Abhishek Nayar's Report Card: KKR Academy 2019

The VIVO IPL 2019 is almost upon us, and our Knights from around the world have been preparing well for the marquee event that's set to begin on March 23. While our foreign recruits are busy either on national duty, or playing in other franchise cricket leagues, some of our domestic heroes were seen in action at the KKR Academy, honing their skills under Abhishek Nayar and Omkar Salvi in Mumbai.

We caught up with Nayar, the lead coach and mentor of the KKR Academy, for a quick update on what went on in the camp, and how he rated the improvements he saw in the players who were a part of the setup. Excerpts:


What was your overall assessment of the camp?

AN: It has been great. It has been different because we had a lot of players coming in and going out. It has been going on for almost 20-25 days. It was special, because we normally don't see such long camps anymore. I think the last camp that I was a part of that went on for that long was at the National Cricket Academy (NCA) camp during my Under-19 days, where it used to normally be a one-month camp. So some of our players have actually been here for that long, with some of the others coming in for 10-15 days.

For me, it's been very satisfying because the players seemed very happy going from here. A lot of the guys also got to play matches alongside having this camp, at the DY Patil T20 tournament. So I think a lot of guys got to see immediate results in the kind of things we were practicing here. It's very pleasing and also very fulfilling for me to see the guys get a mixture of both the nets and open-match simulation we have. Plus, playing actual competitive matches. So it's good for me to give that sort of experience to our players.

You made sure the players trained in different conditions during this camp. Was that a part of the plan?

AN: Yes, I always believe that as a cricketer, you need to be able to adjust. You need to be able to come up with different plans based on not only the bowlers you are playing against but also the conditions. One other things I believe a lot is practicing in different situations and the easiest way to simulate that is by doing in different places. Sometimes as a cricketer, when you are practicing at the same place, same bowlers, same kind of pitches. It doesn't get that challenging. So I think the challenges that a batsman faces going every single day to a different venue and then acclimatising and understanding that venue and by the end of it overcoming it. So I think, it's challenging. That's something I really like. Being in Mumbai and being in this part of the country also helps because you have so many grounds available. You have those many people ready to come and help you out. So I think it's been tremendous in that regard. It's something we could pull-off. It's not been easy but I think to earn this for 20-25 days and everyday get the amount of bowlers that we have get the conditions we have, kudos to everyone who've been involved in this and helped us do this.


Some of our players, like Rinku and Shubman, have credited the KKR Academy for their achievements in the domestic circuit this year. As lead coach and mentor, how pleased are you with the results? AN: Like you know, Venky (Mysore) Sir spoke to me about starting this and Dinesh (Karthik) was someone who really wanted to do this as well. I think, together, all of us thought that this is something we wanted to give back. Not only in terms of having a player do well in the IPL but making the player grows holistically not only in cricket in general for the IPL but in his career as well. That is what we wanted to do, making sure we can impact the player not only in one part of the year but throughout the season. Obviously, Rinku having had a terrific season, a lot of credit goes to the amount of hard work (he has put in) and him giving in to trusting us in helping him out. That's exactly what we are trying trying to do here. We are trying to make sure that each cricketer that comes here and requires the sort of help in that stage in his career and we can provide it to them. That in terms of mental toughness, skills, nutrition, training. So we are trying to cover all basis. Venky Sir recently suggested that we have a whole DNA testing done and now we got a good nutritionist onboard who's now working with our players to get a good diet. So, I think, we are trying to get it done holistically and eventually the brainchild of the franchisee, Venky Mysore being the main person behind it, who wanted to make sure that the cricketers get not only the results but get something that brings the best out of them.

The KKR Academy also provided a chance for the new boys, like Shrikanth Mundhe and Prithvi Raj, to spend time with and gel with the existing players. Going into the season, how much does that help these players?

