EXCLUSIVE: Prithvi Shaw Was Determined to Make a Statement After Failing in Australia – Ramesh Powar
Mumbai cricket has gone from the low of finishing at the bottom of the Elite E table in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy T20 tournament in January to the high of winning the Vijay Hazare Trophy in New Delhi on Sunday. From losing four out of five matches in the T20 tournament that resulted in the coach Amit Pagnis resigning, Mumbai were helped to the title win in the 50-overs format by former India off-spinner and Mumbai stalwart Ramesh Powar.
Test discard opening batsman Prithvi Shaw smashed the Vijay Hazare Trophy record by amassing 827 runs in a single tournament at 165.40 with four centuries including 227 not out, 185 not out and 165. Powar says that Shaw will fight his way back into the Indian team with his roaring form.
Powar, who played his cricket tough for Mumbai in many a Ranji Trophy title win, coached Mumbai to comprehensive wins in Vijay Hazare Trophy, maintaining an all-win record in the Elite Group D, winning all five league matches, and then the three knock-outs en route to the title.
The 42-year-old Powar played in two Tests and 31 ODIs, and 148 first-class matches in all, picking up 470 wickets besides scoring in excess of 4,200 runs including seven centuries and 17 fifties.
A former chief coach of the Indian women’s cricket team, Powar spoke with Cricketnext exclusively from Bengaluru, where he reached directly from Delhi on Monday evening for his BCCI Level 2 coaching course. Excerpts:
Prithvi Shaw was sensational during the tournament. What clicked for him that did not in the Adelaide Test earlier this year in Australia?
After three of our main players went from Jaipur to the Indian team (Shreyas Iyer, Suryakumar Yadav, Shardul Thakur) for the T20I series against England, Prithvi Shaw took over as captain. He was very hands-on, he was very helpful to the youngsters and took up the leadership role. He knew what it meant to be there for a player because he has been through a lot of bad patches. He was there batting in the nets. And if not batting in the nets, he was making sure everyone got the attention. He did a lot of throw-downs to the youngsters. I have seen him do 90 minutes of throw-downs non-stop. I was amazed at how much energy he put in mentally and physically for this team.
What was Shaw going through and how did he bring about that transformation in his game?
In whatever I saw him from on the first day of practice in Mumbai, he looked a little scratchy. I wondered how to address this. When we reached Jaipur, we started talking a bit as to what he was trying to do. But he knew what he was doing, the kind of corrections he wanted to do. I was only monitoring and giving him feedback. It was more related to game situations. His runs were because of the responsibility he had towards the team. He wanted to make a statement after the Australia failure (0 and 4 in Adelaide before being dropped from Test 11). He accepts that whatever on and off the field he was going through, he was trying to rectify it. He was doing a lot of drills in his room. He told me he was not getting into the ready-position at the right time. We worked on it and he started getting a little ready in the batting position. That helped. He was playing close to his body. He was defending well. More than his attacking shots, I liked his defence in the whole tournament. That’s why he scored heavily.
He is the kind of a guy once he is on a roll, he can play do whatever he wants to. He can play two-three shots for one ball. The major difference was that he had accepted he made a mistake. He has worked on his fitness also. He said his dad played a big role in his batting technique. He said he was keeping his hands close to the body during the bat downswing. He handled the new ball, the swinging and incoming deliveries, very well.
Does captaincy bring the best out of Shaw?
He has been leading for quite some time. He was India Under-19 World Cup-winning captain (2018). He has led India ‘A’. He has been captain right from his Mumbai school days. He knows how to handle pressure in a team sport. He was made vice-captain of this Mumbai team and was ready for leadership. When the Indian guys went, he took up the role, he wanted to win the tournament. He wanted to contribute not only by scoring runs but also in planning, strategy, speaking to the young players, keeping it together when things were not going well for the side. It’s more to do with the mind-set. He knew what was wrong with his technique and he addressed that. On and off the field, he took responsibility for his behaviour. The manager gave him a room close to mine in the team hotel. He was very disciplined. We were very happy about him. I hope he stays like that. He has leadership qualities and I hope he carries it moving forward. He will come back. There is a lot of cricket. India plays a lot of cricket. If not in this series, he will get it in the next series.
