Dubai: If former Indian all-rounder Robin Singh had been plying his trade in the franchise-ruled T20 leagues these days, he would have been one of the most sought-after players with his skill sets. However, the soft-spoken 54-year-old has more than made up for it as a coach — jet-setting between the cricketing nations to be at the dugouts during the leagues and Dubai where he has set up his own academy.
A visit to the Robin Singh Sports Academy at the Dubai’s Iranian Club reveals his obsession for fitness and athleticism.
In a wide-ranging interview to Gulf News, Singh offers his take on everything cricketing — including his recent mission to groom cricketers from the emirate.
On how he took up coaching: When I retired in 2003-04, I was requested to take over as coach of the India Under-19 team by the late Jagmohan Dalmiya. Fortunately, whatever I did with the Under-19s and Under-18s had a lot of success. From there it actually triggered off and inspired me to take on coaching. For me the key is to be able to help young cricketers to go to the next level and being able to take their game to different levels. My aim with my academy in Dubai is also to help some of the young kids here to take their cricket to the next level and make them understand that there is no short cut.
On India stars that he coached as juniors: In the first team I coached, we had a lot of young cricketers who went on to play for India like Dinesh Karthik, Ambati Rayudu, R.P. Singh Piyush Chawla, Shikhar Dhawan and Irfan Pathan. Then I got involved with the ‘A’ team, which had Gautam Gambhir, Cheteshwar Pujara, Robin Uthappa and Ravindra Jadeja. I am happy some are still playing the game from 2003 onwards and happy to see the way they have developed their game in the past six to seven years.
On his experience as Team India’s fielding coach: I could bring intensity into fielding as we had a very lax approach. We had two sets of players. We had players who were very young, and we also had older guys, who couldn’t really take their fielding to higher levels though they were really good at catching.
So I had to think what is best for the team and based on that I worked on people’s approach individually. I tried to improve everybody’s standards to their best capacity. To improve a team’s fielding standards you have to understand what a fielder is capable of. You cannot push a fielder to be like (Ravindra) Jadeja, who is a brilliant fielder and you cannot try to push an Ishant Sharma to become like Jadeja. You have to understand his capacity and limitations.
My mission is to really try and see how I can take cricket to another level … I want to make sure they can stay here and learn the right approach.
On being Mumbai Indians coach in IPL: I have been with them for 10 years now and it has been a pretty exceptional journey. When I got into the team, we were actually almost at the bottom of the table. After I took over as coach, we lost in the final against Chennai. That turned out to be the defining year as we started building a style — what we wanted to do — and kept on building on that. Every year we kept trying to see how we can improve as a team. The ultimate goals are to win and see how many players we can churn out to play for India.
On his ability as a fielder that gave India crucial breakthroughs: To be a good athlete, you have to be fit. I was a good fielder because I was fit. To be a good fielder you also have to do something out of the box. You need to create something out of nothing. You need to also think like a bowler on the field and even create a run out even without touching the ball. Things like creating doubts in the batsman’s mind. You also have to understand what the bowler is going to do and also understand what type of batsman is batting. Anticipation is very important.
On an instance which made him proud as fielder: In 1989 when I played against West Indies, I used to stand in short-leg with no helmet especially when hitters like Viv Richards and Gordon Greenidge were batting. Today you don’t see people there without a helmet. I caught Richards at short leg off Narendra Hirwani and that was something very special.
On his comeback at 33 and what lesson he learnt from it: Today you can see people playing the sport at 40, which was not really the case then. One of the few guys, probably Gavaskar in his era and Clive Lloyd played longer because they were batsmen. So for fast bowlers it is a little tough. Realistically it is very achievable now because I think with franchise cricket, people are trying to keep themselves even fitter. There are so much financial implications attached to things and hence the appetite to play the game longer is much more now.
On the mission of his UAE academy: My mission is to really try and see how I can take cricket to another level. A lot of young kids want to go out of the country and train. I want to make sure they can stay here and learn the right approach as supposed to going out. We have a boy named Rahul Bhatia from the academy, who played for Northern Warriors team in T10 League, and Ansh Tandon, who are part of the academy and training here. If I can get 10 to 12 boys to make the UAE team, I will be happy.
On what are youngsters lack here: They lack patience, quality cricket and proper coaching. Competitions really need to improve. The standard of competition is very average. It can give them a false sense of being and not a realistic position. I want to make them understand that and even when we do training I make it really tough so that they understand it is not an easy part. You have to expose them and see what they are capable of and not, and really test their temperament and skills.
The traits Robin saw in Tendulkar and Dravid
On Tendulkar: Sachin, for example, he always wanted to be the best. There was no second best for him. Until he was satisfied he will not move on to the next. I have worked with him and once there was a particular shot he was not mastering. We worked on it for five to six hours continuously until he was sure in his mind that he can counter that in a game. So there was no compromise. It was about being the best.
On Dravid: Dravid is one who will not give up and was very determined and you have to literally fight for his wicket. It was like drawing blood from a stone. People like Rahul and V.V.S. Laxman are extremely determined. When Laxman made a comeback after he was left out I think he got about 10 centuries on the trot. The appetite in them to succeed was very high. There is nothing that can come in the way. For them everything was secondary until they achieved what they wanted. That is the key.
• Full name: Rabindra Ramanarayan Singh (Robin Singh)
• Born in Trinidad before coming to India for studies.
• Played for Tamil Nadu and made his debut in his birth place for India.
• Made his One Day International debut in 1989 and was ignored till 1996.
• Produced a stupendous comeback and went on to play in 136 One Day Internationals scoring 2336 runs with one century and nine half centuries and took 69 wickets.
• Retired from all forms of cricket after 2003-04 season and took on a career as coach.
• Appointed as India’s fielding coach before the tour of Bangladesh in May 2007 and held that position for over two years.
• Took over as Mumbai Indians’ coach for the third season of the India Premier League.
• Coaches the Caribbean Premier League’s Barbados Tridents since 2013.
• Coached the Kerala Kings to title triumph in the inaugural T10 League and also coached the Northern Warriors as champions in the second edition.
• Coached the Khulna Division cricket team in the Bangladesh Premier League and Ulva Cricket team to tile triumph in the Sri Lanka Premier League in 2012.
Robin Singh, who is known for his fitness during his playing days, has maintained a high-level of fitness. At 54 he leads an active life as a most-sought after coach in various countries, while also dedicating his time in the running of his coaching academy.
Wakes up: I don’t need long hours of sleep. I generally sleep between 5-6 hours, which will be sound. Never sleeps during the day. As I don’t require lots of hours of sleep, I generally tend to go to the bed late.
Intense training of about 1.30 hours of training. I follow an intense training programme, which varies on a day-to-day basis — it could running one day, something the other — and it could up to even two hours during the Indian Premier League as I need to be stronger for the busy schedule. I also do a lot of stretching as one’s flexibility goes down with the age.
Breakfast. With lots of fruits. I don’t drink fizzy drinks, no alcohol, no sweets. The only indulgence is I drink lots of coffee.
Lunch. It includes plenty of salads and fruits as I am a vegetarian. I add lots of green vegetables to my menu.
Practice session. Especially during the Premier League, requires me to be on the ground for about 4-5 hours.
Dinner. A light one. I generally avoid eating heavy food and avoid eating late at night. Each one should have their own diet that suits them as eating habits are critical in staying fit and healthy. I would also prefer to have the fruits in the original form than fresh fruit juices.
— A.K.S. Satish, Senior Pages Editor