Exclusive: We are here to make the IPL playoffs, says Royals' Sangakkara

Kumar Sangakkara, Rajasthan Royals’ Director of Cricket, with the players during a training session in Dubai. — Picture courtesy Rajasthan Royals
Kumar Sangakkara, Rajasthan Royals’ Director of Cricket, with the players during a training session in Dubai. — Picture courtesy Rajasthan Royals

Dubai - The Royals were in the fifth position with six points when the league was suspended in May


Rituraj Borkakoty

Published: Sun 19 Sep 2021, 2:14 AM

Despite the absence of their English superstars, Kumar Sangakkara says Rajasthan Royals have what it takes to reach the Indian Premier League (IPL) playoffs here in UAE.

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Sangakkara, the Royals’ Director of Cricket, was brimming with confidence ahead of his team’s first match against Punjab Kings on Tuesday.

The Royals were in the fifth position with six points when the league was suspended in May.

During an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times, the legendary Sri Lankan batsman said the aim will be to win majority of games to reach the playoff stage.

Players are getting used to the bubble life, moving from one to another, dealing with the quarantine rules. We would like to know your experience because you haven’t really taken many coaching jobs until the Royals assignment and the Abu Dhabi T10?

It’s very similar to the players. The players, of course, have spent much longer because if you are playing international cricket, it can go from one to the next in franchise cricket, that can also build up because there are so many franchise tournaments. But for me, it’s been bearable, the family is here with me. Otherwise, we have made sure we have stuff to do for players to relax and do other things that are interesting. We have specialist who monitor them, to see what they are doing, how they move, how it has affected them mentally and physically and then keep trying to help them in terms of support.

Your role involves not just coaching the first team, but overseeing the Royals project, their youth development. It’s been around eight months since you joined. How has been your experience so far?

It’s been excellent. I think it’s a very forward-thinking franchise, forward-thinking owners, board and a very professional set-up. There are suggestions on making improvements and refinements in terms of the structure, in terms of operations, in terms of acquisitions, in terms of data analysis and all these things that would go on to make Royals a really efficient and effective franchise. We look to acquire multiple brands under the portfolio, the first was the Barbados Royals. It’s an exciting time to be part of it.

Coming back to this tournament, it’s a new situation of having to restart a season with each team playing almost half of their matches already. How challenging could it be to motivate the players after the four-month disruption?

It’s not very difficult to motivate the players at all. They come very highly motivated. There is a lot to play for in terms of the season. A World T20 is coming up as well. They have got to be in form because the players are in their (respective World Cup) squads. So motivating them is not a problem at all. At the Royals, we stay very relaxed and focused, we are quite unemotional when it comes to results as long as we play good cricket. So it’s about getting our tactics, strategy and selection combinations right. And then the players are free to go and express themselves.

The Royals will be missing Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer. You have got some good replacement players. In terms of tactics and getting the balance right, how crucial will it be to figure out your best team quickly with just seven games left in the tournament?

It’s crucial, any part, whether you have the players or the replacement players. We had injuries throughout the first half of the IPL, and players who had to withdraw and leave early. So we have players who couldn’t turn up this time as well. But the players we do have are more than capable of doing the job and helping us become a better side. We just need to perform really well. And the combinations, strategies and tactics, getting them right is crucial irrespective of the players you have.

The Royals were the fifth spot on the table when the season was suspended. Now with seven games left in the second half, are you confident of reaching the playoffs?

We have to win a majority of the seven matches. That’s the simplest way of looking at it, try from game one to see if we can win. We will try to do everything because we are out here to make the playoffs. That’s the big ambition. But to do that, we need to win those games. If you have the games, you have to try and win the majority of them.

The Royals have some fine young players that could soon wear the Indian colours. How has been your experience working with them?

It’s been really, really good. Excellent. The quality of young players in (Yashasvi) Jaiswal, (Mahipal) Lomror, (Anuj) Rawat, (Kartik) Tyagi, Chetan (Sakariya), Akash Singh, Kuldip (Yadav), you know, the list goes on. There is Riyan Parag as well. There is so much to kind of take in and there is so much to do in terms of supporting them. They are all very special talents and we are trying to give them the best opportunities. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to have everyone playing and it’s never going to be easy. But it’s the IPL, it’s not about getting everyone to play. It’s about those who are selected, it's about making sure they are ready to go out there and do what the team needs them to do.

During an interview with Khaleej Times last year, RR lead owner Manoj Badale said he was proud of the franchise's culture of developing young talent. But he also wants the Royals to develop the culture of winning, like Mumbai Indians. What are the areas you think RR need to work on in the long run to be competing consistently every season for the trophy?

There are a lot of moving parts in a franchise. Rajasthan Royals as a franchise has to be about setting up a really good culture, the ethos that helps support and develop players, give them the freedom. So having a very settled side, making the right choices in the auction, having the culture that’s not changed from one result to another, but setting something that’s excellent for the long term. Those are the real key points we are looking at as we go ahead. Of course, innovation, forward-thinking, creativity, lot of imagination goes into the thinking of how we can do things differently and not just differently, but better. So there’s a lot of thinking and planning to do, but we are on our way.

Your friendship with Mahela Jayawardene is quite legendary. As teammates, you had so many memorable moments, magical partnerships. But now you are IPL rivals. How is it like to make those tactical moves from the dugout against your best friend in cricket?

I don’t think he or I look at it that way. We don’t play against each other, the teams do, the players do, so it’s about what happens out in the middle, it’s not personal. It’s not about trying to get one over someone else. It’s about trying to do the best for your side and getting them ready to win. The side that plays better cricket on the day will win.

We know you are a huge fan of Brian Lara who never got to play IPL. Who were the players from the pre-T20 era that you think would have been rock stars in IPL?

Going by ability, Aravinda de Silva, Brian Lara, Viv Richards, Gary Sobers, Don Bradman. The list goes on. It’s not just a small group of players. Ian Botham, you know, so many from so many countries who would have done extremely well. The Saeed Anwars, Imran Khans. You can take your pick. The list is long.

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