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Trent Woodhill is a rare commodity in the cricket coaching sphere. At a time where a coach's profile is paramount to stake a claim for a job, Trent finds himself having worked with stalwarts such as Virat Kohli, AB de Villiers, Kevin Pietersen, Virender Sehwag and having closely mentored a young Steven Smith and David Warner, despite not having played any first class cricket.
A forthcoming individual with a maverick personality, Trent has carved a niche for not being a follower of conventional coaching routines and staying true to his methods. Our Batting Talent Development and Fielding coach spoke to Wisden India and discussed at length about the new role he took upon starting this season with RCB, insights into how his star players function, what he does as a fielding coach, why KL Rahul was let go in the auction and more.
Excerpts from the interview:
You've often been described as a coach who is sceptical of coaches. What is it in traditional cricket coaching that you're sceptical of, and how you approach coaching?
I'm sceptical of technique. I've mentioned it a few times, I think the beauty of India is that you come across so many different batting styles, whereas in UK and especially Australia, there seems to be a one-size-fits-all approach. I feel a lot of the coaching that's been done in both those countries has harmed more players than it's improved. So the scepticism lies in the fact that we need to understand players, not just as people but also what style, movement patterns, and biomechanical structures they have in place that allows them to achieve their best outcome.
If I had a view in my head that one piece of advice could work with everybody, then I could probably throw out 75% of the players I've worked with.
You've worked at RCB with Virat Kohli for a few years. Give us an insight into his preparation and evolution.
He's the most impressive sportsman I've had the pleasure to work with – in any sport. He's in the same stratosphere as Roger Federer, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Messi. His approach to his own cricketing career and everything involved around it is extremely professional.
"He's (Kohli) the most impressive sportsman I've had the pleasure to work with – in any sport.
He offers a lot to everybody, not just in cricket. Everyone who gets to deal with him and work with him is empowered and feels like they are lifted by just being in his presence.
He's definitely fitter than he's ever been. What that allows you to do is under pressure, you're able to replicate technique and replicate movement patterns. So he's less likely than others to play a lazy shot or not execute the way he'd like because his fitness and his mind is so sharp. And that's where that brilliance lies. No doubt he's extremely talented, so it's not just hard work.
Regarding AB de Villiers and his ball-striking, is it all natural talent or is he doing something behind the scenes that we don't see?
I first met AB in 2009 when I was at Delhi, and he trains smarter than anybody I've worked with. He's mastered the art of replicating what he needs to do in a period of time in training to be able to move on. In Kohli and AB, you've got the Nadal and Federer of the cricket world. It's tough to pick who is the best of them. AB and Federer share a similar DNA I think, and the same with Nadal and Kohli. The point's never dead for Nadal, and the point's never dead for Virat. And AB, he finds a way as Federer does, in conditions where others struggle.
What is your role with RCB?
We feel like we've got all options covered. Gary's (Kirsten) around batting strategy, game management and decision-making. My job's more about…I'm like a swing coach. I'm making sure that their techniques are best utilised at practice so that they're ready to play and ready to make good decisions. And also across that, it's being able to identify talent, not just Indian but overseas talent as well.
You were part of the auction strategy team for RCB. Can you shed light on why the team didn't go for KL Rahul or why you retained Sarfaraz Khan?
Look, KL has been one of the stars of the IPL and will continue to be that way.
The beauty of the competition is the salary cap. Some teams have gone for depth, some have gone for high-impact players. They've got a great first XI but a few injuries and they could be in trouble. Our strategy was very much around being able to have depth but also a left-arm quick or a right-arm off-spinner or a left-arm spinner and allrounder. Corey Anderson came in to replace Nathan Coulter-Nile, he's a left-handed bat. We've got a right-handed bat in Colin de Grandhomme. We've got impact at the top in Brendon McCullum, but also we had Quinton de Kock and Parthiv Patel. Similar records and also similar styles. I suppose the best strategy is the winning strategy, which you can't judge at least for three years. But I like the depth we've had, the options and the structure.
You're also the fielding coach. There are no real ways right now to measure fielding in cricket…
Until there is a GPS system on each player. And that's the next thing. I want to know patterns of play. If there is a catch not taken, was it because it wasn't a catch or the players wasn't able to cover that ground compared to the standard play? I'd want everyone in the competition to wear GPS.
In the absence of that, we measure forced errors and unforced errors. We measure our movement patterns in terms of what we expect from them backing up. There's lots each franchise does and there's lots more everyone can do as well.