The Indian dressing room was understandably jovial,uproarious laughter piercing through the half-empty stands of the Premadasa Stadium after their record-breaking ninth consecutive victory on Thursday night. In the middle of the celebrations,two men were having a serious conversation Irfan Pathan,who had just salvaged his comeback with the softer ball,wanted answers from Zaheer Khan about some problems that cropped up with his bowling during the match.
The senior left-arm seamer,rested for the fourth one-day international,was more than willing to lend a helping hand.
Zaheer first heard Irfan out,and then demonstrated the basics of the release of the ball,the wrist position,and advised how to make last-minute adjustments for a slower ball. Zaheer then did a practical demonstration on the outfield. Dont think much,you just throw the ball, he advised Irfan,while asking him to bowl a few deliveries.
Irfans dilemma is slightly different from the last time,when he went searching for Wasim Akram and Andy Robertss advice. He knows what needs to be done now,but doesnt seem to be able to execute it correctly. And who better than Zaheer,arguably the best left-arm seamer in world cricket today,to show him the way.
Zaheer then indicated to Irfan the difference between thinking about the delivery at the top of the run-up,and thinking about it in the final stride. When you are taking the jump,rock back and then pause mentally. Now think of what ball you have to bowl. You will know how the batsman is reacting instead of just pre-planning the delivery and running in, he told Irfan.
Irfan had had problems on Thursday with the new ball after Sanath Jayasuriya launched into an early offensive,and though the Indian paceman did dismiss him,the need for more work was reiterated by his opening-spell figures of 5-0-42-1.
An optional practice was slotted on Friday at the request of Irfan,Lakshmipathy Balaji and Ravindra Jadeja and the parameters of their work were to be judged by Sachin Tendulkar,who agreed to pad up against the bowlers. This is the correct length,you didnt give me width to cut the ball, he kept telling Irfan.
Tendulkar was giving final touches to the job started by Zaheer the previous night,as Irfan,monitored closely by Venkatesh Prasad,bowled with a semi-new ball to an imaginary field.
It was a special gesture from Sachin to agree to come with us for this optional practice. Its a relaxed environment and he passed on invaluable information, said coach Gary Kirsten,who also helped Tendulkar wipe out little difficulties in his on-side play that has been getting him leg-before this series.
The Indian coach defended Irfan. Its been difficult for him. Hes been in and out of the side and hasnt played many games. Hes worked really hard and the kind of work ethic he has is admirable. I hope it will be suitably rewarded.
As things stand,Irfan is still a work in progress,but this time he isnt looking too far outside for advice. Having learnt his lessons,now hes merely looking for a set of motivators.