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Rahane-Amre eye T20 home-run

Adapt baseball-style training to generate power in strokes
Ajinkya Rahane during match 2 of the ANZ One Day International Cricket Series. New Zealand Black Caps v India at Seddon Park in Hamilton on Wednesday 22 January 2014. Photo: Andrew Cornaga/www.Photosport.co.nz

One of the most intriguing things about sport is the fact is that it is united in its diversity. While the nature of one sport could be completely different from that of another, one can borrow various skill-sets from the other.

A hockey player and a footballer can gain from adopting some training methods of one another’s sport pertaining to stamina, agility and awareness. In the same way, a cricketer can benefit by understanding and embracing a certain aspects of baseball and golf. Although the three sports are like chalk, cheese and chocolate, the basic of hitting the ball with a stick remains the same.

International cricket teams have inculcated baseball-style fielding and throwing technique in their training for a decade now. Mike Young, a former American baseball player, has been involved with the Australian, South African and Indian teams in the past as their fielding mentor.

However, it is an Indian cricketer, Ajinkya Rahane, and his Indian coach, Pravin Amre, who have now come up with the idea of adopting the baseball technique in batting.

Amre, a former India batsman and the man who led Mumbai to three Ranji Trophy titles as their coach, has seen Rahane grow from a talented young man to the Test batsman he has become today. He is keen for his ward to establish himself as a complete batsman in all formats of the game.

“One of the biggest challenges for batsmen today is to perform consistently in all three formats,” Amre told bcci.tv. “You have to work on every aspect of your batting – technique and power-hitting, temperament and shot-selection – if you don’t want to be pigeon-holed as a one format specialist.

“I am proud that Ajinkya has proved his mettle with a Test century overseas (in Wellington, New Zealand). I think it’s now time for him to establish himself as a force to reckon with in T20 format, with the World Twenty20. So, I thought of introducing this baseball-style training to him.”

With this idea, Amre has defied the notion that Indian cricket tends to look overseas for innovative coaching.

“As a certified Level 3 coach, I get access to several websites that have information about coaching in various sports,” Amre said. “You can always take things from one sport and inculcate them in another with modifications to suit.

“Cricket teams, for many years, have been using the baseball training technique in their fielding drills. Once, while going through one of these websites I thought, ‘if this technique can help in cricket fielding, why not batting? If it can help the fielders generate more power in their throws, why can’t it help the batsmen generate more power in their stroke?’”

The question led to a few self-conducted experiments in the nets and when Amre was convinced that it worked, he thought of his special ward. While Rahane is tremendously skilled when it comes to timing and placing the ball, power-hitting doesn’t come naturally to him, owing to his skinny frame. Amre thought he had found a way for Ajinkya to generate optimum power in his shots using his existing physical strength.

“I tried some of the things myself in the nets first before making Ajinkya do them,” Amre said. “I wouldn’t have tried it with any other batsman but I could freely involve Ajinkya because I know him so well and he trusts me completely as his coach. That trust is imperative because in the end it’s the player’s career that is on the line.

“Ajinkya is not a very physically strong guy but he is wiry and he has an excellent sense of timing – his game is based on timing and technique. We worked on drills of movements that would enable him to generate more velocity on the ball.

“One particular thing we worked on was using his entire core – in cricket while batting, we use mostly our shoulders, feet and hands. If he could learn to gather the strength of his core and put it into the stroke, the ball will go a distance. Even in the T20s, it’s not about how high you hit the ball but how long you hit it,” Amre explained.

Rahane, who is in Bangladesh with Team India, elucidated the process of training further, saying the major work was in generating more powerful bat-swing while going for big strokes.

“The objective of aligning to such a technique was to use my core to increase my productivity in hitting the ball,” Rahane told
bcci.tv. “This was more a top-up to my existing strengths in the Twenty20 format.

“The focus was on to get my bat swing to an optimum level where I could consistently execute a range of shots. We have seen how baseball players use their core strength to get their swing right and we tried to take a leaf out of that and instill it into my training,” Rahane said.

