Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Yashasvi Jaiswal's game was stripped down and rebuilt at RR's high-performance centre: Zubin Bharucha

A number of cricketers playing for the national team, like Jaiswal and Dhruv Jurel, have sharpened their game at the centre in rural Nagpur, powered by the Jaipur-based IPL franchise

Kathakali Chanda
Published: May 10, 2024 10:50:32 AM IST
Updated: May 10, 2024 10:59:52 AM IST

Yashasvi Jaiswal's game was stripped down and rebuilt at RR's high-performance centre: Zubin BharuchaZubin Bharucha (left) with Yashasvi Jaiswal (right) during IPL 2024

The three consecutive sixes that Yashasvi Jaiswal hit off Jimmy Anderson or Dhruv Jurel’s impressive show in his debut Test series against England, were anything but fortuitous. About 100 km from Nagpur, in the village of Talegaon, the heists of both Jaiswal and Jurel were meticulously planned. It is the same place that has helped Riyan Parag transform from an underperforming batter to one that has set the domestic circuit as well as the IPL afire. It is also here that Sanju Samson graduated from a wet-behind-the-ears player to a prolific batter and an astute captain. Welcome to the Rajasthan Royals High Performance Centre that has scripted the turnaround for many a young Indian cricketer. Zubin Bharucha, the director of high performance for the IPL franchise, took us behind the scenes in an episode of Sports UnLtd. Edited excerpts:

Q. Talk us through the inception of the high-performance centre. Why was it set up and why in Talegaon?
Like in any organisation, you always go back to your leadership. For Rajasthan Royals (RR), Manoj Badale, the owner, has been very steadfast in his views around talent and young Indian talent. The year before the IPL came about, he had a cricket show called Cricket Star, where the concept was to go around and find and develop talent around India. So when the IPL actually did come about, we were ready to take that chapter on board. In the earlier days, Shane Warne played a huge role, later Rahul Dravid too. Now Kumar Sangakkara plays that role. We were always quite driven by thoughts around what we could do with these boys all through the year, we just didn't formalise it to the extent that we did three years ago.

As far as why we chose the location, a number of our support staff including our manager Romi Bhinder comes from that area. We acquired a lot of land in that area and thought what's the best way to utilise that land. Effectively, we thought that if we put all our dreams in place in terms of what could be the perfect place to practice—where we could replicate the Chennai soil, the Mumbai red soil, a bouncy wicket, a slow wicket, a green wicket etc—how would it look? That's when that seed was sown. It's tough to find land around India close to a city where you can have a vast expanse and not have to spend silly amounts of money. So we decided to build in Talegaon something that's world class. That's why we're in that little village. It gives us a great opportunity to just be around the sport and create that team environment because when you are there, there is nothing else.

Also read: The Yashasvi Jaiswal Story: From battling hunger to developing an insatiable hunger for runs

Q. As the centre evolved over the years, what sort of facilities have been put in place and what sort of activities conducted?
You can stay there for 12 months of the year if you want. We have got 44-45 individual rooms with attached baths—it's effectively a three-star accommodation. And then we have this phenomenal cricket field with close to 25 or 30 pitches. Each pitch has its own characteristic, so we can keep tweaking it to how and where the player needs to be. So, if Jurel wanted to play against England on a turning wicket, we could produce exactly that sort of set-up for him, and he could come and bat for 140 overs in a day.

To produce one Yashasvi Jaiswal, you need almost 20 people who can throw and bowl a ball. We have a set-up where we have trained people over a 10-year period to throw a ball, so that the accuracy with which they throw, the precision with which they can detect a fault helps zero in on the problem and helps us solve it. The speed at which problems are solved increases because of this specificity of the skills that we’ve developed in these throwers. It's that kind of layering and infrastructure that we have set up which eventually benefits the Sanjus and Riyans and Dhruvs and Jaiswals of the world.

Also read: IPL 2024: India's T20 future is secure with Abhishek Sharma and Tilak Varma

As they say, it takes a village to build a champion. In our case, it's literally the village of Talegaon that has come together to produce what you see today. It doesn't happen overnight, it takes years of preparation and planning. And now we've got the next generation of those throwers coming through, and we're indigenously using everybody from the village to develop this skill. Which is an incredible opportunity for them to not only earn a living from it, but also be part of the ecosystem of the Royals.

