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BARINDER SRAN’S chance had finally come. He had spotted MS Dhoni on the first-floor foyer post breakfast. And most importantly the Indian captain was all alone. Sran could finally have his exclusive tete-a-tete now, the one he had longed for in Zimbabwe during the ODI series. The two obviously had had discussions regarding his bowling in the middle of the Harare Sports Club (HSC) during the course of the three matches of course.
In fact following Sran’s first over in the third ODI, Dhoni had spent a good two minutes explaining to his young left-armer the virtue of altering the line to slightly outside off-stump with his in-swinger to the right-hander to add to its effectiveness. But on Thursday morning, what Sran was looking for, like a studious kid who’s bumped into his favourite teacher in the hallway, was feedback from his skipper. This was his second overseas tour as India’s primary new-ball exponent and the 23-year-old was desperate to know how he’d gone.
Sran hadn’t quite made a notable first impression on his maiden tour Down Under. He had returned with 3 wickets at 56.66 and an economy of 6.45 in what was overall a forgettable series for the Indians. More than the numbers, it was his inconsistency and erraticism that had led to him being dropped after three games. In Harare too, he’s had moments where his radar has gone awry to disastrous effects. At least on three occasions he’s bowled wides that tested Dhoni’s flexibility and fitness while making dives down the leg-side. And he was the only Indian bowler who ended up bowling a spell that was even remotely expensive, giving away 40 runs in his eight overs in the dead rubber on Wednesday.
You meet Sran at the same foyer a few hours after his appraisal meeting with Dhoni. He doesn’t say much about how it went, but his gratified smile gives it away. It’s an ‘EE’ at the least. The boxer-turned-fast bowler does admit to have had his difficulties Down Under, and he puts it down to both inexperience and the flat wickets that the Aussies rolled out for India.
“I had a good domestic season prior to that. There was no left-arm pacer and India needed one. So they gave me a chance. I couldn’t perform to the best of my ability though. Maybe it was due to a niggle in my shoulder. But there was also inexperience. I had played one IPL game, and some 10-11 Ranji games,” he explains now.
In Harare, one of the most evident signs of his progress has been the ability to move the ball around in his early spells and that too sharply. It’s been very evident that he’s gone from short of a length in Australia to pitching the ball as full as possible to assist his swing at the HSC. More than a dozen times the Zimbabwe top-order has looked absolutely clueless against his in-coming delivery. If anything they’ve reacted to it with the same shock as someone would if a stone is flung at them while walking on the road.
But despite the abject techniques on display from the opposition, what Sran has done is pitch more than 75 per cent of his deliveries in the early spell in the batsman’s half. Twice poor PJ Moor has fallen victim to the same delivery, leading to the right-hander being dropped for the final match. To his credit, Hamilton Masakadza fell to him while driving at a delivery that angled away from him. Sran explains that the change of length has been a conscious move on his part.
“I changed the seam position a bit and made a slight alteration with the action. Because I’m getting the new-ball, I’m trying to swing it. I am not over-exerting myself. Because if I do that, I struggle to maintain wrist position and my swing gets affected. So I am only focusing on swinging the ball and trying to find the right areas to do that from,” he says.
Seam position, the key
Though he rarely got the new-ball during his IPL stint with the Sunrisers Hyderabad this year, he did have the luxury of picking the brains of not just Ashish Nehra but Trent Boult too. And rarely was he not seen in their company whenever the eventual IPL champions were at practice. It is during one of these encounters that Sran picked up the need to work on his seam position.
“Nehra paaji’s action is very different to mine so he focused more on how to bowl in different situations. About bringing the ball back in he gave me a few ideas.
About my front-arm, wrist position, he has given me a complete idea. That is helping me a lot,” he says. Post the IPL, Sran reveals to have gone to Chandigarh to spend time with his longstanding coach Ashok Unial to work on the seam position techniques that he’d learnt from Nehra and Bhuvneshwar Kumar.
Though the Zimbabwe batsmen didn’t allow the Indians to showcase their late-over skills, Sran did impress in the opening ODI, the only time the hosts lasted past the 40th over. He seemed adept at finding the block-hole, though he did struggle with landing his slower deliveries on the right spot every time, and got Sikander Raza bowled with a full delivery that cramped the right-hander. It’s another facet to his bowling that he’s added in between the two international exposures that have come his way rather early in his career. And he credits his Sunrisers skipper David Warner to have played a huge role in his development as a death-over specialist.
“He doesn’t put pressure on you in the death overs to necessarily bowl yorkers or slower ones. He asks you what you want and gives you a field accordingly. And that helped a lot,” he says.
Sran’s journey to the top hasn’t been down the trodden path, and it’s not just because he started his sporting career donning gloves of a different nature. Though his stocks have risen rapidly and rather unprecedentedly since he turned his back on Bhiwani, he does still keep in touch with his old sparring partners, even if many have only come to terms with his shift of allegiance recently.
“Initially they were quite upset with my decision. They were even angry with me for making the shift. But they are happy now that I am representing the country,” he says.
Sran mostly speaks in a whisper, and takes a couple of moments, seemingly to process every query, before responding in a strong, confident tone. Not many had even heard of him when he was picked out of the blue for the Australian tour in January. He can’t yet lay claim to be a household name, but he’s getting there.
But when asked about how his life’s changed dramatically over the last six months, he smiles sheepishly, as if he doesn’t see what you see.
“Sir, main toh waise ka waise hi hoon. Maybe others see me differently now. I have never believed in show-off,” he says. His face lights up most when the topic shifts to his family’s khet. And he talks with glee about his visits back home to Dabwali, where his family still tends to their fields like they always have.
“That’s the real me, and where I’m most comfortable at. Growing up I used to help out a lot in the fields, and every crop requires its own expertise,” he says, sounding as eager to talk about picking wheat as he does about swinging the new-ball. The only thing that has changed since the recognition of being an India cricketer has come his way, in his own confession, is that he no longer has to help out much on his home visits, and he’s left to sit back and enjoy the farm feel.
For good effect, he breathes in a bit of the fresh Harare air, as he says that.