AN: I think that's very important. Having played a bit of IPL myself, I always believed that when you first enter a new franchise, it takes you at least 20-25 days just to get comfortable, to get accustomed to the players, to understand mannerism of each player, to know where to be, where to sit in the dressing room, what a player likes and dislikes. I think in that regard, you kind of cover all those basis and you save those 15-20 days of the IPL. It is also one of the reasons why we wanted to do this. Venky Sir is very keen on making sure that everyone who comes-in knows each other, they already have a bond before the tournament really stated. So when you first enter the dressing room the only thing that you have in mind is cricket. They all kind of knew each other, but now they know each other really well.


Can you tell us more about Omkar Salvi's role in the KKR Academy.

AN: I have nothing but high regards for Omkar, I think he is someone who is like a perfect coach in terms of understanding a player, knowing how much space to give to each player, he ticks all the boxes of being a good human-being, I believe to be a good coach you have to first tick the box of being a good human-being and Omkar gets 10 ticks in that regard. Everyone who has spent time with him has good things to say about him. I think he has been crucial to this camp and it wouldn't have been run as well as it has if it weren't for Omkar.Having someone like Omkar is great, knowing that someone is there whom you can trust and know that the players are in good hands with is great and hopefully we can continue this partnership for a long time.

Player by player, what are the differences you've seen in their performances from Day 1 in the camp, to their last

Shubman Gill:

AN: I have always enjoyed talking to Shubman, like everyone else. It's great to talk cricket with someone so young and it was great to meet his father, who was there as well. Noone knows his game as well as his father does. It was important for us to know what he has done with his game, we had a word with him about Shubman's technique. His father and I collectively thought that he needs to work on some areas of his game and we started working on them. Although we had only a couple of days because we got that great news but I think he is a talent, we all know that and everyone ha spoken about it but his greatness is not how he bats but how he thinks, that's what sets him apart. He understands his game and what needs to be done to reach that level of success and he doesn't let that get to his head, that's what I really like about Shubman.

Robin Uthappa:

AN: I think Robin has been here for the longest. When he first started he came back from an injury. He was all about starting. He was off the cricket for three months. He just batted for two sessions before coming here. So, it was a very slow and gradual buildup for us. When we first started with Robin it was making sure we have those technical boxes ticked and post that getting sure that he's in the right frame of mind and then coming into the match simulation. So I think in the past four-five days, he really focused a lot in the skill and making sure that he knows the technical side of it. We worked the initial 15-20 days making sure that we can get rid of small technical glitches that need to be done to keep him in a great space mentally. Now towards the IPL, the whole focus on him is going to be how he can overcome the situations, the different opposition he may play, the kind of bowlers he may face, coming up with a different plans and strategies to overcome that. So I think through these, 20-25 days, one month he's been here, it's been a slow and gradual process. We've had a trainer now who's joined as an assistant trainer. I think Sagar has been tremendous with a lot of guys here. Robin has found a good mixture doing basic three session a day. Training in the morning, coming, then have a good four-five hours practice session, have another two hours training session in the evening with a recovery session. So I think it's been tremendous. So in terms of where we saw Robin when he first came, where he feels now is more important than what I feel. I think what Robin feels is he's in a much better space and that's what we want to give. We want to give the players what they want and it's not what we feel or I feel. It's about how the players and what they feel in about a year and go. And in that regards, Robin is in good space now.

Nitish Rana:

AN: When Nitish first came in, he didn't have the kind of season he wanted to. He was leading the side and there were a lot of things we could work on and we started off slow. I believe in starting off slow, get his trust, understand what he requires and then basically pro-adding it to him. I think, leaving here very similar to Robin, Nitish feels a lot more confident. He feels that he can overcome the small glitches that he had. Although, I still feel we have some time to go and we need to work a lot. But I believe that the day he was here to leaving, he's in a much-much better space in terms of enjoying his cricket. I think that's something a lot of people don't do when you don't get those runs and when you don't perform. So it's just backing him, making him enjoy the sport, the sport that you love so much. Even now when I speak to him, he's is in a space where he's happy. He's happy playing the sport. He's looking forward to a challenge and I am sure in times to come he'll do something special.