Q. Tell us the kind of work you’ve done with Jaiswal over the last one year or so.
One of the problems we have in our sport is that the kids who come from under-19 into the IPL set-ups don't encounter T20 cricket. It's a major handicap from a franchise perspective because there are certain shots that you want these individuals to have and develop by the time they reach us, but they don't have that. You have to strip it all apart and start from scratch. You’d then analyse a player and say Jaiswal can play in this direction, but he has no shots in some other direction, so what do we do? And there are multiple layers within that structure. Say, he couldn’t hit a ball over long on, for example, what that meant was his elbow at the point of impact was bent. Now, you can't solve that in three months—it would take at least 6-8 months. When we're trying to solve that, we have to come up with another solution in the short term—so, if he can’t play that shot against the spinner, we need him to reverse sweep. This year it's been much less, but if you saw last year, he reverse-swept almost every single spinner at least once or twice in every innings. So, it was breaking down his game into multiple parts, multiple facets and then setting up a structure for how we could develop him into what we wanted as the final product.

We went to work in terms of building that foundation for the shots he didn’t have, and then reverse-engineered the process to ensure he was able to play the ball where he wanted. You saw that sequence in the Test match against England where he hit Jimmy Anderson for three sixes—flicked over square leg, then over cover and then straight down the ground. That is a sequence we executed in our practices almost every single day.

Also read: IPL 2024: Mayank Yadav, the new speed gun of India

When we do our throwing and bowling, we do it in that sequence. For example, we will have four guys who will throw the ball from, say 15 feet, to Yashasvi, Dhruv or any of these guys in this sequence—for the cut, pull, flick, drive. Following them, we have the side-arm guys, who throw the ball with a stick, then followed by spinners and fast bowlers. In one sequence, we have 16 people.

When a Dhruv Jurel comes to practice and we have to get him done in, say, two days, knowing that he's going for a Test match, we can get through 140 overs in one day. That's a monumental practice session of 16 people throwing and bowling in one round of practice. Normally, when you go for any other cricket practice, you will see a maximum of four bowlers, so there's no variability. We are trying to ramp up the variability to bring in the kind of situation they may encounter in a match, so that when they go out in the middle they are not thinking about any kind of situation being abnormal. One of the biggest things we have in our philosophy [for the players] is they don't rise to the occasion—they actually go down to the level of practice, because they know they have covered every base in practice.

Q. Have you put Riyan Parag through a similar kind of training as well? Till last year, he had a lacklustre tournament, but this year he’s been on fire, both in the IPL and the domestic season.

Absolutely. And two things happened there. One, Riyan always had the ability, we couldn't get him to understand some parts of this philosophy and we couldn't get him to understand why it was so important for him. And again, my learning is that I am partly to blame because, if I am the coach it is my responsibility to make him understand. So that was my failing in terms of my inability to communicate that and get him going as quickly as a Jaiswal or a Jurel. It always is a two-way street. Riyan, fortunately for us, had the great example of guys like Dhruv and Yash streaming ahead of him, and then he had the realisation that “oh, this is what they were trying to tell me”. And once that was said to him from the finish of last year’s IPL, we started practice with him just about three weeks after. We went through some crazy extremes to get him ready and he was willing to put in the work. Now he's realised what he needs to do to continue to perform at that level. That’s why you’ve seen the transformation in him since last June-July.

Also read: IPL 2024: Picked by 'accident', Shashank Singh turns out to be the real Punjab King

Q. RR as a franchise has been doing really well in the IPL for the past few years. You were the runner-up in 2022, were just edged out in the fifth place last year, and this year have been going really strong. How much has this centre contributed to RR 2.0?
Like always, in any success, there are many factors. We’d attribute a lot of it to factors. We could start off with technology, and a very high investment from our owners on it. We have a full new team on that front—Giles Lindsay is the head and he has built a phenomenal team of analysts and technologists who work day in and day out in giving us information of, say, how do we choose a player, selections, trials etc. The second part is Kumar [Sangakkara] and his knowledge about the game, in terms of his vision of doing great things in the IPL and his vision of taking the franchise forward in the way he wants to see. The third part is, now that this centre has emerged, and the kind of time and resources the franchise is putting into that, where they are clear that this is the role they want to play not just for RR but for Indian cricket as well. Any successful set-up has multiple people putting their resources together, and when you see all of it coming together, you start to see the output.

You have to have those Indian players who take you to victory. Your overseas players are the superstars who come in and win you games. But the Indian guys who are young and coming up through the ranks… for them to win you games consistently is a big thing. If you are starting to do that as a franchise, and if the overseas guys also do their job, together it becomes a potent combination. Which is something you have started to see.