As the coach of India A, you have voiced your concern about the players’ batting against spin. They don’t trust their defence. What’s the issue?
The batsmen are either hitting or defending, they are not rotating the strike. You need to rotate the strike to put the bowler under pressure. Strike rotation is something I have spoken to the boys about. If you are hitting straight to the covers and point fielders all the time, you are putting yourself under pressure, and then you are forced to play the big shot. So, as a batsman, taking singles is the key. And that’s what the boys need to try and develop. I think the values of singles had diminished because most these players play T20.
Playing spin is another area of worry. There is not enough experience of playing against quality spin as they come through age-group & Ranji cricket?
This is a generation of cricketers which has grown up watching and playing T20, probably the first such generation. They are very talented and very skillful players, but they need to negotiate difficult conditions, whether it is spin or pace, seam or swing. It’s an art which needs to be practiced, learnt and valued. Hopefully they will do that, and experience will help. As a coach, you just want players to get the awareness and understanding that they need to work on themselves. Then it is up to them. The guys who will do it, will improve and go on to do better things.
How tough is it for an aggressive batsmen to rein himself in?
Aggressive, passive is judged by the results you give. Cricket is about performance. It’s about scoring runs and taking wickets. And how do you do it? There is no set formula. The history of cricket shows you that people have succeeded with different techniques and styles. If you can score a hundred, run a ball, then go ahead and do it. And if you average 50, as Viru (Virender Sehwag) did for a large part of his career, then fantastic, that’s how you play. The problem arises when you are not able to score in that manner, then you need to change. Look at the way the guys averaging 50 played – they all played differently. What matters is success. If you don’t find success than you need to change.
Has T20 made batsmen uni-dimensional?
Maybe they need to re-learn the art of taking singles. In T20, batsmen have been easily given these singles as the field is spread out and the emphasis is on stopping the boundaries. And, anyway, they have to play big shots. The same is the case with bowlers — they are happy to give away those singles as they don’t want to get hit for sixes. Now you come to the game where there is a challenging situation, where the score is like 240 or 250. The team needs four or five runs per over, you can’t afford to give four or five runs in the form of singles. At the same time, these batsmen need to score these runs in the form of singles. I think it’s a skill and an art which some of the younger batsmen need to learn and get better at.
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Sunil Gavaskar has said T20 has affected things such as grips. Batsmen nowadays hold the bat too firmly, looking to hit through the line, and are forgetting the art of playing with soft hands?
There is no doubt that you need to play with soft hands whether you are playing seam bowling – you don’t want edges to be carried – or spin bowling – in order to defend or rotate the strike, which you can’t do with hard hands. You need to manoeuvre your hands. It’s a skill, it needs practice. If you are not going to practise that skill and that art, you won’t be able to use it in the match. Today there are three forms of the game, so you need to prioritise what you are practicing at what time. If you go to practice and start hitting, then you may do well in the IPL but not in first-class cricket. Conversely, if you keep leaving balls in first class cricket, then you may not succeed in the IPL. So a balance is needed.
These days we see bits-and-pieces players get encouraged and specialist spinners falling out of favour? Someone like Mumbai’s Harmeet Singh also losing his way?
A lot of under-19 boys who have come through the system are very well looked-after by the board till they are, well, under-19. They come at the NCA, they have best of the facilities, trainers and practice facilities. They are the superstars in their groups, which they obviously will be. They are used to succeeding, they are used to doing well, but when they graduate from under-19, the protective cover goes away. Then they have to rely on their state associations. You become a junior player in a state team. Suddenly you are in a completely different environment. Sometimes youngsters find it challenging to deal with. It’s like if you have topped your class and your school, and suddenly you make one of the IITs. Everyone there is a topper. Suddenly, dealing with that can sometimes not be an easy thing. Not all state associations have facilities like the NCA has. It’s a internal challenge. Sometimes you find that post the under-19 days, some boys take one or two years and then they comeback. Talent is there, ability is there, that is why they were stars in under-19. It takes sometimes one or two years to deal with, and understand, domestic cricket. Not everyone is a Virat Kohli. Generally, it takes time: be it Ajinkya Rahane, Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul – all of them have played under-19, but it took them some time to adjust at the senior level.
