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'Winning the IPL is not easy'

By HARISH KOTIAN
Last updated on: April 22, 2022 09:31 IST
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'The players all appreciate -- we all appreciate -- the fact that despite the pandemic and the restrictions, because of all of this protocol that has been put in place, the IPL season is still happening.'

IMAGE: Kolkata Knight Riders players celebrate a wicket during the IPL 2022 game against the Chennai Super Kings at the Wankhede stadium in Mumbai, March 26, 2022. Photograph: BCCI
 

Kolkata Knight Riders have emerged as one of the most-followed IPL teams, not only on the field but also off it.

Along with two IPL titles, KKR have taken the Knights brand globally with teams in the Caribbean Premier League, and also in the upcoming South Africa and US T20 leagues.

KKR narrowly missed out on the title last season, losing to the Chennai Super Kings in the final. But this year, with a change in some of their personnel, the Knights look like they have the team to go all the way in IPL 2022.

Shreyas Iyer, who was bought for a massive Rs 12.25 crore (Rs 122.5 million), has taken over the captaincy and under him KKR have emerged as one of the contenders for the title.

KKR CEO and Managing Director Venky Mysore has overseen the franchise's growth in the last 12 years. Under his management, KKR have made the play-off seven times in the last 11 years, while also growing as a brand around the world.

In an exclusive interview with Harish Kotian/Rediff.com, Venky Mysore details how the KKR team management has created the best possible environment for the players and support staff in the bio-bubble.

The first of a multi-part interview:

You must be happy with KKR's start in IPL 2022 so far.

It has been very good. When you when you get this type of a start early (it helps). Momentum is the key, we have seen that.

This is my 12th season with KKR, every year is a little different. But when you start well, it's still early days, but you know, it's always good to have the momentum going.

The trick is to keep the momentum going because other teams, they are also well balanced. So anything can happen and there are always some ups and downs that happen so, but really happy with the start.

I think credit should go to the preparation. The camp that we had, with (Assistant Coach) Abhishek Nayar and (Assistant Bowling Coach) Omkar Salvi and (Bowling Coach) Bharat Arun and all these guys, they were working very, very hard to work with our Indian boys to get the camp going.

So by the time Head Coach Brendon McCullum and (mentor David) Hussey and others joined, I think our boys were in fairly good (shape). The preparation was really good

The international players, with all the commitments that are going on, they have been playing a lot of cricket at a very competitive level so that was also a good thing. As long as people are playing cricket, even if they were not there for the camp, it doesn't really matter so much.

And I think the team environment has been good, people are in a good space. So fingers crossed, hopefully we can keep going.

Yes, keep going and maybe go all the way this year. KKR last won the IPL in 2014, and despite coming close a few times in the last few years, the title has remained elusive.

See, I always tell people that you know, we won two championships (IPL), we have gone to the final one more time; we lost last year. We have gone to the final of the Champions League T20.

What I realised is how difficult it is to win the IPL because a lot of things have to fall in place. You also need a little bit of the rub of the green.

Winning the IPL is not easy.

So when it comes, you just have to take it. So it's too early to think about those things right now, one game at a time.

Hopefully, the objective that you always set at the start of the season is that you need to be in the play-offs so that you can at least be in contention. That way, we have been very consistent. 11 years that I have been involved, we have made the play-offs seven times.

So it's important to be in the mix all the time because only if you qualify for the play-offs, then you have a chance to win the trophy, so that's the objective.

But the important thing is that you take it one game at a time, staying in the moment, playing well, just focusing on the job and then getting it done. The team knows what it's doing, the coaches know what they are doing, so our job is to keep supporting them.

This year, the format is different with 10 teams playing this season. So does that change the way you prepare?

In a way yes, and in a way no.

Yes, there are 10 teams. I personally have experienced this format in 2011 when we had 10 teams. The format is slightly different because still it is 14 games, every team plays only 14 games.

The only difference is that you play five teams twice and four teams once. I don't think that makes a real big difference, to be honest. You don't say that I would rather play this team versus that team and all that, so I don't think you prepare anything differently.

You are just aware of the fact, for example, we have played Chennai, whom we are playing only once. Similarly, we played against Punjab, and we will play them only once. We played against Mumbai, but we got to play them again. And then RCB, we played them, but we are playing them only once. So out of the four games we have played, the three teams we are playing only once.

I don't think that makes any major difference, it is something that we will have to just work through.

