The venue could have been the plush surrounds of the Mumbai Cricket Association’s (MCA) BKC centre or any one of the numerous obscure maidans littered around the city. Pradeep Sunderam would always be there. Sat on a chair,donning a baseball cap and with his bespectacled eyes perennially taking mental notes of the proceedings. On rare occasions,his stern face might even break into an approving smile. A man of few words,the 53-year-old though would for most parts quietly soak in the action surrounded by a bunch of his devoted wards. For close to a decade,Sunderam has been a routine fixture at cricket locales in Mumbai.
Come the 2013-14 domestic season,however,Mumbai cricket will have to make do without one of its influential back-room figures after Sunderam was recently named as the head coach of the Rajasthan senior team. From having coached the U-19 team and other junior teams to being in-charge of the MCA Indoor Academy at BKC,the lanky former Rajasthan pacer has done it all during his nearly 15-year-old association with his beloved sport here.
“I received a call from the Rajasthan Cricket Association (RCA) expressing their interest in me in June. They asked me to forward my CV and things just have gone to plan from there,” says Sunderam,who spent the previous weekend meeting his new employers.
Not many in the Mumbai cricket circles would hold his decision to shift allegiances against Sunderam though. Apart from being one of the scions of Mumbai’s famed maidan cricket cosmos,he has earned respect from all corners for his dedication towards fostering young talent and equally for spreading awareness regarding fitness,basically by setting extreme examples himself. And getting a stint to be head coach of a Ranji Trophy team,that too one that was champion for two out of the last three seasons in many eyes is a much-deserved step up for Sunderam.
“I have been with the MCA for a number of years,and this was my sixth at the academy. I was getting too stagnant here and was hoping to venture out anyway and I’m glad that such a major opportunity has come my way,” he adds. Sunderam is quick to add the role played by his longtime friend and confidant Chandrakant Pandit,who he says even put in a good word for him with the RCA.
Sunderam though is no stranger to Rajasthan. If anything his connections with the state are deep-rooted. Not only was he born in Jaipur,the lanky pacer was a prominent member of the Rajasthan state team during the 1980s,most famously snaring all 10 wickets in an innings during a Ranji Trophy encounter against Vidarbha in November 1985. Sunderam even almost made it to the Indian team and followed in the footsteps of his father,Gundibail,who played two Tests in the 1950s. Bizarrely,the BCCI couldn’t get in touch with him then as they didn’t have his phone number.
But even while he was donning the Rajasthan cap,Sunderam claims to have been a staunch Mumbaikar at heart.
“My heart will forever be with Mumbai. But it does feel great to go back to Rajasthan. I’m touched that they’ve put faith in my abilities. Even during my playing days,they always encouraged me and gave me a lot of scope to grow as a cricketer. And it only feels like justice that I get to give back to the association that played such a crucial part in my life,” he explains.
If there were any lingering doubts regarding the move,Sunderam admits to have gotten over them after having received a pre-season tour of the facilities and infrastructure on offer in Rajasthan. And though they might not possess the depth of talent prevalent in Mumbai,he is looking forward to the many upcoming seamers that have already made a mark on the domestic front.
“They are as professional as the MCA. The RCA too believes in maximizing the facilities they possess. Working with the likes of Rituraj Singh,Deepak Chahar and the seasoned Pankaj Singh is really a delectable proposition. If anything,there seems to be a dearth of spinners in Rajasthan,so we hope to unearth a few,” he says.
Sunderam doesn’t shy away from talking about the fall in fortunes of Rajasthan last season,one they’d started as two-time defending champions and finished second from bottom. He’s not worried either about the RCA’s tendency to be impatient with their coaches.
“They had a foreign coach and probably there was a communication gap that affected the team’s performances. It’s difficult to put a finger on it. But I’m not going in with any negative vibes. Nothing can be achieved without proper planning,” adds Sunderam.
For someone who’s never really sought the spotlight,it only seems appropriate that Sunderam spent the last half-a-dozen years as a head coach in the MCA’s indoor academy. But not only is he departing with a heavy heart,he also insists on taking away innumerable golden memories.
“There have been many success stories along the way. Dhawal Kulkarni has been great,despite all the injuries he’s suffered. Then there is Balwinder Singh Sandhu and Abhishek Nayar,whose running technique I managed to change. And it was touching to hear many of the junior boys literally requesting me to stay back and tell me how much I will be missed,” he says.
Though he’s renowned for shaping many young careers,Sunderam was also instrumental in mending some that had gone slightly astray. And he takes great pride in admitting his role to helping young bowlers correct their suspect bowling actions after they’d come under the scanner.
In addition to his immense nous regarding fast bowling,Sunderam is also renowned in the cricket circles for his inimitable passion for fitness. And despite being on the wrong side of 50,he’s hardly changed his manic schedule,right from waking up in the wee hours of the morning for runs along the beach to indulging in crunching ab routines that have helped him maintain a 30-inch waistline.
The fitness freak even continued to ply his trade in the Kanga League till last season.
“And I always bowled with my full run-up by the way,” he’s quick to add.
There promises to be no alteration to the fitness regimen,he insists,despite the change in climes and Sunderam in fact is hoping to instill similar beliefs in his wards in Rajasthan.
“Many of my wards have asked me about my inspiration to remain supremely fit and bowl long hours in the nets. And I tell them that they are my motivation,as what keeps me going is seeing these youngsters rise to the next level,” he says.
Having scored his biggest assignment yet in his blossoming coaching career,Sunderam is keen on tying up all loose ends and will be bidding adieu to his beloved Mumbai next week. Once there,he plans to have a series of meetings with the senior players,take some feedback and then unleash his own plans for bringing Rajasthan back up after a disappointing previous season.