Hyderabad: Sunil Joshi was a somewhat surprise choice when Hyderabad appointed him the coach of their Ranji Trophy team at the start of the 2011-12 season. Joshi, the former India and Karnataka left-arm spinner, hadn't yet retired from first-class cricket, and had had no prior experience of coaching at the first-class level, and the sceptics wondered if the Hyderabad Cricket Association had got it right.
In only his second match as coach, with Hyderabad languishing in the Plate Division, Joshi oversaw his team being rolled over for 124 and 54 by Maharashtra at the Rajiv Gandhi International Cricket Stadium in Uppal, not quite the ideal start to his campaign. However, it didn't take long for him to make an impact; midway through the season, the Hyderabad team had started to buy into his vision and thinking, and they completed their remarkable turnaround by making it to the final of the Plate Division, thereby securing a place in the quarterfinals of the tournament proper.
Joshi’s positivity and his repeated emphasis on team above self has slowly sunk into the Hyderabad psyche. There is excitement in his voice when he talks of the potential that asks to be tapped within the Hyderabad set-up, and there is admiration in VVS Laxman’s voice when he talks of Joshi’s work ethics and the sense of belonging and purpose he has instilled in the team's ranks.
Different coaches use different methods to gee up the team. Apart from motivational speeches and team-building exercises, Joshi has hit upon the written medium to inspire his wards.
The Hyderabad dressing room is full of charts and messages. There are suggestions for batsmen and bowlers, or mantras as Joshi calls them.
"When the guys keep looking at it over a period of time, they are bound to take those on board," he explains. "Obviously, nothing happens overnight. It's not as if you can write out these mantras and the players can follow them instantaneously. But with time and exposure, these mantras will sink in."
As if to drive his point home, Joshi speaks of the mantras for batting that are clearly delineated. "There are four basic tenets," he says. "Taking it session by session, playing one ball at a time, rotating the strike and batting with patience. We saw all those four being enacted in the match against Mumbai."
Hyderabad responded to Mumbai's 443 with a staggering 699, the first time in 12 years they had topped 600 in the Ranji Trophy. Their star performers were Akshath Reddy, the skipper who made 196, G Hanuma Vihari, the 19-year-old whose maiden first-class hundred ended at 191, and B Sandeep, a pugnacious left-hand bat who contributed 117. All of them batted time – Akshath spent 576 minutes, Vihari 496 and Sandeep 288 – and showed a maturity and composure way beyond their combined age of 60. Clearly, the messages on the dressing room board haven’t gone unnoticed.
Joshi has also devised charts that travel wherever the team travels. It's his own version of the honours board that adorns various grounds and contains names of performers.
"We have separate charts for fifties, hundreds, three-wicket hauls and five-wicket hauls," he says. "The first thing we do when we enter the dressing room before a match is to put up these charts. We keep adding the names of the achievers to the list. Those whose names are already there are motivated to feature regularly in the charts, those who haven’t yet made it are desperate to get there.
"I am hopeful that by the end of the season, all the charts will be full and will contain the names of almost every player in the side," Joshi says. "Who knows, as we go along, we might have to have more charts. We almost prepared a chart for double centurions in this game, but unfortunately both Akshath and Vihari missed out narrowly."
Despite their heroics against Mumbai, Hyderabad still bring up the foot of the Group A table. They had just two points from their first three games, and despite having boosted it to five, they face quite a task to stave off relegation. Their next three matches are on the road, starting with Valsad against Gujarat from December 1.
"I have told the boys to forget about the table and just go out and play," says Joshi. "It's important to have fun, enjoy yourself and give your best. Everywhere you go, the pitches will be different, the conditions will be different. We will have to adapt accordingly.
"It's very, very important not to get carried away by what happened in the Mumbai game," he adds. "What we can learn from this match is how we applied ourselves, and how we need to keep doing that game after game. We need to remain grounded, we need to be consistent."