Despite qualifying for the playoffs, the Faf du Plessis-led side returned a mixed bag last year, though some players are making telling statements with the national squad. Dinesh Karthik’s career has received a second wind, pacer Mohammed Siraj is back after a lull, Harshal Patel is in the mix and Shahbaz Ahmed has earned his maiden India call-up.
In an exclusive chat with TOI, Mike Hesson, director of cricket operations of the Bengaluru-based franchise, spoke about the RCB players in focus, new initiatives, younger talent coming through and the team’s investment in the future.
RCB picked Shahbaz Ahmed when he was a relative unknown. How do you trace his progress?
Shahbaz has been a three-year project for us. It is important to realise that players develop at different rates. Our scouting system identified Shahbaz and he had the qualities we were looking for, the fighting characteristic being one of them. He is a multi-skilled player, he wants to get better and has thrived in our environment being surrounded by seasoned and quality players, who were willing to give their time to him. We are lucky we have a high-quality coaching set-up led by Sanjay Bangar. We spend a lot of time on individual development plans. Often, players can be a bit of a commodity (in the IPL). You get them for a year and you hope they score some runs and take wickets. We think differently. Once we invest in a player, we want to see them develop and derive a lot of pleasure seeing them play for India. We want them to perform for RCB but that is the stepping stone for them to play for India.
How was his role defined at the franchise?
Shahbaz had performed well from a domestic point of view and was getting better. He played a handful of games for us in different roles, so we narrowed it down and told him that we wanted him to own the middle overs with the bat and be able to attack the seamers and manipulate the spinners. From a bowling perspective, he should be able to bowl in the powerplay and also through the middle. We boosted his confidence by specifying his roles in the team rather than uncertainty of his position in the line-up.
The previous IPL season turned out to be a relaunch pad for Dinesh Karthik. How did he fit in?
DK came from the wilderness. We talked about giving clear directions and roles. So, he could plan with some real purpose. The results are there for everyone to see, not just in the IPL but for the Indian side as well. Prior to the auction, we reached out to DK and realised he was highly motivated to come and do well. He wanted to come on board and push his case to play for India with a specific role. Once we knew he was a highly motivated player who wanted to do better, work incredibly hard and we needed a finisher, we both came on board. We gave him a lot of clarity on the role we wanted him to play and told him, this is one role we want you to be an expert at.
Dinesh Karthik (Image credit: BCCI/IPL)
Did you specifically want him to fill the void left behind by AB de Villiers?
To get an Indian finisher was difficult. The role requires experience because there is a lot of pressure that needs to be absorbed. We had AB de Villiers who was outstanding in the role but there are very few players who are like ABD. For us to have an Indian player fulfil that role, we felt we needed somebody who would do it differently. DK is a different type of power player and not many thought of him as a power player. But we watched him closely from overs 15-20 and he did well in those overs. He hadn’t done particularly well when he was given other roles (before RCB) and we felt he had plenty to offer.
Having started the novel monthly camp, can you talk us through the process?
When we invest in a player, it is for a three-year cycle, when we choose to retain them. At the end of the period, we don’t want them to be the players they were at the start. We want to develop them and see them grow. Every player is given an individual development plan (IDP). From their strength and conditioning point of view to their resilience, power, skills and the ability to up their ante. We provide them support in an individual perspective because it is not a generic programme. We identify their roles and responsibilities and work accordingly. Some players are unable to attend all camps because of their national and domestic cricket commitments, such players are provided a platform to come in and out.
What do these camps entail?
The camps are for 3-5 days depending on various factors like availability of players, conditions, climate etc. A lot of sessions are about open competition and putting them under pressure. We try to have some practice games as well. It is also an opportunity for us to introduce new players into the system, assess them and see how they fit in. It helps in identifying players who we would be interested in investing in the future. With this, we also do away with the pre-auction trials. Cricket is about consistency and if you have a two-day camp, bring in 50-60 players, some exceptional players may not have good days. So, this is a platform where you bring together players in a common place over a sustained period and provide equal and ample opportunities.
The camps are monitored by our battery of coaches and support staff. Head coach Sanjay monitored the last camp. I will be there for the next one. We have (Sridharan) Sriram as well. They are also skill-specific. For example, for the pace bowlers camp, (Adam) Griffith will come over. Apart from what we do on the field, we also conduct various tests like the Dexa scan, blood work etc. We will also conduct them at various venues because we are hopeful of travelling around India during the next IPL. The previous one was at our home ground – M Chinnaswamy stadium and Alur stadium. The next one will be in Mumbai so the players get a feel of various conditions and pitches.
RCB also has an interns’ programme. Can you elaborate on it?
During the IPL season, we have 12-15 interns travelling with us. They help us with practice, are involved in warm-up games and during nets. These are players who we have identified through our scouting programme and we see them as potential RCB players. Within the IPL window, we assess those players and give them aspects of their game to work on. Then we bring back some of them for these camps.