Do you think the style of practice and training has changed?
I really don’t know how Ranji Trophy teams practice as am not part of any Ranji side. But you have to practice what you are going to play in the game. You can’t do one thing in the nets and try different in the match. You need to figure out skills to succeed. If you are going to play on green tops or seaming tracks, and if you keep playing cover drives all the time you might not succeed. You don’t know where your off-stump is and try to leave every ball. If you are playing on a turning track you should know how to play on a turner.
What was your practice method?
Look, you have to practice what are you going to experience in the game. Before any big foreign tours, I used try and create very-hard-to-create situations like the ones you encounter in Australia and England, in Bangalore. But you know the skills required. You know you have to leave ball outside the off-stump, get a big stride in. If I knew that I would be playing on tracks which would turn, I practiced accordingly. More than the quantity of practice, it has to be quality, the purposeful quality.
How tough is it for any young kid to keep bowling those flighted deliveries? They resort to bowling flat and quick, and not spin enough?
I think the game is very simple. There are guys who can spin the ball or swing the ball. There are bowlers who bowl fast, if you are not fast than better you swing the ball. Or you better spin the ball or you have terrific control like Aniil Kumble. You need to have that. It’s not the questions of if you bowl flat or toss it up. If you toss the ball and spin it, it is hard to hit. Problem is that if you toss the ball and it doesn’t spin, than you will get hit and that’s the time bowlers start bowling flat. Shane Warne will toss it up but the key was he will spin it. The revolution is so much that it will drop and spin it. And when it came right it was very hard to hit. It’s simple you need to spin it. The ball is there to spun, swung or bowl fast. You have to do those one of the things if you have to succeed at the international level.
Do you think such a time is near when we won’t have spinners?
I think the guys who will succeed are the ones who will realise they can spin the ball. Players need to realise that not been able to spin the ball will not give you longevity. You might succeed for a little bit, might be able to fool people for sometime, but unless you have terrific control like Anil had – he couldn’t spin the ball much, but he could get the ball to bounce and had other strengths – there isn’t much hope. Or you will have to be someone like Muralitharan or Shane Warne, who can spin the ball. I have been telling spinners that you need to turn the ball. If you bowl slow and spin the ball, you will be more successful in the T20 format as well than someone who is bowling flat and fast.
Is it that captains at the domestic level don’t know how to use their spinners? Do they prefer utility players more than specialists?
What I have been hearing is that there have been plenty of green tops of late. That doesn’t mean that if you have square turners you’ll immediately produce spinners. We need good wickets. Cricketers are the product of their environment and if you provide good wickets which will help spin, help fast bowlers, you will get the right kind of cricketers. What you don’t want is extremes when it comes to a wicket. You don’t want absolute green tops which make a 125 kmph guy look like Malcom Marshall or you don’t want a turner where you make average spinners look amazing. I think our groundsmen are trying hard to find the right balance.
Do today’s batsmen lack temperament for the longer format?
How can you say that? Look at someone like AB (de Villiers) or Virat Kohli, do you think they lack temperament? Cheteshwar Pujara and Kohli have seven Test match hundreds under their belt. None of us from my generation had as many so quickly in our career. Sometimes we are very quick to judge and quick to criticize. I am not saying that they do not need to improve but we tend to look at the past and believe that things were better then.
How have the last three weeks been for you as India A coach?
It’s been a good experience. It’s not about winning or losing. Honestly, for me it’s never been about that. A lot of these A tours are about gaining experience. It’s about helping this young generation of cricketers grow. They have come here because they all have preformed and are desperately keen to impress the selectors and get into national reckoning. We are trying to give them as much opportunity as we can. Hope they learn something from here so that when they go to play higher or first-class cricket, they will be better off with the experience.