Prithvi thoroughly dominated the Vijay Hazare Trophy with his batting, didn’t he?
That’s what it is. He played more than half the number of overs. The other guys did not get much chances, and when they got, they scored. Aditya Tare got a hundred. Suryakumar Yadav got a hundred, Shreyas got two hundreds. Whenever Prithvi failed, Shreyas, Aditya Tare, Surya stood up. Shams Mulani ensured he was there to consolidate the partnership. But, 90 per cent of the time, Prithvi was there in the middle.
You were appointed coach of the Mumbai team at short notice, how were you able to turn things around?
I got a call from the Mumbai Cricket Association secretary for this job. I told him I don’t need any interference from anyone and needed to do my job freely. The secretary, the Cricket Improvement Committee of MCA accepted and said I could do whatever I wanted. That gave me the freedom to do a lot of things. Once I joined the team, I thought I must convey to my team that we are the Mumbai team and we must play a brand of cricket where we needed to dominate every game and do it convincingly. You cannot just talk about it. You have to follow the processes also. All of us agreed – all the 22 players plus the support staff.
I also had a meeting with the support staff initially that they must support the players and that we needed to get the best out of them. While we provided the best of practice facilities, best of infrastructure and the environment for the players, we demanded the best from them. We were very clear to the players. We had a one-to-one session with each of the players after reaching Jaipur (venue of league matches) because we had quarantine for four days, so we had the time. We, as the support staff, sat with each and every player and discussed their current status in the team and what was the role ahead. It was basically the first 15 we selected as priority and the other seven would come later. In a squad of 22, you cannot manage all of them. We tried everything, we kept them interested. Then the senior players came in. A lot of them played the mentorship role. Shreyas Iyer, Dhawal Kulkarni, Prithvi, Surya, while Shardul Thakur came in the later half and contributed with his insights.
They contributed and guided the youngsters. This team is very young and they look up to the seniors. Dhawal was leading the pack of fast bowlers and I was looking after the spinners. My job was made a little easier. Aditya Tare was also there. He is an experienced guy. We made it clear what role each one of them was playing. Everything fell into place once we got that momentum in the first game. We kept challenging ourselves. The players reacted nicely. They were very determined after the T20 tournament, which was very humiliating. They wanted to react, wanted to show the people that they were not that bad a team. That was a great team effort, collective effort. Everything went smoothly.
How did the team take to your approach?
We made a commitment to them that each one of them would get a certain number of matches and that they go out and express yourselves. But after winning every game, you must have seen that we changed our team because we expected high standards. We were not satisfied with the attitude. We challenged their potential and they reacted well. It was more like a fight within the team, within the players’ minds. For example, I wanted Shams (Mulani) to be a match-winner rather than just being a left- arm spinner. We promoted him to No. 4 and he contributed. It gave us an opportunity to play Aman Khan down the order. He also contributed in some way. It was about challenging them and making them contribute better for the team, and it clicked. They wanted to play and have an impact on the game and the tournament.
What were the areas that you identified did not go well in the Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy and rectified after taking over?
Once I got into the team, I spoke to the seniors. There was a lot of insecurity around the team. There was no clarity as to who was going to play the next game. That was the main thing. If you are not allowing your core players to think that they were going to play the next few games, then they are not going to react for the team. They were going to play selfish, lose their natural flair and not play properly. There was a lot of insecurity. That’s what I gauged from the communication I had with all of them. I identified those areas. Look at Aditya Tare, how he performed in Vijay Hazare Trophy (average 74.75) and compare it with how he played in the T20 (average 14.00). I told him he would play from the first game and through to the final. That gave him a lot of confidence. He needed some motivation that he had to do well for the team. I said ‘you are a senior pro and you have to deliver, otherwise there is no point in playing this game. Being a senior, you have to make a difference and play match-winning knocks’. The players took it as a challenge and reacted.
