‘The Barefoot Coach’ Paddy Upton Clarifies His Comments on Gambhir

‘The Barefoot Coach’ Paddy Upton Clarifies His Comments on Gambhir

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Cameraperson: Sumit Badola

Former mental conditioning coach and strategic leadership coach of Team India Paddy Upton was with the side for three years from 2008 till 2011. He had formed a formidable partnership with then head coach Gary Kirsten to lead India to World Cup glory in 2011 and also take the team to the pinnacle of Test cricket, attaining number one ranking.

Despite such achievements, Paddy Upton wasn’t a familiar name among Indian cricket fans. His association with IPL teams – Rajasthan Royals and erstwhile Delhi Daredevils – hardly did much as far as his popularity was concerned.

It was only in the past few days since the release of his autobiography The Barefoot Coach and some of the startling revelations from his time with Team India, Paddy has finally kicked up some storm.

One of the biggest topics of discussion was how Paddy described Gautam Gambhir as the “weakest and most mentally negative” of the players he knew, in his book. Though Paddy clarified his stance, still it gave his book all the publicity it needed.

The Quint caught up with Paddy Upton as he discussed what Gambhir had to say about his observation regarding the former Indian opener, Steve Smith’s return to IPL and how Captain Kohli has transformed the current Indian lot.

In your book, you have described Gautam Gambhir as the “weakest and most mentally negative player.” Don’t you think it is a little harsh since he was just trying to improve his game?

Gautam Gambhir, I have stated very clearly in the book, is one of the most determined and, at the time, was the most successful Test batsman in the world. That’s why he got the ICC Test Cricketer of the World. When he got that award in his interview, he said “this does nothing to overcome my insecurity. I still have them.” And that is the point I was trying to make in the book, that every single human being has vulnerabilities, has doubts, has insecurities and has negative thoughts. Point I was wanting to make was, that is not bad. You don’t need to get rid of those. You still can get to the top of the world with those oh-so-human qualities. I used Gambhir as an example. He had those qualities and he also got to the pinnacle of world cricket and I really acknowledge him for being able to.

Did you have any interaction with Gambhir since the release of the book?

We had text message conversations with each other. Gauti read the whole chapter and he saw that I wasn’t saying anything that hasn’t been said in public. And I was lauding him as the most determined and best batsman in the world and I still think he is.

Coming to the IPL. Steve Smith returned to Rajasthan Royals after a gap of one year. And this one year wasn’t an easy one. How did you plan his re-induction?

Firstly, it was really exciting to have Steve Smith coming back into cricket because he is such an asset to the world game. And it is really exciting to have him come back into the Rajasthan Royals, both as probably one of the best T20 captains that I have seen, and the time before the Newlands incident, him and Virat Kohli were the two-best batsmen in the world. So, it was really about creating an environment that really welcomed him back, really embraced him and gave him everything he needed to do to find his feet back in the Royals, back into international cricket.

How is the current crop of Indian players different physically from the past one or ones whom you coached till the 2011 World Cup?

Certainly, physically the current Indian team is fitter than any other Indian team preceding it. The real difference is Kohli driving a culture of fitness within this Indian team. And even I am seeing it now in the IPL and in Indian culture. There is more of that culture and Kohli is helping to drive that.

And how much will you rate the current lot as far as handling the mental pressure is concerned going into the World Cup?

India do have their high-pressure experts certainly in Kohli and Dhoni with the bat and other teams also have got two or three. So, probably there is an equal balance. India is not behind anyone and not significantly ahead of other top teams.

Captain Kohli had a disastrous IPL 2019 while leading the Royal Challengers Bangalore. Do you think Kohli would be able to pull things back in England?

Virat Kohli will come back in captaining the national team as he was before, and he was leading a very successful team. And again, he has got all his own players. He doesn’t have foreign players. He doesn’t have young players, who haven’t played international level. He is back with the team he knows very well, who knows him very well. And he will slot straight back to that to lead his team in the World Cup.

With a long World Cup ahead, how do you think the teams should deal with the taxing league format?

Almost all of the players at the World Cup would have had number of experiences of how you manage yourself in a busy tournament to still have mental and emotional energy at the end. And sometimes that means to get away from cricket between games, to not over-practice. It is to not overthink the games, particularly in the round-robin phase. It is to play the game and then get away from it. And then get up and put on the next game. When that game is finished, whether you win or lose, get away from the game. Refresh, get your mind off it, and do something else. And keep doing it back. And then when you are in the final, that’s when your head is in the game. 

Last question, which four teams do you think will make it to the knock-out stage of the World Cup?

I would say the front runners are obviously England, India and Australia and then the fourth position will be fought out between South Africa and Pakistan. These two have often being the dark horse. They manage to find a way in these World Cups. New Zealand have that underdog fighting spirit that always gives them half a chance to make it to the semi-finals.

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