VVS Laxman, who has stepped in for Rahul Dravid as the head coach for India's white-ball tour of New Zealand, heaped huge praise on stand-in captain Hardik Pandya's leadership abilities, calling him 'a fabulous leader' whose 'work ethics are exemplary'.
Hardik had led Gujarat Titans to winning IPL 2022 in their first season of the tournament. Later on, under Laxman's coaching, he led India to 2-0 series win over Ireland. With his decision making and calmness under pressure as a leader, there's been huge talk within Indian cricketing circuit over appointing him as the captain till the 2024 Men's T20 World Cup.
"He's a fabulous leader. We've seen what he has done at Gujarat in the IPL. Someone taking on the leadership role in the first year itself and winning the Cup is no mean achievement. But I have spent time with him from the Ireland series. He is not only tactically good but he's also very calm on the field."
"That's very important when you're playing at the highest level, because there will be situations where you will be under pressure. That's when as a leader you require to be calm. But also, his presence in the dressing room and his work ethics are exemplary."
"The way he leads the side on and off the field is fabulous. He is a players' captain; he is very approachable. All the players go and confide in him, and that's something I really like about him as captain. He leads by example, both on and off the field," said Laxman in the press conference on the eve of first T20I.
In the 16-member T20I squad, opener Shubman Gill is the only uncapped player. Gill, who won the Player of the Tournament award in India's triumphant 2018 U19 World Cup campaign in New Zealand, made his ODI debut in the country a year later.
Now, in absence of captain Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli and KL Rahul, Gill is tipped to get a T20I debut as a top-order batter. In Gujarat's run to IPL 2022 trophy, Gill scored 483 runs in 16 innings, averaging 34.5 and at a strike rate of 132.32.
"It's very clear he's one of the most talented players India has got. In the opportunities he has had at the highest level, he has shown what a class player he is. Slowly and gradually, he is becoming a very consistent performer; he's a match-winner. He has got a great future ahead of him," added Laxman.
With a hectic cricketing schedule at the international level, Dravid and rest of coaches have been given a break from the New Zealand tour, especially with the three ODIs and two Tests tour of Bangladesh coming up in December. Laxman feels that short coaching stints like this in New Zealand help him share his experiences with youngsters.
"It has been an enjoyable ride for me so far. When I joined NCA, it was all about contributing to Indian cricket and this is an opportunity to spend time and share my knowledge with the youngsters, it has been fulfilling. What straightaway struck me in Ireland was that these youngsters are very talented, but at the same time, they always want to learn and grow as cricketers and that for me is very exciting."
"I don't see any challenges as such. Even when I was as a player when I became a senior, the mindset was all about sharing my knowledge, experience and making sure I am very honest with whatever conversations I have with the players. Same with this short stint. It's a great opportunity for me to share my experiences with them. I have honest conversations as whoever represents India, should take pride in playing for the country. There are some things which are non-negotiable, like work ethics, and all of these conversations I have with the players."
Laxman signed off by saying that extensive data and analytics will come in handy for planning against a high-quality New Zealand, led by Kane Williamson. "It has played a huge part in the evolution of the game. When you have so much data available you can strategies against a player whom you haven't played earlier. But it's also about executing the plans we have."
"Analytics is very important and getting the data, breaking it down and using it is something we will be doing going forward. And we are in a good position to strategize against any player irrespective of whether we have played against them or played with them."
Play with fearless attitude in T20s, but important to assess conditions and situations, says VVS Laxman
VVS Laxman, India's head coach for the white-ball tour of New Zealand, wants to see his team play in the upcoming T20I series with a fearless attitude. But at the same time, he is hopeful of the side majorly packed with youngsters to assess the conditions and situations in order to fulfill the requirements of the team during the matches.
"T20 cricket requires playing with a lot of freedom and lot of clarity of thought. Whatever time I have spent with these guys and watching them grow over the years into wonderful international cricketers, that is their strength."
"In T20 cricket, you are required to play with a fearless attitude but at the same time, it is important to assess the conditions and situations and fulfill the needs of the team. It is important to be flexible. In T20 cricket, you are required to express yourself and that is when you will be successful," said Laxman in a pre-match press conference.
The three-match T20I series, starting at Sky Stadium in Wellington on Friday, also marks the beginning of India's road to the 2024 Men's T20 World Cup, after suffering a semi-final exit in the showpiece event last week. In that match at Adelaide Oval, India were handed a ten-wicket thrashing by eventual champions England, a side full of multi-dimensional cricketers.
Laxman admitted that India might go the multi-dimensional route in T20 cricket in future. "T20 cricket has shown us over the years that the more amount of multi-dimensional players you have, the better for the team. You have bowlers who can bat, and batters who can bowl, and that is the way forward."
"That has already been proven in T20 cricket, the more number of bowlers who can bat will add depth to the batting and it allows a lot of freedom for the batters to express themselves. That is the need for the format and I am sure that more and more teams will try to get that into their selection process and identify players who are multi-dimensional."
With many regulars rested from the trip to New Zealand, Laxman is keen to see how the new top-order shapes up and performs in the series. "In T20 cricket, it's important to be fearless. We have the guys who have this ability to express themselves. So that's the message from the captain and myself: be aggressive, but also focus on conditions and situations, and use that experience.
"Yes, our regular top order of Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul and Virat Kohli isn't here. But the players who have been selected have played a lot of international cricket, especially T20 cricket."
Though India haven't won a major ICC trophy since 2013, their talent pool has been the envy of other major cricketing nations. Laxman believes the Indian team is fortunate to have tons of youngsters who can perform well at the international level, which gives first-choice players time to rest amidst a hectic international cricket schedule.
"There's definitely a lot of cricket being played, there's no doubt about that. India is very fortunate to have so many players to choose from. As team management and selection committee members, you have to be mindful of when to give breaks to certain players. Breaks are important for a player, to not only physically rejuvenate but also mentally.
"India is lucky to have that kind of bench, a pool of players to choose from. I think that will be the case going forward, especially in white-ball cricket, you require specialist players. Going forward, T20s will see a lot more T20 specialists. But managing their workload and choosing players from the pool we have is a blessing Indian cricket has."