During the IPL earlier this year Venkatesh Prasad received a phone call from Rajeev Shukla, the influential BCCI official, who was inviting him to be the Uttar Pradesh coach. Though Prasad’s plate was full, the offer, besides being tempting, seemed pretty challenging. Being Royal Challengers Bangalore coach and the Asian Cricket Council’s (ACC) development officer, a job that took him to non-Test playing nations, had seen Prasad train players from different backgrounds but the former India pacer knew the road up north might have surprises at every turn.
The soft-spoken Prasad was to take charge of a Hindi-speaking team, infamous for its dressing room intrigue and a prominent hierarchical divide. For the 43-year-old, who speaks broken Hindi, it was a big step out from his comfort zone.
“I can read and write Hindi but I am not very fluent when talking. Most of these boys may not be very good with English but they do understand the language and the same holds good for me when it comes to Hindi. So it works,” Prasad said.
During his first meeting with the team at the Green Park Stadium, Prasad tried to break the ice by introducing himself in Hindi. On Monday, Prasad, one month into his role as coach of the Uttar Pradesh, was at the Nehru Stadium in Ghaziabad, the venue of the team’s Ranji Trophy opener against star-studded Delhi.
“I have never been to Ghaziabad before. I have played matches at Kanpur but they were short trips. We are also scheduled to play a game in Meerut, another place I have never visited. I am looking forward to traveling within Uttar Pradesh. It is starkly different when compared to where I come from,” Prasad said.
The players too are sensing a change. Like never before, a ‘white board’ is a constant during team meetings and practice sessions. On Tuesday the board read: ‘Success is the sum of small efforts done day in and out.’ Shortly another team message is jotted down on the white board: ‘Very important notice: UP team meeting at 2:45pm at hotel lobby.’
This particular afternoon meeting, according to Prasad, is significant. “Speakers from a sports consultancy firm will help the players set individual goals. These goals are going to be set by the players and not the other way around,” Prasad said. The new coach also wants to bust what he calls a ‘negative attitude’