NAGPUR: Monty Desai’s name isn’t unfamiliar to those who are involved with franchise cricket. After all, he has spent a lot of time with many Indian and international cricketers in Rajasthan Royals and Gujarat Lions, besides being involved in various T20 leagues around the world. Despite so much of success in T20s, it’s the longest format that excites him the most.
In a happy dressing room, Desai was the proud Indian when they whitewashed Bangladesh 2-0 in their own den in some challenging conditions. Desai, who has worked with teams like Afghanistan, Nepal, the UAE in the past, played his part perfectly as a batting coach, helping the young side to be more disciplined. His hard work has paid off as the West Indies batsmen punched above their weight to deliver the knock-out punch in alien conditions where outstation teams always find it tough.
Desai spoke to TOI on West Indies series victory and various aspects of his new job.
Excerpts from an interview…
How difficult is it for you to be a batting coach of the team where most batsmen have First Class average ranging between 28 and 34?
We as a coaching group together have always been voicing that the competition at the First Class level (in West Indies) needs to go to the level where people start scoring plenty of runs. Looking around the world, people score tons of runs, averaging above 50, to get into the national side.
There were a few players who were identified by the head coach, selectors and coaching group in the squad in England as well as New Zealand. I started working with them in New Zealand when we had a camp in Queenstown. At that time, we were identifying their footwork, how they were operating against spin. A small seed was planted in Queenstown on how to play spin, use the crease and various other aspects of batsmanship.
When did you start seeing the progress?
I started seeing progress in the 4th innings in New Zealand when they suddenly started trusting their defence. They have the quality of bravado. They have the quality of overpowering when they are under pressure. However, what we have been able to instil was an approach, which is a lot more rational, where one should be stubborn, tight with their defence and then the phase where it requires to be bold and brave while defending on challenging conditions. They should be able to answer the different questions asked by bowlers in different conditions.
Everyone had a role to play. Nkrumah Bonner has an appetite for staying longer, trusting his defence. Bonner is definitely something we have been trusting to be a quality No.4 in Test cricket. Young kid like Joshua was like glue. He was a cog in the wheel. He had partnerships with top order as well as lower order. Words like grind and patience were spoken a lot in the dressing room.
Did this victory surprise considering there was no Jason Holder, a prominent figure in the West Indies dressing room?
Not at all. My expectations were a lot more with the Test teams than One-day team where we had around 10 debutants. We only got three nets sessions with them. My disappointment wasn’t the loss (in One-day series) but the missed opportunity of not being able to show their skills to the world. We had double sessions both with One-day and Test teams simultaneously. I had given them a programme and plans to all the players. The work started back home with their own franchise coaches.
Once they came here, we gave them middlers to start with. We created the rule that ball hitting pads were as good as out. We encourage them to use their bats more. We encouraged them to use the sweep besides precise footwork. Even small areas like the value of top hand, bottom hand were worked out. We encouraged them to stick to the game plans as long as possible, which was emphasized over and over again. They have this #proudwestindians hashtag. I was like a proud Indian in that happy West Indian dressing room.
How crucial was the role of Phil Simmons?
This was my second assignment with Phil Simmons. We had won the World Cup qualifiers together with Afghanistan. Unfortunately I had to resign due to personal reasons. It was kind of him to remember the work we had done together. So he offered me this job. He gives me complete freedom. Let me put it this way, I enjoy the freedom given to me. He has constantly shown trust in whatever I bring in. His own knowledge also comes in handy. Obviously, he has played so much of cricket and then coached various teams. He is like a father figure in a happy dressing room. He has given roles along with freedom to each and every one. What we have made sure is that freedom is responsibility. So we take full responsibility.
Considering the bio bubble in the current scenario and not much time for practice, how did you chalk out the plan?
I genuinely felt we prepared well. We made most of whatever time we had. That innings like Mayers played, I didn’t see that coming but one message was clear to everyone that we want to take the game to the fifth day every time we go out to bat. We used to treat it like a boxing championship where there are 12 rounds. We were looking at the Test matches as 15 rounds and how can we ensure the knock-out punch in the end, waiting for the right opportunity.
You have been involved in franchise cricket ever since it has evolved in the country. How challenging it was to coach a Test team?
Test cricket is ultimate cricket. Yes, I have worked a lot in franchise cricket but I made deliberate effort to coach countries in a longer format. I have worked with several associate countries like Nepal, the UAE and Canada. I was blessed to work with Andhra (in 2018-19). Managing a First Class Ranji side for full First Class season helped me a lot. West Indies job also came at the right time. I was able to understand the Test cricket side as well. From individual game plan to team goals, to strategic things and technical inputs to individuals, it was a different experience for me.
Tell us about the different aspects—technical, tactical and strategic—you worked with this team….
This team, we had to cover all the bases. We had to talk about even the use of bottom hand in defence. How dead defence works, sometimes even the minutest things add to the tactical part of the game. Which bowler to take on in different situations. Use of crease. It was a combination of tactical to technical things at various phases of the series. They had to believe in grind. Credit goes to them for trusting me. It was to make sure what works for them and what hasn’t worked for them in the past. For mental things, it wasn’t the one person who was able to keep them in good space. It was a team effort.
How determined was this young side to do well after the loss in One-day series?
In 2018, West Indies lost the series 2-0 when Kraigg Braithwaite was the captain. He was determined to turn things around. There’s batting talent in this group. It’s just the matter of putting all the hard work done in the nets into the match. We could have done better in the second innings in the second Test. In fact, we discussed how well India, with so many debutants, went on to win the series in Australia. It was great that West Indies did in Chattogram (chasing 395 in the last innings of the first Test) what India had done in Brisbane. The boys were determined to show something like that.
There’s perception that West Indies youngsters are keener on Twenty20 than Tests where the grind is more. What’s your take on that?
Lot of these youngsters coming to the national team are hungry and want to learn. Contrary to what’s been a general perception, they value Test cricket a lot. They know it’s the ultimate challenge. Bonner, who has been in the First Class cricket for a while now. He came with an open mind. Every player in this team was coachable. The word we are trying to spread is this West Indies team is disciplined. They want to learn and make the difference.
Players like Jason Holder, Kraigg Brathwaite, Shanon Gabriel and Kemar Roach have already established themselves as World class Test cricketers. You look at Cornwall. The joy to see him taking five wickets was unbelievable. It can only happen in Test cricket. That photograph when Cornwall took that last catch to complete the series victory said it all where players were jumping around him. Just to see him stay calm. Jomel Warrican was hit by Mehdy Hasan but to see him up for the fight was unbelievable and it was great to see the captain’s belief in him. He believed Warrican could get him out when they needed only 18 to win.