it’s been almost a year since Andrew McDonald’s appointment as Rajasthan Royals’ head coach, but he’s at last ready to guide his side through the rescheduled IPL 2020 in the UAE. ESPNcricinfo caught up with him to discuss the challenges of franchise cricket in the Covid-19 era and the advantage of having multiple World Cup winners in the Royals squad.
It’s your first big IPL assignment, albeit in very unusual circumstances. How are you feeling ahead of the challenge?
I’m just grateful for the opportunity to play cricket in the current landscape, to be quite honest. The BCCI and the cricketing community have done a fantastic job to get this tournament up and running, and it’s so far so good in terms of the preparation. Everyone’s got here safely so far, and we’re just waiting for the international players to join us from the England bubble and complete our full roster.
Clearly there are some decisions to be made about quarantine periods, if there are any, and whether those guys [group of players from the ongoing England v Australia series] are going to be available for the first game. But we’ve got a few plans in place – with and without [them] – and we’re preparing for both scenarios.
The mental side of the game could be especially important this season after such a prolonged lockdown.
Tournaments are won and lost on and off the field at the best of times, but this year off the field is critically important. We will need to create options within the restricted confines of the bubble, and keep our guys balanced and sometimes get their minds away from cricket.
We’ll look to have gatherings at certain times and give the guys different stimulus, in and out of the bubble, to create the sort of environment that they normally have, where they can get away from the game and aren’t just switched on to cricket all the time.
That’s one challenge for us. The other will come once the first team is picked. At that moment, there will be 14 players who aren’t involved and 11 who are. Managing those guys to keep them ready and prepared is a great challenge in any tournament, but more so in this one, to my mind.
“Steve Smith is clearly the captain, but it’s great to have other guys in supporting roles, with the ability to think on their feet when things don’t go to plan…we’ve got Sanju [Samson], who thinks differently to Smudge, who thinks differently to [Robin] Uthappa. And there’s Jos [Buttler]…”
Andrew McDonald on Royals’ leadership group
Rajasthan has positioned itself as the ‘English’ IPL franchise in recent seasons. How helpful will it be to have a range of overseas players who have got meaningful match practice under their belts?
Definitely, match-hardened players will have an advantage. We’ve had to be creative to overcome the restrictions on practice games, but with a significant percentage of our group having already played, it positions us quite well. Then again, they’ve had the challenges of the bubble in England already, so when they come into another bubble, that might well be something that we need to manage along the way
This tournament is going to be all about managing the individual. The collective team goal is at stake, obviously, but we will have to assess all 25 players, and tailor their individual programmes for individual needs, and individual time away. And that includes the coaching staff too. Sometimes we forget that coaches are going through exactly the same thing, so we’ll need to have an understanding of where everyone’s at throughout the tournament. If we can manage that well, it might give us a slight advantage. Who knows?
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There’s doubt about Ben Stokes’ involvement in this year’s IPL. Quite apart from the personal issues he’s going through, that’s a big hole to fill in your middle order?
First and foremost, thoughts with the Stokes family. It’s a difficult scenario, so we’re giving him as much time as he needs, and connecting with him as best we can. So yeah, we’re not sure where Stokesy’s at right now, but once it has played out, then we can make our decisions from there. But I don’t want to second-guess what will happen with him just yet.
How about Steven Smith? He missed two Australia ODIs with concussion. Is that a concern for the squad right now?
Steve Smith is a bit more clear-cut, I think. He needs a little bit of time, it was a short turnaround between game one and two where the concussion happened, so I’d imagine there were some lingering side effects. They’ll be erring on the side of caution, so hopefully [they will] see him out there again on Wednesday [for the third ODI against England in Manchester].
You’re going to have other moving parts throughout the tournament. There will be injuries, fatigue, all sorts of things. So while there’s speculation around where Smudger’s at, and Stokesy, we feel we’ve got some good coverage to be able to play different ways.
We’ve added some depth in terms of our left-hand batting, in particular in [Anuj] Rawat and [Yashashvi] Jaiswal among the home-grown players, so we think we’ve got some options there. The way we set up at the auction, we feel we can structure our side up to three or four different ways.