India’s historic 2-1 series triumph in Australia was as much about some of the players in their first series Down Under as it was about Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli. The Indian Express spoke to coaches of Rishabh Pant, Kuldeep Yadav and Mayank Agarwal to get a sense of how they managed to unshackle themselves on the big stage.
‘Keval tere runs hi tere ko bacha sakte hain’ Tarak Sinha on Rishabh Pant
I spoke to Rishabh (Pant) on Christmas. He seemed cheerful, but the fact that he was getting out to Nathan Lyon was bothering him. I told him: “Rishabh, tu Lyon ko front foot pe kyon khel rahe ho. Use backfoot mein khel. (Play Nathan Lyon on the back foot). He is such a wonderful backfoot player, but I noticed that he was getting out to him (Lyon) by coming on the front foot and getting deceived by his dip. When he scored the century in Sydney, he made an effort to play Lyon on the backfoot. Playing him so late from the crease nullified the threat Lyon was posing with his deception. Another thing that I told him was to be more judicious in his shot selection. “You have all the shots in the world. But take your time… this is a 5-day game. Tu apne liye khel to apne aap team ke liye achcha hoga,” I told him.
Coming into Sydney, Rishabh was aware that he had frittered away opportunities after scoring 20s and 30s. “Koi tere ko bacha nahi sakta, keval tere runs hi tere ko bacha sakte hain.” (Nothing can guarantee your spot in the Test team except the runs that you score). Right from his Test debut at Trent Bridge six months ago to the recent MCG Test, I feel Rishabh could not get out of that T20 mode. In the longer format, he has to alter his game, leave a lot more deliveries outside off-stump and remain patient. Thankfully, his knock in Sydney proved that he has the game to play Test cricket.
Batting at No.7 can be tricky. At times, you have to bat with the tail, and shield them, while on other occasions, you have to score quickly. Having back-to-back series in England and Australia can be tough on any youngster. But Rishabh has shown tremendous maturity and game awareness. I can say with assurance that his batting has gone up several notches since his Test debut.
He is just 21, but Rishabh has already experienced the highs and lows this game has to offer. After his spectacular debut season in Ranji Trophy, he went through a phase when he was not scoring as prolifically. This coincided with him getting dropped from India’s limited-overs squad. It wasn’t easy for him. As a player, he had his apprehensions, and as his coach my job was to motivate him. Back then, we used to have long chats, and I tried to keep him motivated by delving on his obvious strengths. What truly helped him turn a corner was his decision to shift his focus to fitness. This was instrumental in his transformation. Thankfully, he found help from his captain Virat Kohli.
Two years ago, he was much bulkier. Today, he is leaner and fitter. As far as his wicketkeeping is concerned, Rishabh struggled with the swinging Dukes ball in England. Not just him, but any other ‘keeper making his debut under such conditions would have struggled as it takes time to get acclimatised to such alien conditions.
I had spoken to him after the England tour, and from what I could understand, more than the movement off the pitch, the ball used to deviate in the air after it crossed the batsman. Such late swing was what troubled him. I told him to concentrate harder and keep watching the ball more carefully right from the time it leaves the bowler’s hand. Thankfully, in Australia, the ball does not swing as much as it does in England, and the pitches are much harder. However, he was criticised for dropping catches in Australia, but name one ‘keeper who hasn’t dropped catches early in his career.
Despite the criticism, Rishabh still managed to set a record for the most catches by an Indian wicketkeeper in Australia. Doesn’t that tell you something about his talent?
‘Focus on the next delivery as if your life depends on it’ Irfan Sait on Mayank Agarwal
I spoke to Mayank the day before he made his Test debut in Melbourne. He obviously exuded a hint of nervousness, but I told him to remain calm. My advice to him was simple: “You are playing in Australia against a world-class bowling attack, and you are bound to get beaten. The most important thing is to forget about it and focus on the next delivery as if your life depends on it.”
This is the philosophy I have drilled into him ever since he walked into my academy 13 years ago. There’s been a lot of talk about Mayank’s impending Test debut, especially after his breakthrough Ranji season last year, and the time he spent on the fringes. But Mayank remained positive, and not even once did he sound tensed. I remember him telling me: “I am enjoying my batting and if destiny permits, I will play for India. Vo bilkul negative nahi tha.” It was his batting that helped him tide through this phase. Everyday from 9 am to 3.30 pm, he would be at my academy, toiling away at the nets. After a break, he would begin working on his fitness. Such was his schedule. I was not surprised when he finished as the season’s highest run-scorer last season.
I feel he should have achieved that consistency much earlier. Perhaps, it was down to the fact that he had this issue of over-analysing his game and focusing on his technique too much. That cluttered his mind somewhat, and that was the reason for his poor conversion rate. During this period, I had asked Mohammad Azharuddin to have a chat with him, who asked him to just go out and enjoy his game. Back in the academy, batting coach Ross Edwards and I devised a plan to unshackle him. We got a sticker printed on his bat which said: “Be happy and play”. We went out of our way to help him, because we genuinely believed in his potential.
‘Ye soch ke ball dal ki main spinner hai’ Kapil Pandey on Kuldeep Yadav
Kuldeep was dejected after Lord’s. The conditions were not conducive. Unhelpful pitch, rain and the Dukes ball. Now when Kuldeep plays for the Indian team, he wants to take five wickets. There he couldn’t take one. So he was obviously disappointed. Then he came to me. I made him bowl 20 overs at a stretch in one session.
His skin was burning because he was bowling in the hot sun. But those sessions were needed to remove his flaws, like his grip. Uska haath bhi thoda bahar se aa raha tha. So over three days of intense practice we made minor corrections.
In Australia he was under pressure again. He had performed well in T20s but he did not get a chance in the first three Tests. But when Ashwin got injured, I felt he could get a chance. He had to prove himself. He called me. I told him ODI mein jaisa dalta hai tappa pakad ke waise hi yahan pe bhi daal. Ball bhi Kookaburra hi hai. To usne vo hi kiya. He called me yesterday, he was very happy. I told him now onwards don’t think you are the second or third spinner. Ye soch ke ball dal ki main spinner hai.
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