IPL 2020 in UAE: Steve Smith right man to lead us through ups and downs, says Royals coach

Dubai: At 39 years, Andrew McDonald is one of the youngest coaches alongwith Brendon McCullum in the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL). However, the Australian head coach of Rajasthan Royals is a prime example of being there and done that in T20 franchise cricket and wants to infuse the new age work ethic in the team as they open their campaign against an upbeat Chennai Super Kings at the Sharjah Cricket Stadium on Tuesday.

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Much to their relief, the Royals set-up now looks complete as their overseas stars – captain Steve Smith, Jos Buttler and Jofra Archer have arrived on time and will be available to start against Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s men after completing their shortened 36-hour quarantine. While there is an element of question mark over Smith’s availability for the first game (following a concussion during the one-day series against England), the unfortunate aspect of their campaign will be missing out on the matchwinning allrounder Ben Stokes, who is in New Zealand to be with his ailing father.

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After finishing in seventh spot last year, McDonald – the assistant coach of the Australian national team – is fully aware of the pressure of expectations on him and the boys to ensure that the team makes the play-offs this time. ‘‘Any season with only eight teams in the competition, there’s always going to be an expectation from fans, from sponsors, the key stakeholders around. So yeah, I don’t think that alters any thinking we do. We make decisions as we go along, we solve problems in front of us and hopefully, we make good decisions along the way that give us the desired performance outcomes, whether that be selection or training or creating some options within the bubble,’’ he said.

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Stressing on the challenging of driving a campaign as long as this in the times of new normal, McDonald told Gulf News in an exclusive interview: ‘‘This IPL is unlike any other IPL given the fact that we’re in these bio-bubbles and that’s going to be a great challenge in itself. Whilst there may be expectations from the outside, we can only do what we can do on the inside and actually take care of our players and prepare them the best that we can.’’ 
 The appointment of Smith as captain, who acquitted himself quickly in the leader’s role in place of Ajinkya Rahane midway in the last season, will certainly going to be a big help for McDonald. ‘‘Captaincy is obviously very important within all cricket teams. Obviously once the players go on to the field, they’re the ones making all the decisions and it feels that we’ve got the right man for the job in Steve Smith. He got a taste of it last year so I think he’s well-versed with what the players can do.

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‘‘The challenge for Steve will be to work with players he’s not so familiar with only a few days leading upto the first game, being on the same page with all the preparation that’s been happening with the players and where they’re about. We’re really excited to have Steve Smith as our captain this year and as I said earlier, I feel he’s the right man for the job and any captain in an IPL season is critical and we feel as though we’ve got a good one to lead us through the ups and downs of an IPL season.’’

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Incidentally, McDonald had taken permission from Cricket Australia to be exempted from the England tour for the white ball series so that he could see through the preparations of the Royals ever since they landed here on August 20. Asked if he agrees to the perception that it will be a level playing field this time for all teams – as there are no ‘home’ grounds – McDonald agreed that there will be a certain degree of neutrality in the proceedings.

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‘‘The one real advantage of playing at home in the IPL is the crowd, unfortunately, there’s going to be no crowd this time around. I think in some ways it’s very neutral, some surfaces and playing areas of the three we’ll be playing on definitely will favour some teams over others given the make-up of some teams,’’ he said.
 Finally, what’s his reaction on having former Victoria mate Shane Warne back as a mentor? An enthusiastic McDonald said: ‘‘Yeah, it’s fantastic to have Shane Warne on board. He’s got a wealth of knowledge having been a winning IPL captain. He brings a lot of tactical experience and nous and so yeah, we’ll be looking to use him in that strategic space whilst he’s on the ground here. We’ll be using him in training as well, we’ve got some young leg spinners in our group so no doubt they’ll be looking to tap into that information,’’ he added.

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