WITH Mohammed Shami on his way back home and Mohit Sharma out with injury, the onus will be on Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar to take up from where the Indian pace attack left off on their last visit Down Under. While this will be Ishant’s first outing with the white ball in almost a year, Yadav and Kumar didn’t have the most memorable outings in the lost home series to South Africa. India’s bowling coach, Bharat Arun, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of the three seamers, their development during his tenure and reveals why he feels they are primed to lead the attack in the coming months.
Ishant, a complete bowler
ISHANT is probably one of the most technically sound bowlers in the world today. He’s had his successes and downfalls. But he now has the experience to deal with them. Being a mentor to the other fast bowlers in the team now has gone a long way in the enhanced understanding he has of his own bowling. He knows he’s setting an example for them, and he’s doing that exceedingly well.
It is all a process of evolving. It takes long hours to gain that kind of confidence for a fast bowler. It’s a lot of hard-work. And then there’s the question of translating that confidence into performance.
Ishant did just that in Sri Lanka during our Test series there. He proved to me and everyone else that he is now a complete bowler. He was constantly getting initial breakthroughs in Sri Lanka. The final Test at SSC, where he took five wickets to close out the match, was the icing on the cake. The performance was exceptional. I could see that Ishant had taken that step up and also looked a lot more comfortable with how he was going about his business.
Ishant has been through it all. For long he was playing with Zaheer Khan as the senior pro. With experience he’s understood like we all do that what suits one bowler may not suit another one. You have to realize that the skills you have is unique and you need to work towards that. The experience of another bowler can be beneficial if I can use it to my advantage in a way that suits me best. What X does could be totally out of context for you. But certain aspects I can mould it to my style.
It’s like your hand-writing. Everyone’s got a different style of writing. If you take 20 different people, each one is different. But the way you write A, B, C doesn’t change. But if you put in effort using your own style, you can always improve your handwriting. If you try to write like me then your whole flow is gone. Then you are focusing on how I need to do your job rather than just doing it in a way that comes naturally to you. Bowling is also very much the same. It’s just another stage of evolution.
Ishant always had the ability to beat the bat. But maybe he didn’t always have the wickets to show for it. He’s now developed the ability to bring the ball that comes in with the arm and then leaves the right-hander consistently. He’s had it before too. But earlier he would bowl only from close to the stumps. Now he’s just started doing it while bowling from slightly wider of the stumps. That is helping him to get the batsmen to commit a lot more to playing at the ball and therein producing more outside-edges. It’s a skill that James Anderson has produced many wickets with. On occasions, Ishant’s even getting the ball to not just straighten but leave the batsman, which makes him a real threat at all times. He’s comfortable now with experimenting with different release points, and it’s paying dividends.
Ishant’s USP these days are the yards of pace he’s added and the new-found accuracy. He’s very consistent in his line and length. He’s also consistently hitting 140+ these days. He’s become a lot stronger and now he’s got rich experience. As he showed in Sri Lanka, if there’s little help from the wicket, he can be a menacing bowler. Even on the tracks against South Africa which were spinner friendly, he was very difficult to score runs of. He also chipped in with wickets with reverse swing and his nagging accuracy. His arm also is much higher these days which allows him to get even more bounce than before off the track. That makes him a really potent bowler. All that combined, this is the time for Ishant to collect the loot.
Practice makes Umesh perfect
UMESH is a different personality to all the others in the pace attack. He’s reserved and might not be as eloquent about what he does with the ball like say a Varun Aaron. But he’s someone who always wants to do or practice something in action to feel more comfortable with it. Say, if we’re talking about trying different angles, he will first employ it in the nets or in a match and see the results to be comfortable doing it.
I guess the confidence he gets from the captain and the other batsmen who tell him how he’s troubling them in the nets and how he’s reversing is crucial too. While bowlers sharing information amongst themselves is very important, it’s equally imperative that the batsmen share their views on what’s going right or wrong with the bowlers while facing them during practice. Umesh if anything thrives on this feedback.
