Bengaluru, November 30: The 2016-17 Ranji Trophy: Kerala had won just one out of nine matches.
The 2017-18 Ranji Trophy: Kerala won five out of six matches and entered the quarterfinals, a first in their history, as the second placed team from Group B.
The difference: Presence of Dav Whatmore - a coach who needs no introduction. Whatmore took over as Kerala coach this season.
But mention that to Whatmore, he's quick to play down his part and give credit to the players. He thinks, rightly so too, that "this is their time." Mykhel caught up with Whatmore for a quick chat about his stint with Kerala.
Kerala have entered the Ranji Trophy quarterfinals for the first time in their history. What it means to you and the team?
This feat means a lot to the team because they have been playing for a long time and the reward came this season. Of course, this is a first in their history so I can see the enjoyment in the boys. I can see the excitement and a sense of achievement in them. I share all of it and it's their moment and happy to be a part of their journey.
How different it is to coach an international team and a state team?
The main difference is that there is an in season and off season with a state team. You know what the competition is. In the lead up to the four-day tournament, you know when it is finishing, the dates of knockout and then you can prepare for the white ball stuff. Whereas in international cricket, you have three different formats in one series and players come and go, you change the personnel in a short period of time. Here, it's all about in season, off season and you are not mixing it up too much.
As a World Cup winner, you have a big reputation as coach and possibly the players were in awe of you. How did you manage to create a bond with them?
I really like to make a difference to the team that I am part of whether it is international or state. Coaching players is similar but for that aforementioned in season and off season. So, it does not matter whether you are coaching an international team or a state team as it's all about eking out the best from the players.
You've initiated some team bonding exercises and how far that helped you creating a connection with the players?
Team bonding...yeah, you can give such steps several names. Basically, we have some time together and it came at the right time. It's nice that we can have a laugh together and work hard. If you don't have some fun amidst all that rigorous training it will be boring. I can't operate without a laugh and the players appreciate that and relax around me. It's important in the coach-player relation.
A primary example of your approach seems to be Sanju Samson. Sanju was off-colour during the last season for a variety of reasons and this season he is a different player. Sanju has scored 577 runs from six matches at 57.70 with two 100s. Did you work with him individually?
I don't think I have done anything differently and I just did what I do normally. Sanju is a very special talent. We need players like that to be more consistent. If you are that special talent like Sanju and consistent, then you are going to put more pressure on the opposition. That's what happened with Sanju this season.
"He was able to manage his expectation, he was able to manage his preparation and he has been working hard on a lot of things and I have to tell you that he deserves a lot of credit. I have been trying to create the right environment for everybody and give them the opportunity to come out and perform. They don't need to fear that after one failure they will get (laughs) bambooed. They may still get it but the at the right time.
So, what made you accept the Kerala job?
Every job has its own challenges, unique in its own way. I have been with the Sri Ramachandra University in Chennai and we came together for an international cricket academy - a wonderful facility. JK Mahendra was instrumental in this move happening months ago.
"And along with him, Ramesh Subramaniam, who has been with the Sri Ramachandra University Center of Sports Science, and the Kerala Cricket Association, was the common factor. The kids (at the academy) was back in the school and I thought it was a bit nice to retain my coaching touch through a state team and that's how it happened.
Finally, how will you keep the players calm considering they could be excited ahead of the quarterfinals, a first in the state's history?
I don't see any pressure point out of expectations on this team. We will approach this game just like any other and will prepare just as we did in the past. The boys have got some time off and they are enjoying themselves with their families. Now, they report on December 3 (Sunday) and we have three days of practice and a game and yes, I don't see we are doing anything different in this match as well.