Ahead of the 2020 Indian Premier League, we spoke to Rajasthan Royals coach and former Australia international Andrew McDonald about the tournament, England stars Jofra Archer and Jos Buttler, former Australia captain Steve Smith and cricket legend Shane Warne.
So, this year’s IPL was moved to Dubai because of the coronavirus pandemic and is taking place six months after its scheduled date. How’s Dubai treating you so far?
So far, so good! Clearly, the first part of it was to get everyone here safely. So far, so good in that respect, and we’ve obviously got the contingent from England arriving soon to give us a full squad. Hopefully that goes well and we can get cracking next week. I think all the boys are really excited to get into it after such a long lay-off.
It’s safe to say preparation hasn’t been ideal – you’re still waiting for some of your squad to arrive, while you’re going to have to get used to living and training in bio-secure bubbles…
Look, I guess it’s the same for everyone. We tried to look at the positives with the delay. We’ve had a new coaching staff come together and we made a few changes at the auction as well so we had some significant changes overall and I suppose if the IPL had taken place in April then potentially it would have been a bigger challenge to get that group connected and understand how the different coaches operate and get a better understanding of the players.
So during that time and that lay-off we got the opportunity to connect with the coaches and understand them better and for them to understand me as a head coach. The players were also able to connect so we feel that in a funny way we’re probably better prepared than we may have been had we assembled in March. In most competitions your international players arrive relatively late anyway but we’ve had almost a month with our local players plus David Miller who has been fantastic. It’s rare to get that kind of input.
Will it help having a large English and Australian contingent? Those guys have been playing more cricket than most recently…
One of the positives is definitely that those guys have been playing. That’s the advantage we probably do have. Clearly the challenge for our local players plus David Miller this month has been to get some kind of match sharpness. We’ve got limited practice games but we feel as though we’re doing the best we can. We’re trying to look at the positives and focus on what we are doing well rather than what we haven’t got or haven’t done. It’s quite easy in a Covid world to look at what you haven’t got but it really is the new norm and we’ve got to work our way through the problems it creates.
Rajasthan Royals have appointed Australia legend Shane Warne as a mentor for this tournament. How pleased are you to have someone of that experience around the squad?
It’s fantastic to have him involved. He’s pretty familiar with the franchise, he was here back in 2008 as captain when we won. He brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. We’ve got three leg-spinners and a couple of off-spinners, so within that space he will be absolutely fantastic. But also from a tactical space it will be great to bounce some ideas off him. He’s here for a limited time so we will tap into that as soon as we can. We’ve spoken over the last few weeks and we’re excited to be able to tap into that resource. We’re lucky to have him on board.
The Royals finished 7th last year, but were just one point outside the play-offs. Can you finish in the top-four this year?
Any time you sit back and reflect on a tournament, it’s about improvement. That starts before the auction and looking at which players you’re going to retain and sign. As you said, we weren’t far off last year. We want to have an opportunity to win the title. Everyone sets out to win. You don’t sit there and think “we just want to do this or that”, you want to win every competition you enter. We feel as though we’ve got some good depth to be able to navigate through the tournament. As always you need an element of luck so to say you can predict what’s going to happen is not rational but we believe we can genuinely compete.
As ever, all the squads look super strong. Do any teams stand out for you?
I think in a normal set-up, with no moving parts and bubbles, you can probably have an educated guess about what’s going to happen. But there’s been a lot of upsets in other sports during lockdown, probably because of those moving parts. So we feel that more than ever, things off the field are going to significantly influence what happens on the field. That’s our challenge, to make sure our players are in a safe and happy place, to make sure they’ve got time away from the game.
We don’t know how the players are going to react. Every squad looks strong on paper, but I think some teams aren’t going to perform probably in that predictable manner. It’s exciting. If you can make heads or tails of what’s going to happen, you’re a better judge than I am! All we can do is prepare properly.
You’ve appointed Steve Smith as captain. With the likes of Jos Buttler and Ben Stokes also in your squad, are you confident you’ve got the right man?
Yeah, definitely. He’s got some great support around him. To have depth in leadership is significant. They all bring something different too so to have that many leaders around will be great. That’s really exciting for me, to know that no challenge or problem will be too big for the group. We think we’ve got the right man for the job, but he’ll have ample support around him.
Jofra Archer is a T20 gun. You must be licking your lips at the prospect of working with him?
Absolutely. It’s great. That type of player just lights up the game. He’s compulsory viewing isn’t he? You don’t know what’s going to happen when he’s got the ball in his hand. He can turn games, as we saw during the Australia series. He can have such an impact. Sometimes he’s just too good for the opposition, which is an awful thought for batsmen, knowing you can get genuinely knocked over without doing much wrong.
Jos Buttler is another world-class player and has been in great form this summer…
Yeah, as you say he’s another player who is currently playing and that’s the real positive. He’s in good form so that’s a real positive for us. Jos is a significant player for us at the top of the order. He sets the tone. He’s a fantastic player and can take games away from the opponent. That benefit of having played recently and being match-hardened is a real positive. We can’t wait for that last contingent of players to arrive. I think they will give us a real boost just with their presence.
Will he open the batting?
Yeah, I think that’s his best position. Most of the other teams will be planning for him to bat at the top so I don’t think I’m giving much away there. He’s a guy who likes walking out and taking it on in that first six overs. That’s obviously a crucial part of the game, but he does have the flexibility to move up or down which can be beneficial. Not all players have that ability but he will mainly be opening.
How great will it be to welcome Ben Stokes into the camp, providing he can make the trip?
Clearly our thoughts are with Ben and his family. We don’t know what that looks like right now but if he were to join us and play, it would be great to work with him. But first and foremost, our thoughts are with him and his family during this difficult time. The focus isn’t on cricket. Clearly it will be a bonus if he does arrive, but thoughts are with him right now.
Lastly, you’ve had real success as a coach at Melbourne, Victoria and Leicestershire – but what challenges do you expect from your first IPL?
It’s the speed of the tournament. For me, it’s about managing the squad off the field. Tactically and physically, most coaches have that covered, but the big challenge is going to be keeping the group connected. We’ve got 12 new players and plenty of overseas guys so we need to get them going quickly. It’s one hell of a challenge this year.
Then it’s about pressure. You’ve got fans, stakeholders demanding results so as a coach you do feel alive. The IPL has an extra edge to it for sure. I don’t think there’s a bigger tournament in the world so I’m just really grateful to have this opportunity and thankful to Rajasthan but also the BCCI for getting the tournament up and running in the current landscape. Everyone should be pretty proud and may the best team win.
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