It could be about what they think his real strength is and what deliveries were more menacing than others. Or maybe which angle they thought worked for him and stuff like that. And then you are aware that your country boasts of some of the top batsmen in the world. If they come out and respect you, then immediately your confidence soars and you are now aware that you have it in you to trouble the best in the world. Once you have this core set up for you then your job is to go out and execute what your role is.
All you need to work on is to being consistent. That’s where Umesh has improved immensely. You saw him in Sri Lanka and again in Delhi against South Africa. Yes, you need to be fast to be able to make an impact on the international circuit, which he’s blessed with. Plus he reverses the ball better than any Indian bowler and moves the new-ball too. So what is that missing-link? This is where you need to look at the great fast bowlers of yore. Take a Malcolm Marshall. He had the kind of pace I have, he swung the ball at pace like I do. I have all the ingredients. Then you identify that one facet that you could bring in to your already established skill-set. In this case, it’s the consistency.
The way he bowled in Delhi was in a way a reminder to himself that he can be a champion in his own right. It was just a sample of what I can do. But cricket is a game of failures. And you have to understand that there will be times when I will be taken to the cleaners. My plans will not lead to fruition. When I accept the fact that I can blow away an opposition line-up I should also accept the fact that they will do the same to me on days. It’s about enjoying the journey. You should be able to put your hand up and say either “I did a good job” or “I messed it up” in the same tone.
And that is exactly the area that he himself recognized and wants to improve upon. There are times when you are hit and suddenly go for a burst of runs. But you can’t get flustered. You still need to be consistent. Not being too worried about what happened in the previous over or delivery or spell. By thinking ahead of the ball you’re about to bowl, you can change the condition for your team and win back the lost momentum. That’s what great bowlers do. They get hit but come back strong. In the same innings they might have bowled a spell where they have been taken apart but later on when they come back they are ready to do a job with a fresh mind. They take that time out to reflect rather than regret. Umesh has begun recognizing that. You can see that in his body language.
It’s not easy that he doesn’t get to play regularly. But it’s a testament to our team culture and to Umesh that he’s now completely aware of his exact role and he has embraced it.
Swing’s back, so is Bhuvi
FIRSTLY, I do not endorse the concept or theory that Bhuvneshwar’s lost his swing in the quest to add yards to his pace. I know everybody’s talking about it. It is so wrong. And unlike what many say, I don’t consider him as some sort of ‘failure’ for me as bowling coach.
If you look at Umesh Yadav. He bowls consistently at 140+ and at times touches 150 kph and he swings the ball. There have been greats like Malcolm Marshall and Brett Lee and Wasim Akram who still used to swing the ball at over 150+. If you have your basics right, you will definitely swing the ball regardless of your speed. I also feel for Bhuvi, the team combination has been such that he has been left out of the XI often after the England tour in 2014. He has not played too much. It’s difficult for a bowler to get into that same groove when you have a long gap.
Fast bowling is science. In pursuit of something you don’t have there could be bad habits that creep in without your knowledge. Like how a technically sound batsman can have small bad habits sneak in. Then you realize and say, “Yes this is not done”. You have to go back to the board and start working on the basics. That is exactly what Bhuvi has done. I can confidently say that he has regained his trademark swing.
I can say that he’s worked really hard on his fitness. He’s become stronger and if you look at how he’s bowling presently they wouldn’t or can’t say that he is not swinging the ball like he used to. Yes, there was a time when he was not as consistent with his swing. But these are periods that every bowler goes through. We talk about batsmen and how their form can dip on and off. That doesn’t mean that the batsman has lost it or that he won’t make it again. It happens to bowlers as well. So I guess these wrong opinions get formed. But now he’s added to his pace. There were also instances during this phase where he bowled brilliantly. If you look at the ODI in Indore against SA, he won us the match. It is unfair to say that he’s lost it all. Bhuvi will be an ideal foil to the present lot with his swing back. He now bowls consistently at 135+ and I’m sure you’ll see a lot of him soon.
—Arun spoke to Bharat Sundaresan before the Indian team flew to Australia.