By regularly changing the playing 11, what kind of message were you giving the team?
I was giving a simple message that certain standards have to be attained. You cannot finish with 10 overs, 34 overs without a wicket on a spinning track. You give me four wickets on such tracks. You cannot run away by bowling selfishly. In batting, you cannot score a 70-ball 30 on a flat track. If you are scoring 50 off 80 balls, you cannot play the next game. So, whenever one played the next game, he played ball-to-ball to make up his strike rate. We rotated them, it was a long tournament with flat tracks.
I was not there to win the trophy. I was there to create awareness. It was about playing quality cricket, and through that, if one or two players were resting, the others would still win it. They were convinced that I was saying correctly. Shreyas was rested for a game. Surya was moved down and we promoted Sarfaraz Khan to No. 4. Shams batted at No. 4. After two matches, I told him he was not attacking the bowlers, so he would sit out and I tried some others. People also came back with a vengeance after sitting out. They knew that if they didn’t play with vengeance, I was going to drop them. That is how you create healthy competition, and that’s where dominance came in. Otherwise you could not have won so easily. In the final, we chased down 313 target in 41.3 overs. Every win was convincing. That was dominance. We might lose but it clicked. You think positively and things will be different. The team was not as bad as it turned out to be after the Mushtaq Ali Trophy.
How do you look at Mumbai cricket? It has been a while since it won Ranji Trophy and people talk about Mumbai’s decline.
I have been moving around the maidans and clubs. There is a lot of talent. Only thing is they need a little bit of direction and certain programmes to be in place through Mumbai Cricket Association. They are trying some new things. They have appointed a new Cricket Improvement Committee, which will plan something and help us. I don’t think there is a dearth of talent. When you see Shreyas Iyer and Suryakumar Yadav come up into the Indian team, it is good. Twelve players are playing IPL, the highest in India from a state. If you see Vijay Hazare Trophy, Prashant Solanki (leg-spinner) has come up. You have a fast bowler in Tushar Deshpande. Another fast bowler in Mohit Awasti is coming up. It will get better with time.
Mumbai cricket has for long been associated with khadoos (stubborn) cricket. Is khadoos not an over-rated term? We don’t find this khadoos attitude now-a-days.
People have mistaken us for dominance against khadoos. I don’t think we were khadoos. Now-a-days, we want to dominate. That’s what we did in Vijay Hazare Trophy. We were not there to just participate but to dominate. To dominate, you have to do certain types of practice and certain types of preparations. We are beyond the khadoos attitude. We want to dominate. There is no point participating and saying ‘we will play khadoos’. That was our tagline this tournament – Mumbai cricket wants to dominate. That’s why we were able to win so convincingly every match. That is the way forward. Khadoos was a legacy that was there for a fair bit of time. Now, the word is dominance, otherwise you cannot play this game. The technique has changed. If I tell youngsters to play khadoos, they don’t understand. Club cricket has changed. You can’t motivate youngsters by just telling them to play khadoos. They are aspiring to play IPL. Dominance is the way moving forward.
Is spin in general on the decline in Indian domestic cricket?
That’s the way international cricket is played. Rahul Dravid (as head of the National Cricket Academy) has ensured that we play on tracks that are closer to those in Australia or England. We have started bowling on such types of pitches. Rahul’s way of thinking is we need to find a way on grassy pitches and control the game and take wickets through pressure. We are happy about it. You have to win. India is winning. In India, we have the Axar Patels. When we go out, you have Ravindra Jadeja, who controls the game with his left-arm spin or Ashwin, who can show his skills through a period of time, controlling and attacking. Spinners are there but not picking up wickets because there are no turning tracks in India. We are playing on four-inch or six-inch grass cover. In India, Rahul makes sure you have sporting pitches and that you learn better.