From Sri Lanka, With love - Kumar Sangakkara is ready for life as a Royal

12 Apr 2021

Rajasthan Royals was always the franchise that I had keenly followed, ever since watching the team win in that first season under Shane Warne. It did have its ups and downs in consequent years, but it always had a good, exciting young team, and then of course over the last two years, the team has evolved into a very strong mix of international and local stars. It was such a close tournament last season - from where the Royals finished to be getting into the Playoffs was the difference of winning just one game, and I think the team played a lot of very good cricket and has had lots of exciting players over the years. There have also been some players who have basically grown up with the franchise, Sanju Samson especially, who is captaining this season. So, my overall impression from the outside was a very positive one, and when I initially met Manoj Badale, the Lead owner, we did have a long chat, but it was more about the franchise - its history and where it's headed. It was interesting to hear what his ideas and philosophies were in this journey ahead, and what he wanted to put in place, with the team he had around him, and the team of players. So, basically that kind of duck-tailed into a conversation around the role of a Director of Cricket.

Subsequently, he asked me if I would be interested in taking up the role, and what really connected me to the Royals was that conversation in which I saw a lot of passion, preparation, research, and a great kind of philosophy around how the franchise wanted to evolve through this season, and even after the big IPL Auction next year. I could see the kind of blueprint on which the team was looking to build on, and of course I had these chats and subsequent chats with not just Manoj, but other stakeholders, coaches, so on and so forth - people that have been involved in the process up to now. So, it was only after that, and with careful consideration of timing and time commitments, of what was needed of me, my experience and what I could bring to the table, that led me to finally say yes. It is an interesting challenge for me, it is not something that I expected or really had in my horizons in terms of work, but I think those conversations really resonated with me, and it was what really spurred me on to say yes to the role.

However, I will be working with a slightly different dynamic this season because of quite a few changes that we have had recently, so in my usual role as the Director of Cricket, I would deal with everything that’s connected with having an excellent structure for the Royals, along with communication and reporting protocols, setting down an excellent culture, which is beneficial to what we want to achieve. But this season, it’ll be a little hands-on in terms of working really closely with the coaches and the players in both, training and during the matches. Even though this season is a transitional one between now and the big IPL Auction next year, it is still an important one for us. For me, the key task is to focus on how we go about playing our best cricket this year because this could be the first of many years where that structure will be put in place, and the players and the core group of stakeholders will commit to it, and really buy into it. Therefore, my role will probably have that duality this season, but once we get all those structures in place, it will soon graduate onto becoming what is traditionally a Director of Cricket role.

In terms of the squad we have right now at the Rajasthan Royals, I have to say that I’m really pleased with it. I had just come on board a couple of weeks before the Auction that took place in February, so it was quite a hectic time preparing for it, but we had a lot of experienced heads which contributed to it and we’re very happy with the squad. Of course, Jofra’s injury is a concern because he’s one of our absolute leaders both on-field and off-field – and was the most valuable player of the tournament last season. So we’re expecting him back stronger and better as the season progresses, but the rest of the squad is very exciting and promising - not just the new additions, but also the people who have been here for the past two to three years, who have really come a long way and would definitely contribute. We’ve got some great Indian players, have an exciting captain in Sanju Samson who I think is a superstar player and is going to be a great leader for us. We’ve got our international stars back, and also some new additions to that. So, we have an exciting squad which is very well balanced both in the bowling and batting departments.

Another thing that has struck me very pleasantly, has been the team environment. What I’ve come to realize now is that it’s a very family, player, person-oriented franchise that values not just the cricket that it plays, the skills of the players, but also the players itself as people, and all of those around them who support them. Being part of a cricket family is slightly different to having your own family that you’ve grown up with. You need to have that feeling of belonging, of being valued, of being able to speak openly, of being able to confide in people, having access to your own family in terms of communication, in terms of in-person – anything that we can provide to give them a sense of belonging and that sense of comfort - is essential. We understand that life inside a bio-bubble can be quite a complex thing because every bio-bubble is different. You know being in your home country sometimes is a lot more comfortable than being away, so having access to things that keep you relaxed and entertained, and your mind calm, is also important. So, we have a lot of things in place to address those factors, and we will try to make sure that the players are feeling very comfortable and at home as we progress through the season.

There is another person who is starting with a new role at this franchise, and that is Sanju. For him, it is a new role with regards to captaining an IPL team, but it is certainly a role of which he’s capable of and definitely ready for. From the conversations I’ve had with him, I’ve only told him that for him, it's more about confidence and making sure that he can separate his roles. So, when he’s batting, he’s just Sanju Samson - the top-class, exciting batsman. And when he takes the field as a wicketkeeper, that is when he really marshals his troops, and influences what happens on the field in terms of strategic bowling changes, and field settings etc. It is important for him to be himself and not try to copy or be someone else. It is also important that we have a complete trust between each other and all the coaching staff as well, because Sanju is the ultimate leader and the decision-maker on the field, so we must support him in every aspect and give him the strength, the confidence and the clarity he needs to go out there and perform, not just for himself but also for the team, the franchise and the fans.

We know that every team comes into the tournament wanting to win it, and that is no different for us going into our first match against Kings Punjab. The ultimate goal is to win the IPL trophy, but to get there, there is a process, whether we break it game-by-game or phase-by-phase, it doesn’t matter. It has to be something that is relevant to us and that is actionable by us, something that is easily understood by the players without any clutter, fear or doubt, and when we commit to it, to a strategy and a plan, we go out there and achieve it and do our best – that is our goal. Results can’t be guaranteed but what we can do is compete, execute our plans really well, trust ourselves and our teammates, and play with a lot of freedom, expression and enjoyment so we can bring a lot of joy and excitement to our fans, who I hope will keep watching and supporting us from the safety of their homes, and know that we really value your connect and your support.

- Kumar Sangakkara, Director of Cricket, Rajasthan Royals