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Delhi coach KP Bhaskar has had a torrid first season as Delhi’s Ranji coach. Apart from his team not qualifying for the knockouts, he also got embroiled in a controversy with Gautam Gambhir. In an interview with The Indian Express, he opens up on a range of issues. Excerpts:
Your first season did not pan out the way you had expected
It was disappointing, to say the least. I was appointed coach just 15 days before the season began. It was funny because I had no clue about my core team — their strengths and weaknesses, their temperament and who fits where. It took me a couple of games to figure it out. So, in essence, we began the last season on the backfoot.
Where did it go wrong?
Look at the Delhi team for the last four seasons. It has had the same core group who have turned up match after match, and their performances have hardly inspired confidence. The need of the hour is to create bench strength. We started off positively beating Assam and bagged seven points. Things went downhill then as both our fast bowlers — Pradeep Sangwan and Navdeep Saini — got injured. Suddenly, I was scratching my head trying to figure out who would replace them. I looked at the U-19 and U-23 guys and I could hardly find anyone to replace them. It was a big blow for us at the start of the season. In four-day games, it’s the bowlers who will win you matches. It’s the 20 wickets that your bowlers take that win you matches, no matter how many world-class batsmen you have.
Even your batting has not clicked
True, even that was a major letdown. That’s because batting was our strength, and it’s true that both Shikhar (Dhawan) and Gautam (Gambhir) were away on international assignments, and hence were not with us for a major part last season. There were, however, some very talented ones — youngsters such as Unmukt Chand and Nitish Rana. But surprisingly, they did not click. Barring a couple of fifties, Unmukt barely got more than 400 runs for us, while Rana’s form tapered off after his century in the opening game. Barring Rishabh Pant, who scored more than 900 runs, nobody got going. Even when Gambhir and Dhawan were playing, we did not get a 100-run opening partnership.
What were the reasons for Chand and Rana getting the axe?
With time, some people felt they had become indispensable, and began to take their place for granted. How many runs has Unmukt scored in the last four seasons? Scoring two fifties from 16 innings is not something an opener should be proud of. So, the selectors and I decided to give him a break. But some people took it wrongly. The decision was not meant to end his career. It was to give him a jolt. So, we dropped him, and Unmukt returned for the T20s and scored two 50s. Suddenly, I was thinking where was this guy all along? Like Unmukt, I had high expectations from Nitish. He barely scored a run after his century. What was I supposed to do? There are youngsters like Himmat Singh waiting on the bench… I need to try them out too. Nitish was dropped and look how things turned around for him in this IPL. People like Unmukt and Nitish must undertstand that they cannot take their place for granted, just because they have the support of their captain or some senior player.
Did you demand anything specific?
When I took over, the only thing that I asked for was a video analyst. All major teams have it, so I did not see any reason why they would not agree for one. Instead, they kept dilly-dallying. However, when the captain (Gambhir) requested for a masseur instead, they went ahead and appointed one. So the Delhi Ranji team has a masseur, but not a video analyst.
What is the way forward?
It’s a shame that we don’t have an association-run academy in Delhi. Over the years, Delhi has constantly churned out some of the best batsmen — Sehwag, Kohli, and Dhawan to name a few. These guys have made it to the Indian team not because Delhi has a good system in place. It’s because of the club culture that’s prevalent here. If Sonnet or a LB Shastri winds up tomorrow, do you think you can produce another Virat Kohli? The way forward is to have a state-run academy. That’s how states like Karnataka and Punjab have thrived all these years. For instance, you select around 20 14-year-olds, train them under an academy coach and support staff, keep honing them as they progress to the U-16s, U-19s and finally the U-23 levels. In between, you will have a couple of them dropping out, but in 7-8 years, you have already developed a pool of 15 talented players and your bench strength is created.
For this to happen, you need to have a proper plan and the will. You have crores put up in Kotla, but nothing comes out of it. Just go to Himachal… you will be stunned by the academy there. If they can have that, why can’t Delhi? You cannot sit in DDCA and say we want another Kohli. You need to have proper pre-season camps and must participate in tournaments like the Buchi Babu Trophy. Look at what Mumbai did after they lost the Ranji quarter-finals two years ago? I was told the entire fraternity was hauled up. here, we have not qualified for the knock-outs in ages, and nobody cares about it. I submitted a detailed report to Justice Sen at the end of the last season.
What about the Gambhir fiasco?
I have been asked to refrain from talking to the press on this issue. All I can say is that it was disappointing. such a thing should not have happened. (Gambhir was handed a four-match ban for his confrontation with Bhaskar. An enquiry committee found Gambhir guilty and termed his behaviour as “inappropriate”). He is around 20 years younger to me and I really wish him well. We are obviously not in touch… the last time that I met him was during the hearing.
Will you remain coach next season?
My contract was only for a year. if they don’t want me, I will move elsewhere. Last year, when I was offered this role, I took it up knowing fully well that 12 months will be too short a duration to fully understand this team and its potential. The ideal scenario would be to be at the helm for at least 2 years, but it’s fine. The season is barely 3 months away and I still don’t have a confirmation from them. Mere ko toh paisa bhi nahi mila. I have no clue when I will get it. It’s not that they will not give me, but there is no proper pay package in place.