According to Royal Challengers Bangalore head coach Simon Katich, retaining the faith in young Indian players and wanting to get the right balance with respect to their overseas contingent are two aspects captain Virat Kohli has emphasised on.
The Royal Challengers have three uncapped Indian players in batsmen Devdutt Padikkal, Pavan Deshpande and allrounder Shahbaz Ahmed. Twenty-year old Padikkal, who was retained ahead of the auction, is also the youngest of the lot. Both him and Ahmed are coming off breakthrough domestic seasons and could potentially lend the kind of balance that Kohli is looking for.
"Once you see him [Kohli] up close and in person, you realise how calm and measured he is in terms of his thoughts to us with respect to the group [and] his knowledge of this group," Katich said. "That"s the beauty from our point of view. Coming into this group with a fresh set of eyes, we had our own opinions on the squad. Being able to get his insight and information on the squad was great.
"The other thing he"s got is passion and energy for this group, a real affinity. If you look back at the auction, we retained a lot of players despite the last few seasons not going to plan. The biggest change we"ve made is more so from the overseas contingent to try and balance the team. From that point of view, there"s a real belief from Virat that"s directed to this group and his backing of the local boys. That"s probably been the stand out thing for me."
On its part, the franchise has for the first time hired a sports psychologist, who is also part of the travelling contingent in the UAE. While there has been a lot of emphasis on mental conditioning for the overall squad, there has been a conscious effort to involve a lot with the younger players in particular. The Royal Challengers have also set up a digital platform for players, coaches and support staff to be in constant communication right through the pandemic.
"We actually identified the need to have some mental skills within our support staff well before the pandemic happened," team director Mike Hesson said. "We"re sort of ahead of the curve in respect to that with Dr. Chaitanya Sridhar coming onboard in January. We identified this would be something we needed to work on even in a normal IPL. We are well covered in that space. Yes, it"s not just players, it is [also] the support staff being away from their loved ones for such a long time [that] it is challenging for families. We are very fortunate these days with respect to Zoom and so forth. People at home are supportive of the fact that we are here to do a job. We need to help each other along the way over the next three months - it"ll be challenging times for everybody."
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Katich, meanwhile, stressed on the need for players to continue to embrace the uncertainties, while being able to prepare in the best possible way. "It"s a balancing act when you have a normal IPL in April-May," Katich said. "This season presents a different challenge because the guys are jumping out of their skins, get out there, train and do their best after six months off. A number of overseas players have been training regularly in different parts of the world depending on the severity of lockdown.
"But this challenge is more mental because cricketers aren"t used to having this much time off between games. The challenge is with younger players who are still learning their way and finding their routines. We have had to spend extra time over the last couple of months with them, using Dr Chaitanya Sridhar"s expertise."
With the players completing their week-long quarantine on Thursday, the team has a variety of net sessions, open wickets, match scenarios and intra-squad matches planned over the next three weeks at the ICC Academy. Outside of their training routine, and within the bio-bubble, Royal Challengers have also included tennis and basketball challenges as part of the "fun activities", apart from dedicating a team room for indoor games and playstation.
"Yeah, we"ve got some very creative people at RCB. So it all starts tomorrow night (Thursday) once we are released from quarantine," Katich laughed. "We"ve got a few team activities in our sort of team room, a tennis court downstairs. There"s going to be some football and table tennis, so a bit of a competition created.
"Obviously throughout the competition, we"ll have our social groups and units to keep the camaraderie in the group together. Obviously being in a bubble will be a challenge. At the same time, we"re also going to give the players the opportunity to make their own decision about how they socialise and things like that.
At the end of the day, it is a long time to be together and sometimes, it is important for people to have time to themselves to gather their thoughts and prepare for games. We"ll have a mixture, it"ll be a good balance."