The mentor and the student put in hard yards for the limited number of days available to them in Mumbai to achieve the desired effect. “I had only three to four days with him before he left for Bangladesh,” Amre said. “We were fortunate to have fine indoor facilities at the BKC and MCA to carry out the training. We worked with bowling machines and wet artificial wickets.”

While he facilitated Rahane with all the technical and physical knowhow, Amre’s foremost goal was to give Team India a batsman who believed he could bat the team to victory from any situation.

“Most of all, I tried to instill a belief in him that he can play the big shots. In T20s it’s mostly about confidence and backing yourself to clear the rope.”

Shirin Sadikot

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‘Pujara will be India’s mainstay in World Cup’

Ravi Shastri feels a closely contested Asia Cup will act as build-up to 2015 event

India lost the last two series but because the conditions have been drastically different from those at home, there are positives to take from the tours. Playing overseas provides a player with the opportunity to learn as he is exposed to foreign conditions and challenges. Assuming the young Indian players have come back stronger from the twin overseas tours, I expect a totally different Team India in this Asia cup.

However, one also has to bear in mind that in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, India will be pitted against two teams that like them, play extremely well in the sub-continent conditions. So I think this will be the start of the build-up to the World Cup in 2015.

While the teams are from the sub-continent and will be playing in condition familiar to them, facing Bangladesh in Bangladesh is a challenge. Sri Lanka and Pakistan are both formidable sides as well. So it will be a tight contest.

All three teams have been playing extremely well. India have a good record against Pakistan and a decent one against Sri Lanka. Pakistan have a good record against Sri Lanka when it comes to one-day cricket. On the other hand, Sri Lanka is the only team that can upset India. It will be a close contest and everyone’s eyes will be on the tournament coming up next – the ICC World T20, 2014. The Asia Cup will be a build-up to that as well.

India’s batting

India need runs on the board and so they will need their top-three batsmen to fire. One of the reasons for not succeeding in South Africa and New Zealand was because the top-order didn’t fire. They need to get back into the kind of form that they showed against Australia in ODIs in India in 2013, where the top-three or four are amongst runs and scored big. So, if anyone gets a start, it is of paramount importance that they convert that into a hundred.

The batsmen went for all-out aggression in South Africa and New Zealand, which caused their downfall. They should take a cue from that performance and, especially against quality attack like Pakistan, must bat with the right mix of caution and aggression. For that, shot selection becomes utmost important.

One needs to know which shots to play when and to what kind of deliveries. At the same time, it is crucial to keep rotating the strike and the score board ticking.

I am pleased to see Cheteshwar Pujara in the ODI squad. Regardless of whatever people say about his fielding etc., I think he has a role to play as a batsman. He will only strengthen the top-order. He could do the job for the team where one has to bat for long periods. By no stretch of imagination is he someone who can just grind the attack. He can be a totally different player in the one-day game. I believe that he is going to be one of our mainstays in the forthcoming World Cup.

Ajinkya Rahane has been impressive. The biggest positive for me was the way he played in South Africa and New Zealand. With a Test hundred under his belt I see him going places because he is a dedicated young player who has worked hard to get his opportunities and he is not about to throw this away.

India’s bowling

India's bowling is their weakest link. The lack of consistency in the bowling attack, whether it is pace or spin, is an area of concern. Attention will have to be given to identify bowlers who are fresh, hungry and who would stay that way twelve months down the line when the World Cup commences.

They need to be consistent. Each bowler’s role needs to be identified and then see how he evolves in it. It may be completely different from his role in a Test match.

Key factors

MS Dhoni’s absence due to injury is a massive blow to the side. There is no other player who can bat at No. 5 and 6 in ODIs like he does. He is one of the best in the game. But with injuries come opportunities for other players, in this case Virat Kohli in a leadership capacity and Dinesh Karthik with the gloves as well as the bat.

Kohli is one of the best young players in the world. The last two tours have only enhanced that reputation. He is someone who relishes captaincy. He likes responsibility and thrives on it. So this will be good exposure for him.

There is nothing like a win to put one back on track with a long season coming up. The result of this tournament is not going to have a direct effect on India’s World Cup performance but at least it will start putting things into perspective because it will be a tough tournament. India will be tested against tough teams in conditions which they all relish.

(As told to Prajakta Pawar)

Ravi Shastri

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