The whole idea of working with someone is not with changing. It's about making sure he's in the kind of space where he believes there's slight addition to what he has. It's not really a change, it's just an addition to what Nitish Rana is. When he first came in, it was just trying to get him in that form again. Where he feels he knows where he's taking his head, he's getting into the ball, he's not thinking his mind, he's not cluttered. So I think that was what we were trying to get to initially. And him being here for 8-10 days, I think what benefitted from that was that he also got to play matches along with it. So whatever we were experimenting with him, whatever we were trying in terms of technique, we immediately got a lot of feedback because he played matches. So it's very easy for us to tweak those things and to make sure that we know that we technically getting into a position where he understands this is what he use to when. Although, I will still say that, it's still early days where we want to see Nitish Rana. But, where Nitish Rana wants to be himself, I believe he's still there, he knows where I'm now I can do what I want to. But we believe that Nitish Rana can be a lot more than what he is today and hopefully coming IPL he'll gear up to live up to the potential.

Piyush Chawla's routine seemed slightly different from the others...AN:

We had a discussion with PC, him being an experienced player he knew what he wanted so it was about giving him what he wanted and the focus was on fitness. He is someone who works really hard, he had two heavy training sessions. He used to face 100-150 balls in the nets then bowl a bit. Just practice situations he would have to bowl in the games and it was more about doing it over and again, just making sure he gets that workload going and fitness being the utmost thing, he did a lot of high altitude training, to which he responded welland we were happy that he was enjoying it. A lot of credit goes to our trainer, Sagar who made sure that Piyush put in that effort.

Shrikant Mundhe:

AN: It was tremendous to have Shrikant, I have always liked his work ethic and how he goes about his game. Omkar worked with him in terms of his bowling, a few technical changes so that he gains a few yards and pace.In batting, we worked on technique a bit initially and then on his ability to rotate the strike because we know he has got power and just like Nitish he got to play games and he did well and for us it's a plus point so it tells us that we are going in the right direction. I think it was great to have him, the training was going on and we know that he is an elite athlete. It was great to interact with him, I have always played against him but not interacted with him in terms of cricket. It was good to understand him, his psychology, where he wants to go, how he wants to contribute to the team's cause and just get him into the KKR family and give him a taste of the culture.

Shivam Mavi:

AN: When Shivam came in, he had bowled a lot in the T20 tournament, so the onus was on his batting because Jacques (Kallis) and Simon (Katich) were of the opinion that we need to spend a lot of time on his batting because he has the potential to bat. Since he was here for only a couple of days we focussed more on the batting, made him face a lot of balls and different kinds of bowlers and had a few discussions about his technique but it was more the feel good factor, we didn't get to deep into tactics but just wanted to make sure he feels good about his batting. We saw glimpses of his batting potential in this year's Ranji Trophy, Omkar had worked with him in Delhi before the start of the season in terms of bowling and batting. He bowled really well but showed a lot of character in his batting. We gave him a lot of time in the nets to make sure he got tired and enjoyed it.

Prasidh Krishna and Prithvi Raj:

AN: I think he has been a revelation, not being picked in the team and then coming in as a replacement for Kamlesh Nagarkoti and then the impact the kind of impact he made, playing for India-A, making his debut for Karnataka so it tells you the character he has. He is someone who is well balanced in his thought process and knows his game really well. For a bowler, when you speak to him he has a clear cut plan of what he wants to do and the way he is going to go about it. While he was here, the onus was to get his rhythm right with the white ball, Omkar was giving a few insights to him on the first day to get his rhythm right and Prasidh grabbed it pretty quickly and also got to play two big games: a quarter final and a semi-final in which he bowled well. He picked up something and did well in the game, which makes us feel happy that someone learned something and executed in the game and got the results. It makes it easier us for us and him to understand that we are on the right track. He got some batting time as well, showed us some glimpses of his VVS Laxman flicks, but on a serious note it was good to have him after a long season, being with the boys soaking in the KKR culture, It was good to see Prasidh and Prithvi together, you could see a bond growing there between two youngsters. That's what it's about, it's also about cricket but it's also about that bond which we can build before the season starts. I think in tough situations for the team, this is what holds on and keeps them together.