CHENNAI: Ten years is a long time in sport. Things change fast. Some stay visible, many don’t. Former India quick L Balaji, who has the distinction of bagging the first IPL hat-trick, has made a smooth transition from player to coach.
Having quit first-class cricket last year, Balaji has been bowling coach of Tamil Nadu, and is eager to prove a point in the same role at Kolkata Knight Riders. Their team opens against Gujarat Lions in Rajkot on Friday. “Preparations are on in full swing. We hope to start on a good note and take it from there,” said Balaji.
Most bowling coaches believe these days the challenge is to train their wards to bowl intelligently in power play. “The game has changed. To me, all 20 overs in T20s are powerplay. Batsmen go for shots from ball one and there is no dip in tempo. I would like my wards to bowl tighter lengths and apply their mind while bowling to a particular player,” said the former Tamil Nadu captain.
Two-time champions KKR have variety in attack. Trent Boult, Nathan Coulter-Nile, Umesh Yadav and Rishi Dhawan for pace, with Sunil Narine, Piyush Chawla, Shakib Al-Hasan and Kuldeep Yadav as spinners. “We have a good attack, with good T20 skills. They cover all aspects of bowling. The combo will depend on conditions and opposition,” said Balaji, who helped Tuti Patriots win the inaugural TNPL last year.
Kuldeep the chinaman was a revelation against Australia. “He’s a terrific bowler. He has been in the scheme of things for a few years and I’m happy he has made his debut for India. He’s highly talented and if you see, this platform (IPL) has unearthed several talents. The more he plays over formats, his game will improve.”
With Balaji around, Tamil Nadu reached Ranji Trophy semifinals, before winning Vijay Hazare Trophy and Deodhar Trophy. What is his mantra for success?
“No mantra (standard formula) as such. My philosophy is to keep things simple, stick to basics and use your brain. Mindset is the most important aspect for me. This format requires a different mindset and set of skills. The ones who adapt quickly taste success.”
Despite playing through the long home season without breaking down, Umesh is out due to injury. “It’s sad that we can’t play him straightaway, as he is in good form. He should be ready in two weeks. We’re hopeful he’ll be fit,” signed off Balaji, promising exciting fare from his boys.