CHANDIGARH: Even the greatest of players bank on getting into a rhythm, and so does a team hunting for its maiden title after 13 failed attempts. As Punjab Kings gear up for the 14th season of the cash-rich league, their fielding coach Jonty Rhodes reiterated the importance of getting a winning start in the first three outings to set the ball rolling.
The Punjab Kings failed to make it to the play-offs last season despite a grand comeback towards the business end of the tournament, which saw them winning five of the seven matches before making their exit. Highlighting the importance of momentum, Rhodes said the idea will be to take one game at a time.
“In T20 cricket, it’s important to get a good start in the opening three games and not worry about making the playoffs,” Rhodes told TOI during a virtual interaction.
“Obviously we will be aiming to get to the playoffs and from there any team can win. But you don’t look too far ahead. You also understand that you need to get a bit of a roll as early as possible on a positive note. Last season we lost to Rajasthan Royals and Chennai Super Kings, both of them didn’t qualify. But it’s a new season, we have a strong side with new energy. One game at a time is our first target,” he added.
Jordan’s catch vs Pooran’s athleticism
The superhuman efforts of Chris Jordan and Nicholas Pooran during the last IPL are still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Rhodes expects the same level of intensity on the field from the squad in the upcoming season too.
There was the extraordinary effort by Pooran on the boundary against Rajasthan Royals – at the time it was called the finest piece of fielding in the competition’s 13-year history. Not to mention a stunning save by Mayank Agarwal against the Mumbai Indians in a game that went to a Super Over. But Rhodes believes there’s always room for improvement.
“Both are great athletes and for me as a fielding coach, you just try and encourage that kind of awareness. But if Pooran does that every single game he will eventually hurt himself because the timing was incredible. If you get it slightly wrong, suddenly you pop your shoulder and damage is done. Happy with the way Punjab fielded last season but there’s always room for improvement,” he said.
“I try to create an environment where players don’t feel under pressure. The focus is certainly on the process and not much on the outcome. The idea is to create a match situation during every training session,” he explained.
For Rhodes, it doesn’t matter whether one is a top ranked batsman or bowler in the world. It is all about the mindset the player carries on the field. In the IPL mini auction, Punjab Kings bought the current No.1 T20I batsman Dawid Malan, a decision Rhodes feels will work in their favour.
“You can be the No.1 T20 batsman in the world, which we have in our team, but he is brilliant on the field as well, not just in the games but also in practice. I spoke to a couple of coaches on what sort of players we have, so having a number one player isn’t special, he must also be a special person,” he said.
The Protea fielding great also hailed Punjab pace spearhead Mohammed Shami‘s agility on the field, and said he ensures the pacer doesn’t overstretch himself during the fielding drills. “Md Shami got our first run-out last season, and it’s not only about the younger, faster fielders. It’s about encouraging the senior guys to lead by example but without false expectation. Shami is such an important part of our bowling and if I stretch him impossibly, he’s gonna hurt a finger or an elbow. So I make sure he’s comfortable in his fielding,” he said.
Gayle’s leadership skills
Impressed with the Jamaican’s fielding last season, Rhodes has sorted out a role for him in the upcoming season.
“He is very competitive and he puts on a big show every time he is on the field. Last season, Gayle didn’t concede a single single, and what I work on is to put him as close to the bat as possible. Let’s face it, even though he doesn’t dive, he is a good enough fielder with great hands. The closer he stands to the batters, the less risks they will take,” he said.
“He is a great contributor, he is a great team man, and my observation is he should be a captain of one of the teams as he puts the younger players under a lot of pressure,” he added.