04 May

Former Karnakata batsman Jagadeesh Arun Kumar, well-known in the Indian domestic cricketing circles as 'JAK', was last week (28 April) appointed coach of the USA cricket team and listed earning a Test status among his long-term goals.

In recent times there has been a high turnover in the USA coaching post. JAK replaces the interim head coach James Pamment after the latter chose not to accept the full-time role offered by USA Cricket.

The new USA coach joins with an impressive CV as a coach and player. Apart from scoring 20 first-class hundreds for Karnataka, he also holds the unique distinction of being the only coach in the history of domestic cricket in India to win the treble (Ranji Trophy, Irani Trophy and Vijay Hazare Trophy) in successive years. It earned him a role as batting coach with Kings XI Punjab in the IPL for the 2017 season. A move onto the international cricket stage was the next logical move for the Indian coach.

USA Cricket chief executive Iain Higgins said Kumar will take up the role and be permanently based in the United States as and when his working visa has been obtained.

One of the imminent challenges facing Kumar will be USA's dismal T20 form. It is imperative for a team like the US which sees T20 as an important tool to market the game in one of the world's biggest sports industries to regularly qualify for world events. The team lost twice to Bermuda and Canada in the Americas WT20 Qualifiers which saw them fail at sealing a berth at the final WT20 qualifiers in UAE last year.

Kumar is realistic. "Since we are lower in the ranks in the T20s there is a bit of apprehension in everybody's mind that whether we are gonna be a good enough team to compete with the top teams of world cricket. I feel we need to identify the core players and make them play against each other to get a good sense of how a certain player reacts to different match scenarios and match stimulations so that we can identify who can fit in our T20 and ODI squads.

"Looking for players who can play the anchor roles or who can be the good finishers and same with the bowlers. Looking to tighten up these important facets of the game so that everyone knows their role exactly. Giving them the clarity of thought so that these talented bunch of players become more proactive than reactive," he adds.

For some of the top associate nations, it is often the coach who is more experienced than the captain and the team revolves around him, downplaying the role of the captain. It's a challenge Arun Kumar understands.

"That is important. But if the coach wants results, he's not going to the centre to play cricket. In the end, you have to empower your players because they're the ones taking the spontaneous decisions on the field," Arun Kumar says. "A spoon-fed team who doesn't take ownership will never do well. With USA we have made a leadership group and have given the responsibility to our leaders who look to interact with the subgroups, and I interact with the leaders and the subgroups personally.

"So yes, there's a lot of empowering, but they're the ones who go in the middle and handle the tough situations play and deal with the pressure. That's a very big part of coaching and I'm very happy to do that. I'll be there as a guide to give suggestions on what could have been done better and give them solutions to get better at the end of the day."

John Stephenson


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