'We have already created pressure on opposition'

Cricket Ranji Trophy: Karnataka ready to tackle new season's challenges: Arun Kumar

'We have already created pressure on opposition'

Karnataka will begin their Ranji Trophy title defence against Tamil Nadu on Sunday here at the M Chinnaswamy stadium.

Their batting coach J Arun Kumar spoke to Deccan Herald on his team’s preparations and expectations ahead of the 2014-15 season. Excerpts:

Karnataka have won three titles last year, and have already defended the Vijay Hazare Trophy. What’s the secret behind the consistency?

Winning is a habit and once we started winning, the belief came within the team.
The most important aspect has been the seniors -- they have been very pro-active and motivated. Seniors like Vinay, Robin, Mithun, and CM Gautam are self-motivated, and setting an example on how to approach the game. Watching these seniors can teach them how to fight against top opponents at this level. So, a real good cricketing culture has set in because of them.

That many of the youngsters are knocking on the doors of the national team too makes a difference. Young guys like KL Rahul or Karun Nair are not satisfied with 50s or 60s, they want the big scores. If you set 100 as your target, somewhere you will be sastisfied with 50s or 60s. They are looking beyond that and hungry minds are a good sign for our team. Their work ethic too has been impressive.

A batsman spends at least an hour at the nets before going to the bowling machine. It might look tough from outside but we want to waste as less time as possible. Hopefully, we can maintain that intensity in the coming season as well.

Over the last three seasons, the core of the team has remained unchanged. How important is that continuity factor?

I have always believed in that. You cannot make too many changes to a side in one season. Last season we had 19 guys and we juggled them around. A largely unchanged squad can build trust between the coach and the players. But there have been changes within the set-up. At certain stages we were forced to adopt the horses for courses strategy because certain guys are good on certain wickets.

If we think one particular batsman is good against spin, we will play him in tracks assisting spinners. It worked well for us so far. Of course, there will be setbacks. But we are ready for the challenges ahead.

After the unprecedented success last season, Karnataka are now the top side in domestic circuit. Is this team comfortable being labelled as the favourites?

Why not? We are taking it as a bonus. We know that we are a good team. There will obviously be a lot of focus on us. But we are not looking at it as a pressure-generating factor. Pressure is self-imposed. We are not thinking about being the defending champions or winning those three titles last season. We are focusing on playing the best cricket we can so that you don’t get demoralised in the next game in case of a defeat.

Even if we lose one game, we should be able to walk into the next game with the belief that we can turn it around. We want to get the message across the opponents that we are a fiercely competitive side. We are ready to take on anybody. That attitude scars the opposition. I think we have already created a bit of pressure on the opposition, and that’s a good enough start to get into the season.

But is it scary to have fans placing a lot of faith on your squad all of a sudden?

(Laughs). Oh no no! We might have done something to deserve that kind of expectation from people. Yes, at present we are the most formidable state side. If you look at Karnataka players in this squad of 16, they can walk into any State side. That shows our bench strength. So, the guys in the playing eleven will not take their place for granted, looking to perform as consistently as possible. So, those expectations on us come from our consistency that stems from our self-belief.

How do you plan to deal with the absence of KL Rahul (on India duty in Australia) and Amit Verma (now playing for Kerala)?

Yes, we will miss KL. But we are looking at Mayank Agarwal, Shishir Bhavane, Kunal Kapoor and R Samarth to come good this season in the opening and few slots down. Apart from Shishir, all those guys have played Ranji Trophy and Kunal had back-to-back hundred against Haryana. Hopefully, Mayank will give us a good platform so that the rest of the batsmen can build on and make totals of 450 or so, that I feel is a good enough total for our bowlers to dominate the opposition.

Amit is the kind of guy who gets big runs once he settles down. We have seen a bit of Amit in Shishir. Samarth has been quite consistent last year, getting five hundreds in a row. I hope they can deliver for us.

Mayank Agarwal seems to have matured as a batsman...a good sign ahead of the season?

Mayank is ready for the next step. He has faced some quality bowlers in the IPL so his confidence level is higher. He is natural stroke-player. As a coach, I believe that the best way to get the best out of a player is not to curb his natural tendencies. Mayank is not a KL Rahul-type player, so I let him follow his aggressive instincts. I believe in three Cs -- confidence, calmness and calculative.

They are very important for a batsman. If Mayank can keep the ball on the ground and be a bit more calculative he will be even more devastating. I think he’s mature enough to do that now. He got that 162 in the Subbiah Pilliai Trophy against Andhra, he hardly hit a ball in the air. He has realised that he can get big runs even if he hits through the ground.

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