Ramesh Powar. ©Reuters
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Some Sri Lankan fans were still dancing at the Board Of Investment ground at Katunayake when Ramesh Powar sat down for this interview. India had just been beaten by the hosts for only the second time in their ODI history, so the mood was far from upbeat. And yet, Powar was not the least bit defensive.

Powar was handed the reins after Tushar Arothe was removed at the behest of some senior players. What can a coach do with a sour dressing room, a short-term contract, and a WT20 around the corner? Women’s CricZone tried to find out in this conversation, before the T20I leg of the series…  

What do you make of the series looking back?

It was well fought. Congratulations to Sri Lanka, coming back after 99 all-out to play hard cricket is commendable. We learned a lot from them; that if you can do basics right, you can beat any side.

You’ve been with the team for a while now, your first time in charge of a women’s team. What’s been your read?

After the Asia Cup, my job was to keep them together, keep them in a happy zone. In this series, I was looking for individual growth rather than the team (growth). Taniya (Bhatia), the way she batted, the way Mansi (Joshi) came back from injury -she bowled brilliantly in the second spell today also- we got a lot of positives.

This game showed that even 250 is not a safe score any more in ODIs. There seems to be the need for a different approach, certainly in T20Is. But do you think we need that for ODIs as well?

It’s funny. When you look at the first powerplay, we were on course. 254 was a par score here, I felt. I was a little disappointed with the bowling. We have the skill, but are not backing it; we are looking for a way out. I’m looking for wickets rather than dot balls from my team.

In the last game (2nd ODI), from  10.1 till the 35th over (36th) we didn’t get a wicket. This game also, the first wicket took us more than 20 overs. It is a worry that you’re not backing your skills. That’s what I’m pressing for. I think you have to take wickets to defend 250 or 200.

Does that thinking change for you in the T20Is, where dot balls are more valuable than in ODIs?

In T20 I want to see some variations: bouncers, yorkers. But then again, everyone has to understand modern cricket is about learning every day. It’s not about who you play. If a player is not looking at growth if we are not using our variations….

If you watch the whole game, slower-ones were difficult to hit. Yorkers were difficult to hit. To gauge this, that is the learning process for these young girls. I’m expecting them to learn quickly. (Here) you might get a five-game series, but in the World Cup, every ball is important.

You took over the team after some acrimony in the Asia Cup, to say the least. What is your read on the dressing room, then and now?

I still find they are not.. they don’t look a team, they are still finding their feet as a team. When you see Sri Lanka fielding, when they do their things, it’s different from what India is doing. When I took charge, that’s what I found, but the intensity (of that feeling) has gone down now. My job is to take them forward, it’s kind of a dual job: I have to work off the field as well as on their skills.

Is there any concern over some of the individual performances, like Harmanpreet’s inconsistency?

I’m not really concerned, because it’s mostly technical. Coming into the matches, addressing the technical issue in one day is kind of tough. The player has to be very sure about what is going wrong and what is not. Being Harman she knows what she’s doing, so it’s a matter of one inning. Every batter is different, some will take time if they are going through this. This is only a couple of innings.

The positive is that Smriti (Mandhana) is doing well. Young players like Hemalatha, Taniya (are performing). Mithali (Raj) as always has been performing. She’s very professional about it. I wish everyone learns how she prepares for the game, that’s one striking thing I’ve noticed. Chances are high that when she’s preparing that way she’ll succeed. We learn from the seniors, and I hope they learn. The way Smriti was preparing yesterday, that’s what we learn.

One player who has had a good start to her career but then has been in and out of the side is Jemimah Rodrigues. What have you made of her?

I wish I could play her every game. There are some restrictions when Punam Raut comes in, she’s the experienced player. Moving forward Jemi will get her chances. I don’t think she will sit out, at least not in my coaching stint. I’ll try and make her play, that’s what I’m looking for because Jemi is a player for the future. Hemalatha, Taniya, Radha Yadav, these are players for the future. Going forward to 2021, I’ll work for the future rather than doing things for the short term.

Speaking of short term, there is a WT20 coming up, and there surely will be expectations?

Honestly, I’m not thinking along the lines that ‘I have to win the World Cup’. If you prepare properly, if there’s purpose when you play your game, you’ll automatically get the result. I hope they get purpose from this loss and move forward with a positive mindset.

We saw you bowling a lot to Mandhana in the nets. Can you tell us what was going on?

It was more tactical. Smriti was playing against Shashikala (Siriwardena), the off-spinner who bowls consistently. She wanted to prepare for that, so she came to me and asked me, ‘Sir, can you bowl to me’. I was happy to oblige. That’s the way I like it. You have to show the desire to improve.

You’ve been given a contract just till the WT20. Is it hard for you to work in an environment where there’s no long-term security?

I work for job satisfaction. If you have seen my record, if I don’t get that job satisfaction, I’ll be out of here. It’s more about achieving things, but through certain ways: no shortcuts, but the hard way. If you put in hard yards, results will come, because this game is all about repetitions, good repetitions.

Good players will always play less and practice more. If Mithali bats 150 balls here (he points to the pitch), she prepares with 200 or more than 250 balls. That’s the way it is.

So it’s about trying to put in more than 200 per cent. There are some limitations: men’s cricket is different, women’s is different. Women’s finger strength, wrist strength, and overall body is different. If you’re trying to do some things quickly then they may suffer physically. So slowly and gradually you can build this team in the future. Don’t expect that something miraculous will happen in one month. It takes time to rebuild a team that has come down after the World Cup final.

You now move to T20Is where the team has a different captain. How does a coach adjust to switching captains?

It’s always about communication, and giving freedom and support to the captain. When Harman needs inputs about tactics or technique, I’m there to help. My job is to support the particular captain and be in line or on the same page as the captain. It doesn’t make any difference who’s captain, the process remains the same.

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