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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

IPL 2022: Ashish Nehra, the mind behind Gujarat Titans' success, scripts history and breaks stereotypes

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The Hardik-Pandya led Gujarat Titans (GT) got their hands on the coveted Indian Premier League (IPL) trophy in their very first season after they beat Rajasthan Royals (RR) by seven wickets in the final at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on Sunday.

If Hardik was Gujarat’s hero on the field, off the field it was the support staff led by Nehra that played a vital role in GT winning the IPL title.

With the victory, Nehra etched his name on the history books of the cash-rich league. The former left-arm pacer became the first Indian head coach to win the IPL. Notably, in all the previous 14 editions of the IPL, the title-winning side had a foreign head coach but Nehra broke the pattern with GT this year.

The 43-year-old Nehra also became only the third cricketer to have won the IPL both as a head coach and as a player after Ricky Ponting and Shane Warne. Nehra played for Sunrisers Hyderabad when they won IPL in 2016 under David Warner’s captaincy. Ponting was a part of the Mumbai Indians squad when they won their maiden IPL title in 2013 and he was MI’s head coach when they won their second title in 2015. The legendary Shane Warne was both the coach and captain of the Rajasthan Royals when they won the inaugural edition in 2008.

Entering a highly-competitive league like the IPL as a new team and clinching the title in the very first season is a dream stuffy but it wasn’t easy. Watching the final Gujarat squad after the mega auction, most cricket pundits, analysts and even the fans didn’t give Gujarat much of a chance to finish in the top-four. Most experts felt that Gujarat, while assembling a good group, were a bit thin in their batting.

There were also apprehensions about Pandya’s bowling fitness as well as his captaincy skills, given that he had led only once in senior cricket previously. And remember, Nehra worked as the bowling coach of Royal Challengers Bangalore along with Gary Kirsten, who served as their head coach but both were sacked after the 2019 season.

Nehra even had become a ‘meme’ content for many social media users, who perhaps didn’t see him play and deliver for India at crucial junctures’ and just saw him as a cricket analyst.

But, the deadly captain and head coach duo of Hardik and Nehra along with Vikram Solan (Director of Cricket), Gary Kirsten (Batting coach and mentor) and other support staff of GT cracked the winning formula, put an end to all the doubts and won the trophy with sheer domination. In the whole tournament, Gujarat lost just four matches, out of the 16 games which they played, which shows their domination and class.

"It’s a great feeling. More than winning the trophy, the most important thing was the way we played and it was very heartening to see. Under your leadership, the boys gelled very well," Nehra told skipper Pandya in a fun interview after winning the trophy.

Meanwhile, mentor Gary Kirsten said he enjoyed working with Nehra, rating him as one of the finest tacticians going around.

"I’ve loved working with Ashish, he’s really strong tactically – trying to put a game plan together on the fly is not easy. There are so many variables in each game, but what I’ve enjoyed has been the responsibility players have taken to win games for us," Kirsten said.

Nehra’s success as the coach also broke many stereotypes, which were there in the IPL for a long long time.

In the history of IPL, it has been observed that franchises are obsessed with having a foreign head coach and they don’t trust the ability of an Indian guy in the main. There were only three Indians — Sanjay Bangar (RCB), Anil Kumble (PBKS) and Ashish Nehra (GT) — who served as the head coach of their respective franchises in IPL 2022. However, with the former Indian fast bowler getting success as a head coach with GT, the number could go up in the upcoming seasons.

Also, throughout the tournament, Nehra looked relaxed and was often spotted without a laptop or technology, reminding everyone that keeping things simple could also win team matches without "over-analysing" things.

In the modern cricketing era, coaches and captains have often been seen relying too much on data analytics, match-ups, especially in T20 cricket. There is no denying that technology helps in enhancing a few facets of the game, but too much reliance on the data can also complicate things. The basic cricketing instincts and reading the game situation well at the crucial junctures of the game still rule the cricket.

Overall, Nehra can become a role model for many coaches in terms of keeping things simple, believing in their abilities, taking tactical decisions and building a good environment in the dressing room.

–Ajit Weekly News <br>avn/cs

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