Often in cricket, the sustained success of a team over a longer period of time is often attributed to the fine chemistry between a captain and coach. Allan Border-Bob Simpson, Hansie Cronje-Bob Woolmer, Steve Waugh/Ponting-John Buchanan, Sourav Ganguly-John Wright, MS Dhoni-Gary Kirsten and even Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri for that matter may instantly come to your mind when you think about some of the finest pair of a captain and coach from international cricket in the last five decades.
With the emergence of several T20 leagues across the world in the last one decade, the challenges for a coach or captain were how to strike a rapport in a short period of time so that team can attain their goals. The pair of Dhoni and Fleming didn’t have to face any such issues. In the history of Indian Premier League, none can beat the longevity and success rate of the Dhoni-Fleming association which started in 2009 and continues till this date. Along the way, they managed to win four titles and also were runners up for a record number of times in the tournament’s history as well.
And, the second most successful pair in the IPL has been the duo of Rohit Sharma and Mahela Jayawardena with three trophies. And then there was another Indian-overseas pair of Gautam Gambhir and Trevor Bayliss who won two trophies in the IPL.
Ironically, in the last 15 years there was no Indian head coach who could boast about winning an IPL trophy and thence there was never a triumphant all-Indian duo of captain-coach in the IPL. With Gujarat Titans’ win in 2022, a new beginning can be seen in that context.
Neither Ashish Nehra nor Hardik Pandya ever had the experience of head coach or captain and yet they were superb in their first outing. “We have hit a six in the very first year. We became the champions and can’t be prouder. People said our batting and bowling aren’t that strong, but since we won the trophy, everything is good,” Hardik was quoted as saying in the IPLT20.com, the official website of the tournament. When Pandya was praising Nehra profusely, Nehra felt awkward and hilariously signed of the interview. “There’s nothing of such sort, it’s a lie,” Nehra signed off with a mischievous smile on his face.
So, what made them tick? “I and my brother (Krunal) were having a chat before we signed anything. I said, someone who can understand me and know me as a person and kind of get the best out of me would be Ashish Nehra. So, for me, playing and spending so much time with him is always fun and I’ve always enjoyed his company no matter what,” said Pandya of his coach and former team-mate.
“Our cricketing minds work in a similar fashion. He is someone who spends so much time looking after people (and) that is a fantastic quality. He makes sure he gives ample time to every individual,” Nehra added.
Undoubtedly, the trust factor between captain and coach is the most critical element in a tournament like IPL. While in international cricket, it is not necessary that captain and coach have to like each other, the shorter duration of the IPL almost makes it a pre-requisite.
Almost a decade back, KKR coach Trevor Bayliss had expressed his equation with captain Gambhir when the franchise was yet to win a trophy. “I sense that we share the same mentality and think likewise,” Bayliss had said in his first media interaction after joining the IPL outfit. In the next three years, the Gambhir-Bayliss duo won two trophies for Shah Rukh Khan in the IPL.
“We also don’t have long meetings. Yes, we have certain meetings because that has to be a planning you can fall back to when things are not going well,” Mahela Jayewardene, the Mumbai Indians coach had revealed on Sony Network for their show Pit Stop in 2020 about his professional chemistry with captain Rohit Sharma which has got 3 IPL trophies.
The Pandya-Nehra jodi is like Rohit-Jayawardene pair which doesn’t believe in too much planning and meetings. However, Hardik’s natural leadership style is deeply influenced by Mahi bhai and Nehra in his own way is very much similar to Fleming. Both are proven and an astute thinker of the game also they are great man-managers. The only difference is that while Fleming is quiet, Nehra is opposite but both of them have their captains’ blind trusts. One can see the shades of Dhoni-Fleming ways in the Pandya-Nehra pair.
As it helped enormously that both Dhoni and Fleming were teammates for CSK in 2008, Pandya made his debut when Nehra was still playing international cricket in his late 30s. “MS Dhoni handles me,” Fleming had said with a smile after IPL 2018. “It is about man-management. When he goes on the field, he can do those things. There’s a lot of trust as well and it's a nice relationship to have with him,” said the former New Zealand skipper on Dhoni’s style of leadership.
The Pandya-Nehra duo have got a dream start in this IPL but they must be aware that fortune and results often change dramatically in IPL one season after another. All the accomplished captain-coach partnership has also gone through some abysmal lows and that is the time when the camaraderie is taste in real way. That is one test which Pandya-Nehra may have to face in coming seasons and if they can still hold each other in the mutually respectable ways, one can be sure that like CSK, MI and KKR in the IPL, GT too can show that the Pandya-Nehra twosome is not just one season wonder kind of pair.
With so much talk about intent, approach and templates in T20s, so glad that a team that played old-school, percentage cricket is IPL champion.
Skeptics abounded when Pandya was made the captain. He proved all of them wrong. He led from the front, read match situations astutely, inspired the out from his players
2014 - Hardik Pandya is unsold. 2022 - Hardik Pandya captains GT to title win Hardik Pandya becomes the first player whose IPL began as an unsold player and went on to captain a team to the trophy.