which was trying to get the best out of a young and less explored talents in India. There is not very much of an element of that, which is exciting.

Back then, you had a Shane Watson, a Rahul Dravid or a Brad Hogg as your senior players with international experience. But now, there are more senior players, which means there are more seniors to mentor the juniors and also more seniors to bring firepower to the team.

After parting ways with Royals, you have worked as a head coach of Delhi Daredevils in the IPL, and also in the Big Bash League. What have those experiences taught you as a coach? What are the new things you are going to implement when you return with the Royals?

Some of the things that have really advanced in the last five-six years is the kind of shots, the kind of deliveries and the on-field strategies. The game has advanced and one needs to keep looking in five year’s time, where does the on-field skills, tactics and strategies advance to? We need to try and stay ahead or even lead that curve.

That’s an on-field strategy which is evolving and we should continue to do that in terms of preparation of players for those on-field strategies before they cross the rope. There are a number of advances that are happening in terms of physical preparation. For instance, monitoring a wearable GPS devices have started coming to the fore in the last five years. We do know that the mental side of the game and working more deeply, intently and accurately is going to advance.

Paddy Upton is of the opinion that he is back in the Rajasthan Royals setup with a lot more experience.   -  GETTY IMAGES


We are in the early stages and significant changes are going to happen in the near future. There are other things in other sports or other areas of life with newer technologies, newer advancements. The big question is, how do we bring them into cricket in very short space of time -two months.

We don’t want to confuse and complicate by creating more noise in the system but at the same time, we also want to make sure that we want to be ahead in the performance curve - one, in terms of preparing players and two, in what happens on the field.

Last season, Ajinkya Rahane led the team, but this time, even though the franchise has retained Steven Smith, he underwent a surgery on the elbow recently. So, is there a clarity on his availability? Also, what is the strategy that the Royals is likely to adopt?

That’s still under consideration. We are still having conversations, and are looking at all the possible scenarios. The playing elevens, Ajinkya as the captain or Steve’s availability, we are, at the moment, in a planning phase. I can’t say we have got enough clarity on those things yet.

This being the World Cup year, quite a few players may not be available in the end. Have you thought of a back-up option?

We have got really good options within the squad. It is really case of us waiting to find out what will actually happen. The thing is, every franchises are going through similar situation and is a case of us managing as good as possible once we have an information on which players will be available or not.

That will really inform the kind of replacements, if at all, we will be looking at. (It needs to be seen) do we need any extra foreign players or do we manage within the squad. Because of the IPL, the number of players available in India, one doesn’t necessarily need to look at foreign internationals.

Let’s shift a bit from the IPL. In the last one year, some of the top cricketers courted controversies, which eventually led to their suspensions. From heroes, they have suddenly found themselves in middle of nowhere. As a mental conditioning expert, who has worked with India’s World Cup winning team of 2011, how do you see this?

What you are talking about here is not necessarily about cricket. It is completely pertinent in life and if we boil it down to its core essence, it is that human beings make mistakes. And what is important is how we take full responsibility and ownership of our mistakes in the thinking that led to the mistake. And then take full ownership of the apology and make amends.

If a mistake which is quite normal is really navigated well, more often than not, it leaves an individual more stronger, a lot more grounded and a lot more secured as a person. Very often it strengthens our character for the better.

So, the key thing here is that the mistake (is) acknowledged, owned and really well navigated. In the long term, it can actually be a very positive character-building experience for somebody. That’s what we should do: extracting the real value of navigating the mistakes well. I am not concerned about that. The reality is everyone of us, in our lives, go through our own version of making a fairly significant mistake.

Lastly, when does the pre-season camp start for the Royals and what will be your initial targets?

I am not sure about the exact dates, but we would like to get more time and it depends on the domestic cricket schedule. Since it is a fairly new team, which exists for just two months, to bond the players as a part of the family (is important). We need to be smart and do it better than anybody else. There should be real clarity on players’ roles and make the players comfortable in the roles they may be asked to play.

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