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Prajakta Pawar in Jaipur

We don’t cut corners: Paddy Upton

RR coach and skipper explain the secrets behind their team’s success

With a group of talented young Indian players and a few noteworthy international stars, the Rajasthan Royals presented a formidable front to various opponents in IPL 2013 and have continued to do so in the Karbonn Smart Champions League 2013. The Rahul Dravid-led side has been unbeatable at home. They have shown the ability to read conditions correctly and utilise them to their advantage. On a sporting Sawai Mansingh track the Royals have been unbeatable by sides with considerably more experience and in-form international stars. 

The core think tank – Dravid and coach Paddy Upton – attribute their success, consistency and the ability to hold their nerve to pull off wins to the environment in the team. The atmosphere for learning, humility, an all-inclusive strategy and diligence have benefitted the team.

Creating a winning environment

While interacting with the media in Jaipur, Upton explained how the Royals make home advantage work in a 40-over span. He said, “I would put it down to the robust learning environment that we have created in this team. Because we have been able to have a few games here, we have learned really fast as a team.”

“Again, one game doesn’t go by where we don’t have a robust conversation, where everybody contributes to the learning. So we have learned really quickly how to play on these conditions. I wonder if other teams have similarly robust learning environments, where they can learn about the combinations of their own environments. So for me, I think that would be it.”

On a lighter note, the RR captain said, “It’s a pooja I’ve done. (Laughs).” But he was quick to add, “No I’d agree with what Paddy said. It’s just that we feel comfortable here and we have got the kind of players to play in these conditions. It’s also that we have been smart enough to learn quickly and understand our conditions very well.”

While discussing if it would be important to play the semifinal on their home ground, Dravid said, “It would be nice. There is no doubt that topping a group and playing in home conditions would be the No.1 scenario. But in a competition like this you first want to make the semifinal – that is most important. I think we would be comfortable playing anywhere. Having said that, if we reach No.1, it means we have played good cricket, and we want to keep doing that. I would like to play a semifinal at home definitely.”

An all-inclusive strategy

The Royals have been invincible at home so far this year. And the coach explained that their all-inclusive strategy is another key to their success. He said, “We really do invite the young and senior players to contribute to winning not only on the field but we also invite their contribution off the field. We try and have really inclusive team conversations so that everybody is able to contribute and understand what the strategy is. We do see ourselves as underdogs and we need to be clever, we need to be flexible. We need to be able to adjust to the moments and call the game according to how it is unfolding at the time. Everybody understands that, and everybody has contributed to the strategy. So what happens on the field, it is upto Rahul to call the moves; he has ten other people who are all looking, thinking, are part of devising strategy within the team. So that is probably what makes us slightly different to the other teams where everybody plays a significant role both on and off the field.”

“We have to be flexible and smart and when we are playing against teams with bigger stars and more experienced players. And we need to upset them using the skills and talents that we have got. We saw last season people like Dishant Yagnik coming in and upsetting big-name players and in the next game when oppositions have planned for Yagnik to come to the crease, all of a sudden Sanju Samson walks in. So we try and stay a step ahead,” Upton said while explaining the surprise element in their strategy that can put the opposition on the back foot.

Dravid reiterated that it is about creating the right and comfortable environment that is conducive to learning and exchange of ideas, experiences and skills, especially since the presence of players like Shane Watson can be intimidating to begin with for the youngsters. “The environment is such that it allows an easy passing of information from people, which helps. It gives them a lot of freedom as well, which is one of the things that you can sense here. People feel confident that they will not be blamed, they will not be picked upon if things go wrong and it is the more experienced, the senior players, who take the responsibility. But it also gives the younger players the confidence that we know and we have the belief that they are good enough to play at this level, which they are; and the reality is they are very good.”

Working on mistakes in practice

The team has definitely benefitted from the processes and methods and has displayed nerves of steel in tight games but maintaining the balance and momentum is a tough task. Dravid said that his players do not focus on results but instead on their preparations. “Irrespective of what has happened, we practice. I don’t think our practice has changed too much. We still put in the same amount of time and energy into our practice and you see people working just as hard.”

A sight that is often seen in RR’s nets is the team enjoying training even after travelling or back-to-back games. Even during optional practices, there is a good turnout and often seniors, including the captain, are seen leading these sessions. “We don’t change our routines just because we won or lost a game; we try and maintain that balance. What’s happened in the past is the past. We will focus on one game at a time.”

“We will do whatever we need to do to be ready for that and then try and play the best cricket. If we win, that’s great. If we lose, we just go on and try and learn from our mistakes. But you have to keep improving all the time. We encourage all our players to always keep improving because everyone around you is improving as well.”

Thoroughly professional set-up

“The professionalism also counts. The coaching staff and the support staff that we have really plays a huge part in that because they create an environment around the practice session that is one of which people actually want to go to; there is no forcing people to do things. You can sense that they want to be there, learn and practice.”

“Someone like Watson spends hours batting not only in the middle but separately and in practice because the environment is there and he wants to learn. Someone like Sanju Samson is watching and thinks if I want to play international cricket, that’s what I need to do. So there are lot of pluses for the youngsters from the interaction,” Dravid pointed out.

A down-to-earth approach

Coach Upton added that humility is also a key ingredient in RR’s game plans. “We are humble in our victory. If we lose, we are still humble in that we don’t get too upset. We pride ourselves in being professional.”

“We have set up an environment where we try and maximise the experience and knowledge that is within the team, not just within captain, or the senior players or coach; it’s collectively within the entire unit.” He added, “So we are constantly in these burning conversations to grow as a team and grow as people. We just have a culture where we don’t cut corners.”

The captain and coach often work in tandem. Speaking about their synergy, Upton was emphatic in saying that having a captain like Dravid not only helps, but is a prerequisite. “There is a real collective responsibility that we invite and that happens in the team. It is the way that leadership works together; that creates this environment.”

Commitment to discipline

Upton added, “I think one of the things that we have really done and that we look to continue doing is not to have too much conversation or place too much importance on the result. We really do focus on what are and the things that we need to get right. And we commit ourselves and back each other to getting those things right. And we also don’t put pressure on each other to get those things right. We ask everyone to give 100 percent, but we know on any given day only two or three, or maybe four players will come off, and we support those players.”

“For the rest of us, it won’t be our day and that’s okay. So we will continue to focus on our processes and our disciplines, and provided we do that, the language we use is ‘the result will look after itself’. So we never really look at ourselves as ‘underdogs’. We look at ourselves as a team that needs to strategise well. We need to fight until the last ball is bowled, even if we get beaten in the 13th over. We just don’t go away; we just do not stop fighting. And we will continue to be those guys who do not stop fighting. When someone’s walked off the field against the Rajasthan Royals, whether they win or lose, we want them to know they’ve been in a fight,” Upton said. 

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