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A day after the loss to the Delhi Daredevils on Sunday, Anil Kumble was engaged in a conversation with Ricky Ponting in the coffee lounge of the hotel where the Mumbai Indians are lodged. A little later, Ricky Ponting took captain Rohit Sharma aside for a pep talk even as MI members started to troop in to leave for practice.
One wonders if MI are lucky to have an enviable line-up of support staff, but the four straight defeats this season raise questions on their actual contribution.
The players get dwarfed in the presence of a line-up that boasts of Sachin Tendulkar, Ponting, Kumble, John Wright and Jonty Rhodes. Add Robin Singh and Paras Mhambrey, and that’s one awe-inspiring list for the youngsters in the team.
Anwar, a security guard at the Sheikh Zayed Stadium, said he was not interested in the team practice, rather it was the support staff that interested him.
Put together the 85,000 international runs and 1238 wickets, and not one team in the IPL can match their credentials. Yet, a debate rages if a star-studded support staff can whip up a winning formula.
No doubt the players gush over the time spent with the legends, who help in spotting chinks and fine-tuning them, but pitted against the unsung bunch at the Kings XI Punjab --- Sanjay Bangar (head coach), R Sridhar (fielding coach) and Joe Dawes (bowling coach), their five straight wins tell another tale.
"It could be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. No doubt, their credentials are phenomenal but coaching goes beyond that. It is a skill that is acquired through understanding individuals, their game and thinking. It requires a focused approach rather than temporary presence," said Lalchand Rajput, a former MI coach.
"Also, these players set a high benchmark when they speak to the boys. They expect them to raise their game to the level they achieved, but the problem is that a particular player may not be skilled enough to meet their expectations. So, the advice loses its purpose. This is where a long-term coach becomes important, in terms of realistic expectations," he said.
Defending the move to have specialised support staff, another former coach, Praveen Amre, felt it is enough if they are engaged at the start of the season. "It is good to have a big support staff because the squad size is big unlike a Ranji or India squad, so it helps if you can compartmentalise the training under different heads.
"But it only helps at the start of the season where you can focus on a particular group," said Amre.
Kings XI skipper George Bailey, who has no superstars in the backroom staff, said, "We have a legend in Virender Sehwag, so we can learn from him. The guys (support staff) may not have been star players, but they understand hard work and the battles players go through to have good games.
"There isn’t a great deal of difference between the cricket Mumbai and we play, it’s the little things that go a certain way in getting the confidence up. Our coaching staff hasn’t made us step too far ahead of ourselves. Our focus hasn’t been on the results but it’s about how we want to play and what sort of team we want to build," said Bailey.