Nepali young lads are the best in Asia: Jonty Rhodes
South Africa cricket legend Jonty Rhodes along with former West Indies and Afghanistan coach Ryan Maron arrived in Nepal a week ago to lead a 10-day high-performance coaching camp for select few young players at TU international cricket ground, Kathmandu, organized by Sports ED and Nepal Cricket School (NCS).
Both Rhodes and Maron were impressed by the level of competence and intensity showed by the young Nepali players five days into the camp. The duo was joined by Nepal’s national U-19 cricketers on Sunday. Rhodes was not shy of quoting the bunch of players as one of the bests in Asia. The likes of Trit Raj Das, Pawan Sarraf, and captain Aasif Sheikh were present in the camp.
Kalam Ali, Dipendra Chaudhary and other assistant coaches from Nepal were all positive and appreciative of the guest coaches. “Players tend not to concentrate on things told by local coaches but they are extra attentive when foreign coaches say the same thing. The seriousness and focus is bit more than usual,” said Ali after the training session for Sunday was over. “There is a different excitement in kids. Jonty (Rhodes) is one of the greats of his time, be it batting or bowling. We can see hunger in the players to learn new things. No fuss about sessions being long, no tiredness among players.”
However, former fast bowler of Nepal Ali was aware of the fact that the camp would not make overnight changes. He said for any lasting improvement local coaches needed to follow a gradual approach and impart knowledge even after the departure of the foreign coaches. “You won’t see dynamic changes in 10 days; it requires a process that is needed to be carried out over time. If one can follow the same regime throughout the year, it will definitely help them.”
How has the experience been so far?
The experience has been amazing. A different country and a different culture are always very exciting. I also visited the monkey temple (Swayambhunath). It has been a privilege to work with these guys and obviously Jonty Rhodes. I look forward to see these guys grow as persons and cricketers.
How did you end up in this part of world?
It is more of Jonty’s (Rhodes’) connection. I was not supposed to be here but Jonty asked me and it was a last minute decision. I have loved it being here. I have already spent nine awesome days here and looking forward for more such days.
How are the young players you are working with?
The enthusiasm and teamwork has been amazing among the cohesive bunch of kids. I think, with the right structure and right opportunities, these guys can go ahead and compete in the world stage.
What about the coaches?
Coaches have been very keen. They are like sponges. They like to grab as much information as they can. They provide as much constructive feedback as possible. It has been a pleasure working with them.
How different or similar these players are compared to your time in Afghanistan?
These guys are hungry, keen and willing to work very much like Afghanistan’s. They are committed. It is pretty similar. They are eager to learn. They want to keep improving. There are no ifs and buts, there is no moaning. They push themselves out of the comfort zones. They show great respect.
If these guys can keep working hard, keep their heads and shoulders up and remain committed and motivated, they are good enough to knock over some bigger countries. These guys can go a long way. The infrastructure and support from the top needs to start happening. You need matches, which is the only way you can learn. You learn through experience. I would like to see the guys touring and playing as much cricket as possible.
Are you open for a role in Nepal’s national team?
I would love to get involved with Nepal. I had few meetings with academies here. They just need to give proper facilities, and right structure to play.
How did all this happen? How did you end up in Nepal?
I have been Mumbai Indians coach for nine years. Not season 1 and not season 11. I have spent a lot of time in India and I have strong network there. NCS came to MCA asking for assistance in development of cricket in Nepal. That was the key for me — not just NCS but for overall cricket for young players in Nepal. I had a chat with my wife. I am tired of working with only 24 players. I was not involved with IPL this year. It is a very limited impact.
I want to coach the coaches here. When we leave after 10 days, the coaches need to sustain it. It was the problem in IPL. We used to put up camps for young players since most of the established internationals used to be away in duties. By the end of the fourth week we will start to see the results, such as a big difference in fielding or other aspects.
After the IPL, teams used to go back to what they were for rest of the year. Players get lazy at times. The current Nepali U-19 kids are amazing at batting or bowling. I think it shows how coaches have done a good work here. The important thing is — we need to have 5 to 6 coaches. The skills are to be continued. You can’t make an impact in 10 days. It needs to be carried on.
What is your opinion about Yo-Yo test? Is it important to make it mandatory?
Ambati Rayudu failed the yo-yo test and missed the England tour. He had a great IPL. So fitness is a key part. There are different standards for different age groups but without fitness you are going to get tired, irrespective of how talented you are or how well you are at batting or bowling. Fitness builds a base for recovery when you are training hard or have a good run of form. Back in my time, I was a hockey player and Hansie Cronje was the only guy who trained with 800-meter runners. It doesn’t help you in cricket skills but develops speed and endurance. I was fortunate to have better fitness due to hockey. Speed is the key for me in cricket. The yo-yo test or whatever it may be, it is at least a standard.
How are these kids compared to young players of other Asian countries?
You need to compare Nepal’s population with India. But what concerns me is that school kids are not playing matches here. You can practice in academies and attend camps before the international matches but the player learns a great deal from matches. That is the big difference in Nepal and other cricketing countries. If this is the squad we are working with, the 10 guys (Nepal U-19 national team players), then I haven’t seen better than this anywhere else in Asia. They are really better than some of the international teams. It helps when you are 19, you can throw yourself around, but there is no fear whatsoever from the fielding point of view. These guys have to be best fielding team in Asia at this level, really. Ryan and I are very excited to see their skills, energy, and commitment.
What are the immediate measures to improve Nepal’s scenario?
Obviously, facilities are required. Even if there is only a football ground, you can get a plastic material called flicx (portable pitch) to roll out on the grass. In India, you can see the space — there are 20 games going on. The guys are playing matches. That ‘Maidaan’ (ground) in Mumbai — it is full of people all the time. They train hard. You have to use the best of the facilities available. Get players hitting the ball in the grass and not into the nets. The indoor stuff doesn’t give a true perspective of the game. We are having simulations here. We are not allowing them to sweep, it is too easy, hit them down the ground. You need to develop options. The facilities are available in Nepal, government owned land, schools, etc. Flicx can be used in other sports grounds and can be rolled up and taken back. Even if you don’t play matches, just convince yourself that you have to bring the same intensity and discipline in training as well. Firstly, it is a mental thing; the ownership should come from players. And secondly, you always need to practice like a real match. Even if it is tennis ball, be aware of your game plan.
Have you heard about Nepali ‘Jonty Rhodes’ (Bhim Sarki)?
No. Is there one? It is really cool, I’m looking forward to meet him.
Are you open for any age level or senior coaching roles for national teams?
I have stayed away from national teams. I feel more like working with fringe players. With senior teams it is like working with 15 players. With age-level (U-16 and U-19) you get a group of players to work with and there I can make a difference as a coach or expert. My focus is on development. You need a pool of players. I wouldn’t take a role with national level seniors. I can keep coming back and work with them for 5-6 years rather than just a gig before a world cup or qualifiers. It is important for me to work on the development side.