CSK bowling coach L. Balaji: Seniors bring experience

“All these players have played cricket at the highest level for many years... Once they are in the middle they know what to do since they are are very experienced,” he says.

Chennai Super Kings’ bowling coach L. Balaji with skipper M. S. Dhoni. During the five-day camp in August, Balaji said the objective was to get the team in functional mental space and help the players find their routine before they land in the UAE.   -  K. Pichumani

Ahead of the 2020 Indian Premier League (IPL), Chennai Super Kings faces a stern challenge especially with an ageing side and many key players not playing active international cricket. It is something the team is aware of and has been very pro-active in trying to start its preparations early.

Before the pandemic struck and the IPL had to be postponed, CSK had a two-week camp in Chennai in early March in preparation for the original start date with its Indian players.

Once the new dates were announced for the competition, just like five months ago, the team wasted no time in organising another camp for five days in Chennai before leaving for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in August.

One person who has been involved closely in the team’s preparations is former India pacer and CSK bowling coach L. Balaji, who has been at the helm of affairs during these camps.

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Speaking to Sportstar back in March, Balaji made his point for having an early start. “We usually have only about 10 days with the international calendar being so tight. This time we started early which helps us with our preparation a bit. There is time to focus on things like physical condition, and the players can get good mileage, be it batting or bowling,” Balaji remarked then.

During the five-day camp in August, Balaji said the objective was to get the team in functional mental space and help the players find their routine before they land in the UAE.

“The most crucial thing in cricket or any team sport is the camaraderie. When you train as a team, the interaction and knowledge sharing become vital, with teammates helping each other. That is the main focus of this camp. It also gives a chance for the players to touch base with the game and re-educate their senses,” Balaji said just before the team left Chennai.

When asked about the challenge of having to work with players who are ageing and have not played in a while, Balaji allayed any concerns on their effectiveness.

“All these players have played cricket at the highest level for many years. So, as coaches we focus more on things like their recovery, conditioning and getting them in shape physically. Once they are in the middle they know what to do since they are are very experienced.”

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The former India pacer added that since a lot of the current CSK members had played in the UAE when the first part of the event was held in 2014, it will come in handy for the team to have seniors.

Despite having a predictable formula, rival teams have not been able to solve the CSK puzzle. A reason Balaji feels is because of the team atmosphere and the culture they have managed to build which has been the key to their success. “Whatever happens, we remain calm and trust our players. Every player is given the same respect, from the captain to the last player, and it has never changed. The players have a sense of belonging here.”