IMAGE: Kolkata Knight Riders CEO and Managing Director Venky Mysore. Photograph: BCCI

You are like the captain off the field. Tell us about the challenges of playing inside the bio-bubble because the IPL is a long tournament running for a couple of months.
How do you keep all the players motivated and fresh at all times because bio-bubbles can take a toll especially if things are not going well?

Needless to say, on the one hand, you look at the pandemic, you look at the bio-secure bubble, you look at the protocol of having to do multiple tests and quarantining and then you stay within the bubble. You are restricted on where you can go, where you cannot go, all of that is one part of it.

The players all appreciate -- we all appreciate -- the fact that despite the pandemic and the restrictions, because of all of this protocol that has been put in place, the IPL season is still happening.

Otherwise, what would have been the alternative? If the season didn't happen and we say, okay, let's wait for the pandemic to get over. I mean, these are all professionals who want to do their thing.

I think everyone feels very fortunate. While it is challenging, no doubt, but everyone feels fortunate that there is a season that's happening, there is an opportunity for them to do what they love the most. And therefore, without restrictions, they are able to, to still go and play. The crowds have come back, so all that is great.

So our job, when you say captain of off the field, my job and the team behind the scenes, what we do is to try and make it as comfortable for them as possible. My team has done an amazing job of anticipating every little thing.

We try to make it as comfortable for the players as possible, so that they don't have to worry about the little things. For example, they are new to the team room, the way it has been set up and all that.

We put like golf simulators in there, we put a pool table in there, there's a table tennis table, there are video games. Snacks, food and beverages are kept there. So people who want to just come and relax, it's a fairly large-sized room.

And then we have an exclusive dining area upstairs where it's nice and open, there are two terraces there so people can sit down if they want to just sit down, have a coffee and chat. It is a lounge type of setting so they don't have to be stuck in their rooms.

We have built a separate gym for the team because obviously the hotels's other guests cannot use the same gym. We have built a nice large gym... it's outstanding, I also use it so I know it is fantastic.

Our strength and conditioning coaches are always present to help any of the players. There is one very nice, large, lawn type of area which has been made available to us, so we have team dinners there. We have a little bit of room to move around. Some people go to just run there, jogging, things like that.

There is a very nice pool which has been exclusively kept for us -- part of it is indoors and part of it is outdoors, so it is large enough. There is some volleyball type of thing, you know, pool volleyball is played. So, everything that we do is designed to sort of make it as comfortable for them as possible.

And when we go for practice in the buses, once they get there they are happy because they are used to being on the on the field doing their thing. Like last game we traveled to Pune and it's a two-and-a-half-hour drive, but we managed to make sure that we got police escort and they created a green corridor so there were no stoppages, and there's a toilet in the bus.

Our boys did a great job of modifying the seating, we removed some of the seats and put beanbags there. So people could have a lot of legroom, sit in their seats, reclining seats, stretching their legs.

You do all these things, you anticipate what is needed, they put it all together, there is some music and entertainment and things like that.

It is about keeping everybody in as good a frame of mind as possible. That's our job. And that's where my team has done an amazing job in anticipating all these things and the players are very appreciative of that.

In spite of that, it is difficult for them and we fully understand that. We are trying to organise a golf outing, trying to see whether we can take them somewhere in an open air setting, maybe a restaurant or something, if IPL allows that using all the COVID protocol.

It is a long tournament, and we are doing it in India, so it is a little more challenging.

The last two seasons, we were in Abu Dhabi and there we were staying at one of the best hotels -- the Ritz Carlton, and it was different. It was a resort type of a hotel, and in a resort type of hotel, every room had a balcony, so people could come out and then there was a beach there, so people could actually go down and go to one section of the beach, which was reserved for us.

There was a separate pool, and there was an outdoor area where they could sit down and have a drink or dinner there, it was a little different and there were less people obviously.

Whereas the hotels in Mumbai are all very much like a business hotel, so they are slightly different. And therefore, all of these we knew were challenges, but it's great to be able to play in India

IMAGE: Crowd support for the Kolkata Knight Riders during the game against the Sunrisers Hyderabad at the Brabourne stadium in Mumbai, April 15, 2022. Photograph: BCCI

It is fantastic to play in India, and now they opened up the crowds, it started with 25% and now it is up to 50%. The players love playing in front of crowds and hopefully things will continue to stay under control and maybe some point in the tournament, who knows, maybe 100% capacity. It will be brilliant.

So that is kind of how things have worked out so far. We are doing everything we can to make it as comfortable for them as possible.

Then they are going out and doing what they know to do best and hopefully, we will keep going that way.

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HARISH KOTIAN / Rediff.com

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