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Cricket news - Grateful Bangar reflects on productive coaching stint
During his playing days, Sanjay Bangar was looked at as a player who maximised his talent. Someone who was a pragmatist and spoke very little. He also came across as someone who did not want to look too far back or ahead in life.
However, after his five-year stint with the Indian team as batting coach ended after the West Indies tour, Bangar chose to press the rewind button. "I look back on the progress the team made since 2014 and being No. 1 in Tests for three years in a row with happiness. We won 30 out of 52 Tests played, 13 of them overseas. We also won consistently in ODIs in all countries. The only thing that eluded us was the World Cup," Bangar told TOI.
The World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand was hotly debated. What was discussed with anger and frustration was the team's inability to find a stable No.4 to negotiate English conditions. What exactly was the team looking for as they played musical chairs with Rayudu, Vijay Shankar, KL Rahul and finally Rishabh Pant?
Bangar, who appeared to be unfairly targeted for India's failure to groom someone for that role, revealed, "The entire team management and selectors were part of the decision making for the No. 4 spot. The choice relied upon current form, fitness criteria, whether he was a left-hander, whether he could bowl, etc."
Curiously, everyone among the support staff was retained except Bangar, who was replaced by former opener Vikram Rathour. How does the former Railways all-rounder look at it?
"Being disappointed is a natural feeling, which lasted for just a few days. But I thank the BCCI and all the coaches, Duncan (Fletcher), Anil (Kumble) and Ravi (Shastri), for giving me an opportunity to serve Indian cricket for five years.
"This break gives me time to reflect, refresh and reinvent," he said. Bangar's biggest high was being able to make a difference and discuss technique with players. For someone who honed his game on the maidans of Mumbai in the tough Kanga League, played during monsoons, as well as dustbowls like the one at the Karnail Singh Stadium in New Delhi, technique is the foundation on which a batsman builds his game. "Technique should look after you when you make a mistake," he said.
Batting, for Bangar, is about having a clear mindset, temperament and confidence. "I was vigilant as to how a player stays close to these basic foundations and also his individual style of play, through regular video footage and one on one discussions," he revealed.
During his stint, the engine room of the Indian batting functioned like a well-oiled machine. Skipper Virat Kohli scored 43 centuries, Rohit Sharma scored 28 and Shikhar Dhawan 18. Cheteshwar Pujara scored 12 in Tests. What were his inputs? "Virat always looks to iron out deficiencies. We worked on his alignments, positioning on the crease, his approach in seaming conditions. Shikhar was initially considered to be an off-side player, he used to stay beside the line of the ball. We worked on how he could get behind the line and open up scoring areas and overcome his dismissals against the short ball.
"With Rohit, we worked on his head position to overcome problems against incoming deliveries from right/left arm angles. In Pujara's case, we worked on reducing the width of his stance and being more upright. It is to their credit that they worked to unlearn old methods."
The unlearning of old methods that Bangar talks about is the wide stance that all batsmen had adopted under Duncan Fletcher, which caused technical flaws. What was wrong with it? "It works for players who are tall and also in conditions where there is even pace and bounce. But for Indian batsmen, who are not that tall and also who play a lot on wickets with variable turn and bounce, footwork is a key component of batsmanship which allows greater control."
While players mentioned above prospered, players like Ajinkya Rahane and Murali Vijay, batsmen with good overseas records, either plateaued or fell off the radar. What went wrong with them?
Bangar feels Rahane contributed in tough wins. "Rahane missed out on converting a lot of 50s into 100s in the last 18 months and contributed in all our overseas victories in Johannesburg, Nottingham and Adelaide. I was happy for him that he eventually crossed the three-figure mark in West Indies, where he played a pivotal role in seaming conditions."
"As far as Vijay goes, when a player is playing only one format, it adds to the challenge of immediately finding rhythm in international cricket if you are opening in tough overseas conditions."
The Indian batting unit is filled with superstars. Did he ever feel snubbed? "Never. My experience in dealing with players is that once they trust you, they are more concerned about their future rather than the coach's past." As batting coach, Bangar dealt with insecurities and also the eagerness of players who want to play in all formats.
"The disadvantage of playing T20s is that the batsmen are expecting and anticipating what the bowler is going to deliver and choose scoring options even before the ball is bowled. Making a switch to reacting to the ball, having lesser bat speeds and letting balls go outside off stump are mental adjustments players must make."
Is Rishabh Pant falling prey to that eagerness? "Rishabh has surpassed all expectations in Tests. He is a thinking cricketer and very courageous in playing the quickest of bowlers, but it takes time for any strokeplayer who is so young to understand his game in ODIs, where that urge to control the aerial shot gets him out. A lot of times middle-order batsmen have to play as per the needs of the team. We worked on how he could play along the ground initially and strike rotation."
As for Bangar himself, he is disappointed at reports of him misbehaving with selector Devang Gandhi? "The contents of that report were fictitious. I had a very cordial discussion relating to my presentation with Devang, three days after the selection process got over," Bangar clarified. Has he received an offer from other outfits? "I have been travelling for five years, I don't think I may take up roles outside India immediately," he said.
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