After retiring from cricket, Lakshmipathy Balaji has been working as a bowling coach for Tamilnadu State Team and now for Kolkata Knight Riders. In a recent chat with the CricketSoccer, the former Indian pacer opens up about his new role as a coach, the challenges he has to face in IPL and much more.
Here are the excerpts:
CricketSoccer: As a cricketer, you had played in Kolkata Knight Riders. Now you have been involved as their coaching staff. What is the difference?
Lakshmipathy Balaji : Ohh.. it’s a privilege and honour to be back in KKR. But it’s a new challenge for me. As a player, I used to concentrate on my own performance and thought about my perspective of importance and nuances of the game. But now I have to work with a big group of players.
CS: You have been working as the bowling coach of Tamilnadu State team. Now you are coaching KKR. Which one is more challenging?
Balaji: Yeah I have been working as a bowling consultant with the Tamilnadu state team and got quite a few success under my belt as well. But after spending a few weeks with the KKR players, I realized that to coach an IPL team is a more difficult job than to coach even a national side. As the coach of a national side, you have to deal with players most of whom you know very well. You have a clear idea about their ability. But as the coach of an IPL team, you have to deal with unknown faces as well as with the recognized players of world cricket. You have some upcoming, budding talents who dream to play for the national side. You have to groom them. Here you get a mixture of everything. Different languages, different cultures, different food habits and different skills. You have to set their goals and prepare their mindset for the big stage, that too within a very short time span. It’s a really big challenge for me.
CS: You are stepping in Wasim Akram’s shoes. Does it make your job more challenging?
Balaji: There is no comparison, to be honest. Wasim bhai was a legend. What he had achieved as a fast bowler is an example for all the budding pacers across the world. He is my childhood hero. I grew up watching him bowling. He is one of the very few Asian cricketers who has set an example for everybody in world cricket. As a player in KKR a few years back, I learned a lot from him. His understanding of the game is totally of a different level. He is the most successful support staff for KKR and I am eager to follow his footsteps. He has been a great influence for the boys.
CS: Bowling attack has always been a strength of KKR. Does it give you a psychological edge as the mentor of the bowling group?
Balaji: Yes of course. But at the same time I want to mention that in modern cricket, nothing is secret. There are specialist video analysts for every team and all the bowlers are scrutinized every now and then. So every day is a new challenge both for me and for the boys.
CS: What is your mantra as the bowling coach?
Balaji: In T-20 cricket, it’s all about the application. I am just trying to keep everything simple and emphasize on the basics. We have to work towards the team’s goal. As a bowler, whether it’s test or one day or T-20, you have to combat with the batsman everywhere. So make sure you compete hard and of course with the right mindset.
CS: KKR has always been a spin heavy team. But this year the pitches in the IPL are bouncy, most of them are green top. So does it make the job of the bowling coach more difficult?
Balaji: KKR has always enjoyed a very good bowling attack. I know because I was a part of this set up 3-4 years back. It’s not all about spinners. Fast bowlers like Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhter, Umar Gul, Shane Bond had played for KKR in the past. This year too, we have an equality between spin and pace. They have a very good understanding and help each other. This makes my job easier. We have a very balanced bowling attack. Hopefully, we can prove our ability on the field.