In the glitz, glamour and cricketing gaiety of the Indian Premier League, there are heroes in the backdrop who blend seamlessly with the men toiling hard on the field - in their merriment as well as in their sorrows. These are men who work tirelessly to ensure fans have a reason to smile and yet, mostly, take the blame when they don't. The role of coaches so far, in six editions of the IPL, is fitting to put them in the category of unsung heroes. Their impact on teams has been enormously significant. (Can IPL 2014 rise above scams)
Here are the top-five coaches who will be under the spotlight in this year's IPL:
Gary Kirsten, Delhi Daredevils:
No other coach in the Indian Premier League can claim to have as much experience in the sub-continent as Gary Kirsten. Delhi may well have the biggest trump card in the form of this coach - one who has the credentials of leading Team India to the 50-over World Cup in 2011. (Opening game tickets sold out)
Kirsten, who was a prolific player for South Africa during his younger days is still known best for his role of marshaling and galvanising cricket players as coach, especially in India. Such is his charisma that interim BCCI president Sunil Gavaskar had recently - before becoming the joint-chief of the Indian board, said that Team India needs someone like Kirsten again. "Kirsten was enormously respected by the players because he had done the hard yards in both forms of the game," wrote the former India captain in a column for a national daily. "Kirsten knew the value of practicing to get better and under him the training sessions were competitive, productive and enjoyable." (Kevin Pietersen to prove fitness)
The Delhi Daredevils, who finished last in the 2013 IPL season after being one of the most consistent teams in the previous five editions, are in need of someone like the 46-year-old Kirsten, a man making his debut in the cash-rich Indian T20 league. "IPL requires a lot more intensity. It's a new challenge for me and I am looking forward to it," he said recently. "It's good to be back in India personally. I always knew that I was going to come back sometime." For someone who is as eager as this man, the sky truly may be the limit.
Stephen Fleming, Chennai Super Kings:
One of the youngest coaches in the IPL, 41-year-old Fleming is also perhaps the most successful. The former Kiwi captain has been associated with the Chennai franchise since the inaugural edition in 2008 when he featured as a player (196 runs from 10 matches at an average of 21.77). A year later, he was appointed as coach, helping the side to two IPL titles (2010 and 2011) and the Champions League title in 2010.
Fleming has had the comfort of having stellar players in the side apart from India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the captain of the IPL team. The manner in which he has converged ideas and transformed them into results however, has been nothing short of phenomenal.
It will be interesting to see whether the Kiwi can maintain his composure despite the off-field controversies that the Chennai franchise has had its fair share of preceding IPL 7. With CSK barely escaping a ban, former team official Gurunath Meiyappan charged with spot-fixing and betting, and Dhoni being accused of "covering up" in his statements to the IPL probe panel, Fleming has already admitted that distractions are a dime a dozen. "There's a lot going on, I won't lie. There are a lot of distractions. I think we were all uncertain about how it was going to play out," he was quoted as saying by a cricket website recently.
CSK nevertheless begin this tournament like every other - as one of the favourites. The weight of expectations would be heavy once again but the task of meeting the challenges head-on would be a prospect that a calm and composed Fleming would look forward to. (Fleming admits to distractions off the field for CSK)
Sanjay Bangar, Kings XI Punjab:
He may not have taken international cricket by storm in his 12 Tests and 15 ODIs for India but Sanjay Bangar has been a force to reckon with in the domestic circuit. Appointed Kings XI's assistant coach this year, Bangar may be underrated when compared to other coaches in the league - a fact that could make him the most dangerous as well.
Being the only Indian coach in the tournament can be as much of a bane as it can be a boon for him on a personal front. Knowledge of local conditions, ability to communicate well with domestic players and an in-depth knowledge of players' weaknesses in the opposing teams can make him indispensable for KXIP. The pressure of mentoring a side that has never been taken too seriously though can also make his task tougher.
Bangar, who has also mentored players in the National Cricket Academy and coached the India 'A' team, has skilled players at his disposal with Australia's T20 captain George Bailey as Kings XI Punjab skipper for this year's IPL. At 41, an enthusiastic Bangar can seek to infuse the team with fresh ideas, blend local players' raw skills with the finesse of international stars and take this team forward in a way that may leave critics stunned.
Trevor Bayliss, Kolkata Knight Riders:
At 51, Trevor Bayliss has 'been there, done that'. The middle-order batsman from New South Wales may not have played for the national team but has impressive first-class credentials - 3060 runs from 58 matches at an average of 35.58.
Bayliss, however, is renowned for his coaching skills and has extensively worked with teams in the sub-continent. After coaching the Sri Lankan national team - a role he left after the team finished second best to India in the 50-over World Cup, Bayliss took over the reigns of KKR and took the team to the title. In the same year, he coached Sydney Sixers too and the team won the Big Bash - the 'magic' clearly charming both players as well as fans. (Bowlers will win us games: Gambhir)
The team once again, has the likes of Gautam Gambhir (skipper), Jacques Kallis, Yusuf Pathan and allrounders Ryan ten Doeschate and Shakib al Hasan. These were the players who contributed to KKR's fairytale script in 2012 under Bayliss' guidance. And this year, the coach is confident that the team can stage an encore.
John Wright, Mumbai Indians:
He is last on this list because the expected best are usually reserved for the last! Coaching defending champions Mumbai Indians cannot be an easy task for Kiwi John Wright. But when has this man been known to duck away from a challenge?
A genial man as far as appearances go, Wright has a mind of a genius and like Kirsten, did wonders for the Indian national team between 2000 and 2005. Appointed coach of the Mumbai Indians in January 2013, Wright delivered almost immediately as Mumbai welcomed the IPL trophy at long last.
This year though, Wright will have to deal with the disappointment of not having legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar - at least as a player. While Tendulkar has been monitoring the training sessions of the side, Wright has his own set of ideas that have a proven track record of doing wonders. As if these are not enough, he has a great blend of power-hitters and skilled bowlers apart from Jonty Rhodes as the fielding coach. A complete package indeed. (Tendulkar monitors Mumbai training)
The other coaches in the Indian Premier League are fierce competitors too. The likes of Tom Moody (Sunrisers Hyderabad), Daniel Vettori (Royal Challengers Bangalore) and Paddy Upton (Rajasthan Royals) are known for their cricketing brains that can propel their respective teams to glory. Cricket may be a sport of 11 men but it is also an art - and the one man who paints the best masterpiece will take the highest award.