Very few international coaches have made a mark in the IPL. The former South African coach too didn’t win an IPL trophy but RCB's record during his tenure as head coach was the best. Taking over from Martin Crowe (head coach in 2008), Jennings had (arguably) somehow managed to notch up a fine CV. From 2009 to 2014, RCB reached the IPL finals twice, finished third in 2010. Not too many can also recall during that period RCB also made it to the final in the (now defunct) Champions League T20. We caught up with the former RCB coach for a quick chat, which surprisingly lasted close to an hour! Jennings who is currently holidaying in Mauritius spoke on a range of issues. Here are the excerpts:
How do you look back at your coaching stint with RCB in the IPL?
Look, it was a fantastic experience from a coach’s point of view. I got an opportunity to embrace Indian cricket culture which is unique in many ways and I am very satisfied with that experience.
What was so impressive about India?
The people. The fans. I think for Indian people cricket is a big thing. I could see the passion to become the best, the No. 1 in world cricket. They have got some good people to run their cricket and I am not surprised by the Indian team’s success.
What was unique about coaching an IPL team since you have coached under-19 teams and many developmental teams apart from coaching the South African national team?
The best thing about IPL is the ability to source new players. Talents like (KL) Rahul and Mayank (Agarwal) were very exciting. Dealing with some of the best international players along with Indian players and integrating their energy and commitment to achieve success was great.
Many observers believe that you also played a role in shaping Virat Kohli during his formative years during the IPL? How do you feel about that?
Virat Kohli has always been an unbelievable cricket brain. He sets very high standards (for himself) and we went along despite one or two problems. You needed somebody around Virat to guide him (at that point in time). Of course, he and I bumped a few times but he is a good guy and a very quick learner. Nice to see him grow as a player and now as a captain. His mannerism is great. His best is yet to come.
As an Indian captain, he has established himself but he has not been able to show the same kind of results for RCB in the IPL? Is that surprising for you?
If I have to look back then I would say that in IPL there used to be 25-30 players (in the squad) and it was the coach’s duty to look after all the players. Sometimes he was a bit of a loner in the team. Sometimes, he backed the wrong players. But, you can’t blame him for that. I wanted certain players to bowl or bat in certain conditions/situations but he had different ideas. See, IPL is very different from international cricket. In 6 weeks’ time, some players can pick form and some may go awry. So, someone in the group needs to be there all the time. When I was there certain players should have played more but he has different views. However, that is in the past and it’s nice to see him maturing day by day and he will start winning IPL trophies.
Over the last few seasons, Virat has got all the power in running an IPL team and yet results haven’t gone his way. How would you explain that?
We shouldn’t forget IPL is a game of small margins. He has made it to the semi-finals (playoffs) and final and he will definitely achieve a lot more success in the coming years. Sometimes, criticism is that he doesn’t enjoy time with the players. But, I can understand that since a captain has a lot on his plate. Also, the auction is a very important factor (in the team’s performance).
As a coach, what kind of qualities do you look for in a captain?
I look at energy as it’s just not about skill alone to win an IPL trophy. Do you have the drive? What characters do you have? In international cricket, you don’t have to be with your family all the time. A lot of events off the field take your energy and thus a coach has to save the captain from it. How do you manage calmly without being distracted with everything surrounding you is key (to success).
I mean what you are saying is someone like Dhoni does it quite well. Is that correct?
Oh, I think Dhoni is in a different league. He is an unbelievable human being and hasn’t changed in the last 10 years or so. And, this is not to criticize Kohli. Kohli at 25 and Kohli at 35 are two different persons. You want hype at 25 but at 35 it is different. We have seen how people change after becoming a father. Dhoni is very charming.
But, does that explain Dhoni’s consistency in the IPL or is there something else which you have noticed as a rival coach?
Dhoni trusts his people. Look at his rapport with (Stephen) Fleming. He sees Fleming as a brother. When you are married to somebody for a long period of time, there is trust. There was a hardness to me when I was rocking the boat (in RCB).
What a coach can do to make a difference to a side in the IPL?
My results were good at RCB even if we didn’t manage to win the trophy. In IPL, you need a boss who backs you. A boss who backs you at the auction. If they keep interfering then what a coach or captain can do? CSK is lucky that they get 4 out of 4 from the boss (as far as the backing is concerned).
John Buchanan recently told us that due to the inherent nature of the format, no coach can claim that they know what it takes to win in IPL? Your views?
Every player has an impact on the team. Someone like Chris Gayle needs his own space and you can’t mess around with him. But, at the same time, a coach has to ensure that everyone is important in the squad. The 20th member is as important as Gayle because that guy might be playing the IPL final. He shouldn’t be feeling bad in the team. He shouldn’t be cribbing. If the coach is backing the players, they will back you. That’s very important. A lot of work is done in the background. For eight weeks, you need to create the atmosphere of a family. Unlike international cricket, wives are important in IPL as they are mostly with the players. So, if the wife is not feeling happy, it can upset the player as well. It gets very tricky at times and that is why you need to be humble in all situations.
Recently, Anil Kumble remarked that he is surprised by the lack of representation of Indian coaches in the IPL. What are the reasons that local coaches are not preferred in the IPL?
It is disappointing indeed. Buchanan was the best in the world and Kirsten won the World Cup but what did they do in IPL? Hardly won a game. Generally, IPL picks a coach who has done well in the past (internationally). From my experience, India has got a lot of fantastic coaches. Although, they haven’t made the progress as much as the way Indian team and captains have over the years. Also, when an Indian coach says something to an Indian player, the impact is not as much because they are used to seeing and listening to him but when it comes to an overseas coach they pay a lot of attention because of many things. I mean they see Kumble every day but not Ponting. They are in awe of Ponting. However, if you can mix the Indian flair with foreign flair, it will do well. I had someone like Venkatesh Prasad who was a tremendous help for me. He used to communicate with Indian players (more effectively) and my task was easier.
Finally, who do you think is favourite to win this IPL?
Unfortunately, my blood is red in two parts! Of course RCB (for my past association) and Kings XI Punjab for guys like Rahul, Mayank, Gayle, George, and even coach Kumble who all were part of RCB.