Former India all-rounder Sanjay Bangar’s greatest moment in international cricket is connected with England. His half-century while opening the innings in one of the most challenging conditions in the 2002 Headingly Test may have got over-shadowed because of the one and only instance of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly getting hundreds in the same innings yet his gritty performance is part of folklore.
While the Indian cricket team is busy preparing for the upcoming Test series against the host England, the former batting coach who was with the team on the last two tours (2014 & 2018) of England is now exploring the business of coaching in an entirely different way. And, the only thing common in his new journey is that once again another former India opener Virender Sehwag is his partner.
“It was going through my mind for a very long time and along with another friend, we had approached a company (for funding) as well but didn’t get the project moving. However, (a few months back) I had invited Viru for dinner at my place and he enquired about my future plan as my stint with Indian team was over. So I told him this was something which was going in my mind for a long time. He said it was a good idea and after three months he called me up and said he too was thinking about this project for a long time and wanted to give it a try with a couple of friends. That’s how we got together,” reveals Bangar about the Cricuru app which is a digital coaching platform that gives young players the opportunity to learn everything about cricket, to improve their skills.
Moreover, they get to learn from the world’s best batters like Chris Gayle and AB de Villiers and bowlers like Harbhajan Singh and Imran Tahir. Listening to Bangar, it seems that this project is an accidental but a very interesting partnership with Sehwag, but one can also say that it was a convergence of the ideas where two people were thinking on similar lines. The app claims that a young player can learn from 34 handpicked cricketers with modules focusing on mental and skill developments to play at the highest level where they can also evaluate batting skills using their AI led technology and get a personalised report based on their performance.
“Content creation is my domain; it’s more related to skill part. The mental part is being looked after by Viru. Obviously, because of Viru’s presence and his relationship with many players, we were able to get them at decently priced level,” explains Bangar on being asked how difficult it was to get so many high-profile names from across the world on a single platform.
Even though there are some of the finest cricketers and all-time greats who are part of this app which claims that a youngster can get guidance to improve his/her technique from the legends by getting on a one-to-one session at a very reasonable fee (the basic plan costs less than 1000 INR per month), it is still tough to convince the sceptics because one may argue that cricket coaching is different from the online education since sports is essentially an outdoor activity and physical presence is very almost mandatory.
“During my playing days, I used I idolize Mr. Sunil Gavaskar and it was very difficult for me to meet him as person and ask questions to him and get to know what he thinks and how he encountered and overcame different challenges. (From my personal experience) What we are trying to do is to bridge the geographical gap. It can add great values what he is already doing and it is going to help anyone be it a player or coach who wants to widen his horizon of knowledge,” says Bangar who is also a batting consultant with the Royal Challengers Bangalore in the IPL.
Bangar is no longer associated with the Indian cricket team but like millions of cricket fans, he too must have been disappointed with the outcome of the first-ever World Test Championship final. Especially, the way India’s vaunted batting unit once again failed to live up to expectations in challenging conditions. “I feel (that the turning point was) how we batted on day 2 of the Test match. We were in a great position on day one after being asked to bat. Credit to the New Zealand bowlers especially Kyle Jamieson who bowled really well,” says Bangar.
It is no longer a secret that under helpful conditions for seam and swing bowlers, Virat Kohli’s team has crumbled on many occasions in overseas conditions. The same had happened during India’s tour of New Zealand in early 2020 and almost the same script was played out in Southampton. “They put up a plan and created a lot of pressure. If the Indian batting unit has to look back they will say that for sixty overs in the first innings they played well but at least 275 was required. From 145 for 3 and when the ball was old, getting bowled out for 215 was crucial,” says Bangar.
Of course, the whole batting unit came under heavy criticism for its inept showing during the WTC final but if one batsman who will be under tremendous pressure to keep his place safe, it would be vice-captain Ajinkya Rahane. Rahane has been a proven match-winner in red-ball cricket especially in tough overseas conditions yet of late he has not been an automatic choice for the middle-order slot. In England, it could get tougher for him since he averages below 30. If ever, there was an opportunity to put all the lingering doubts regarding consistency, it could be the five-match series which is starting next month for the Mumbaikar.
“Ajinkya has always performed when India has won a Test abroad but even he would like to have himself a big series (with complete dominance) something which has eluded him so far in his career. He has been a keen student, a very motivated player besides a thinker of the game. And, I hope in future he can score heavily in an entire series and things can get better from there for him,” says Bangar optimistically who played in a dozen of Test matches for India.
Apart from Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, India’s middle-order still lacks a formidable batsman who can put fear in the opponent. If Rahane has an unfulfilling Test career, another middle-order batsman Hanuma Vihari too needs a big series to re-assert his class as a reliable future prospect who can last the distance. However, the moot question remains the same if there are any alternatives in domestic cricket for India’s middle-order problems?
“Vihari has been a good investment because of his fine contributions in the past. More recently, it was his solid effort in Sydney (2021) in drawing that Test. He is a very capable batsman but one player who is in queue for the middle order could be Karun Nair because of his Test match record and also his overall first-class numbers. Karun had one or two average Test matches and he was sidelined,” says Bangar.