~ The Sri Lankan legend spoke on a variety of topics including the learnings from first phase, English trio of Buttler, Stokes & Archer, Sanju’s captaincy & upcoming matches in the UAE ~ 

Dubai (UAE), 09 September 2021: Sri Lankan legend and Rajasthan Royals’ Director of Cricket Kumar Sangakkara arrived in the UAE earlier this week and is looking forward to resuming the season with a confident Royals squad who are placed fifth in the IPL points table.

Speaking from his hotel room, where he’s under quarantine with his family, Kumar said, “The first phase of the season had both positives and negatives for our team. It was a bit of a mixed bag with some injuries and pull-outs, but those are very understandable situations where you must support the players. After that, we were left in a different place to where we had envisioned ourselves after a great Auction earlier this year. But I was glad to see other players stepping up and filling in the roles that were required of them and playing to their own strengths to help the team.”

Summing up the first phase of the season, Kumar said he was happy to see the character shown by his side to deal with hindrances. “We started off with a great game against Kings, then we beat Delhi and finished the phase with probably our best all-round performance which came against SRH. It was a good way to finish the phase but was tough on the players because they had worked so hard to be in that position. However, the guys showed a lot of character, patience, and understanding in that environment where it was quite a tough period with what was happening in India and around the world due to COVID. I think it was a great test for everyone involved with the franchise, and I was very impressed with all the players and the management because they all had tough jobs, but their focus was immense,” said the 43-year-old.

Having stayed in touch with players during the off-season, Kumar says “it was good to see lots of feedback from the players.” “I expect them to always challenge the plans we set for them and question as to why they’re doing something, or if they have a better alternative. I think that’s the real way we can challenge each other as coaches and players to get better. And I’m genuinely very happy to note that our players are excelling at that. I really love the energy and the attitude of all the players at the Royals, especially the younger Indian guys, who are all very keen to learn and very confident in their abilities,” he added.

Commenting on what he expects from his team as they aim to make it to the playoffs, Kumar said, “What I want to see from them is their best efforts – competing as hard and for as long as possible to create opportunities to take games by the scruff of their neck and win them – that’s the real key. If one player can win us the odd game here and there, different players become those match-winners in different games, and that’s really what you’re looking for in terms of formulating a side winning.”

Sending messages of support and best wishes to players who have had to pull out, Kumar added, “Jos Buttler has of course had a new addition to his family and we congratulate him and the family. We really miss those guys because they’ve been brilliant due to what they bring to the franchise, not just on the field but also off it. With Ben (Stokes), we understand the situation and realize the importance of this period in his life and continue to provide all the support and love he needs.”

“Jofra Archer has had a huge miss in terms of cricket with his injury, and we would really like him to get better. He’s brilliant to watch when he’s playing not just for RR, but generally in world cricket. I think world cricket needs Jofra Archer back because he’s been such a great performer and athlete,” added the Lankan great.

Talking about the squad for the remainder of the tournament, and referring to Jaydev Unadkat as ‘a great example of hard work and determination’, Kumar added, “Earlier this year, I was particularly impressed with JD (Jaydev Unadkat), because we all know that he has gone through some difficult phases in his career but I think he really stepped up during the first phase of IPL 2021. His bowling was outstanding, and that just goes to show that you can come back from a setback and start doing well if you put in the work. I know we have a really good squad again which gives us the chance of going with various combinations. I’m also really excited to see what our younger players can bring to the table.”

Praising the leadership of young captain Sanju Samson, Kumar said, “I really think Sanju Samson does well when he’s Sanju Samson. He’s a very impressive cricketer and a very bright young man. He’s got a balanced head on his shoulders, and I like the way he keeps everything very simple, clear and direct. His captaincy was very impressive given he had to take over at a tough time without a full-strength squad. So we’ll keep talking to him and supporting him to make sure he’s excelling in his game and is going to be an excellent captain for the franchise.”