Taking Tamil Nadu players “out of their comfort zone” is the priority of Sulakshan Kulkarni, who was named the new head coach of the team on Thursday. The former Mumbai wicketkeeper, who has been given a two-year term by the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, is set to begin his stint as early as the first week of March and will be in Chennai to watch the last two rounds of the local First Division matches.
After Tamil Nadu failed to get past the group stages of the Ranji Trophy for the fourth consecutive season, changes were expected in the coaching staff led by M Venkataramana. The TNCA Cricket Advisory Committee led by D Girish had sounded out a few other candidates too – including Chandrakant Pandit – as it was looking for someone from outside the state to give a fresh perspective. With Pandit not keen, they set their focus on Kulkarni, who has won the Ranji Trophy with Mumbai as a player as well as a coach. Even though Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh were also showing interest to recruit him as coach, TNCA raced ahead in getting his signature.
And once Kulkarni expressed interest, it was only a matter of time. Kulkarni is not new to Chennai as during his playing days, he turned out for MRF and India Cements in the First Division. As a coach, he had a three-year tenure with Mumbai (2011-2014), winning the Ranji Trophy in 2012-13. Apart from Mumbai, Kulkarni has also coached Vidarbha and Chhattisgarh on the domestic circuit.
“It was an easy decision because Chennai is not new to me and I like coming to Tamil Nadu,” Kulkarni told The Indian Express. “Tamil Nadu is one of the top teams on the domestic circuit and they have been doing well, especially in white-ball cricket, in the last few years. It is only the Ranji Trophy which needs some attention and I firmly believe they have it in them to win it as well. They have talented players in the team and it is all about getting the process right and having the right sort of preparation,” Kulkarni said.
Setting the house in order
For a team that has been performing below par in the Ranji Trophy, TNCA is already looking at setting a few things straight, which is why it has appointed Kulkarni even before the domestic season is over. With the Tamil Nadu Premier League (TNPL) set to commence in the first week of June and running till July 9, the state association is planning to bring back the Buchi Babu tournament back into the calendar.
The tournament was last played in 2017 and in its absence, Tamil Nadu hasn’t had the best of preparations for the domestic season with the players mostly relying on First Division matches. That is set to change ahead of next season with TNCA contemplating to schedule the Buchi Babu tournament in July-August. While the tournament is certain to take place, the only point of discussion at this stage is whether to make the matches three-day contests or four-day games. A call on this is expected only in May based on the BCCI’s calendar for the 2023/24 season.
“You need to start the preparation early, especially for a tournament like Ranji Trophy. It is a very difficult tournament to win and you have to be prepared for all sorts of situations. You might lose the toss on a green track and bat first and you might be folded for a low total, but you have to find ways to come back. So you have to prepare for adverse conditions and not just home conditions,” Kulkarni said.
This season, Tamil Nadu remained winless till the last two rounds of league matches. And even though they won at home against Assam and Saurashtra, their fate was sealed by then. They failed to win any of their away matches, conceding the first innings lead to Mumbai and Maharashtra at crucial junctures to bow out early. And in both those matches, batting was the weakest point.
“You should be well equipped to play on any pitch and that is how champions think. You cannot win anything being in your comfort zone. I always feel that champion teams think out of their comfort zone. And I’m confident that even Tamil Nadu will be able to do that because they have the players to do so,” the 56-year-old Kulkarni said.