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T20's best through Laxman's eyes

VVS' take on Dhoni's brain, Maxwell's brawn and AB's brilliance

When he used to bat, one would feel the need to romanticise the game of cricket. Often one doubted if the willow could actually work the kind of wonders that VVS Laxman performed. Seldom would you associate art with batting, but Laxman made you do that and believe there was an artist at work on the 22-yards canvas.

Now, the times have changed, the game has evolved, entertainment has crept into the gentleman’s game and fast-paced cricket is the order of the day. Ask VVS Laxman if this is a welcome change, and the purist in him would choose to look at the competitive nature of T20s with a gentle smile. He confessed his love for ‘timing’ over ‘brute force’ and said that he still considered Tests to be the litmus test for a cricketer.

Despite his reverence for the five-day format, the ‘Very Very Special’ batsman appreciates the skill sets of batsmen in the shortest format of the game as well.

From beyond the boundary ropes, under the mentor’s hat, sits a master batsman, who sat down for a chat with IPLT20.com to analyse arguably the three most dangerous batsmen in T20 cricket – Glenn Maxwell, AB de Villiers and MS Dhoni.

Here are excerpts from a very very special interview:

The Big Show: Glenn Maxwell.

Laxman’s take – “Most fearless batsman this IPL”

What has been the key aspect of Glenn Maxwell’s batting this year?

Fearlessness. That is one thing that we saw very briefly in the ICC T20 World Cup this year. He was playing fearlessly, attacking from ball-one without the fear of losing his wicket, which has worked well for him and for Kings XI Punjab. The only difference between the T20 WC and the IPL is that he is converting starts into big scores. He is talented and skillful and can play a lot of innovative shots. What differentiates him from the other batsmen in this tournament is the fearlessness, which has helped him succeed.

Does he signify fearlessness in a format where it is needed the most?

Without a doubt! For someone to come and hit the first ball for a six, shows his mindset and shows the kind of confidence level he has at the moment. He is playing to his strengths. He does not have one or two shots that he relies on. He can play an array of shots and play a couple of shots for each and every delivery. If the same ball is pitched on the off-stump, he can hit it through midwicket and at the same time reverse-sweep it over point. That skill and the ability he possesses to destroy bowling attacks, make him a very dangerous batsman.

He has hit a purple patch this season. If you were Maxwell’s coach, would you talk to him constantly or just let him be?

I would just let him play the way he has played and I would just ask him to assess the situation better and win matches for his side. He has done it and there has been a vast improvement on that aspect from the T20 World Cup. He is learning from every game and he realises the importance of David Miller, Virender Sehwag and himself in that Kings XI squad. I have always felt that it doesn’t matter how quickly you get the runs as long as that innings has an impact on the result of the game.

How would you describe Maxwell in one word?

(Smiles) Destructive.

Absolute AB.

Laxman’s take – “Most complete batsman in the modern era”

Is he the most complete batsman in the modern era?

Yes, he is without a doubt; and I feel Maxwell is getting there. Like Maxwell, AB can play shots all around the wicket. He has got three or four shots for one delivery. There is nothing that he cannot do when he is batting. He is quick on his feet and in his thought process. To execute some of the shots he has played, one has to have a quick mind, which he has done effectively not only to mediocre bowlers but also to the best in the business. He is quick on his feet, always thinking, and an exceptional runner between the wickets, which makes him a complete cricketer.

Does he have the perfect blend of orthodox cricket and T20 cricket?

Yes, you are right. That is why he is complete. Because of his good basic technique, even on tough conditions, he can adapt quickly. To unsettle the opposition, he can play some freak shots and get his innovation into the picture and change the game singlehandedly. He has the potential to play aggressively and be defensive at the same time.

The most astute cricketing brain when it comes to batting?

I do not know him personally, but the way he bats, you can make out that he responds to a particular situation in a certain way. AB exactly plays the way he should in a particular situation.

MS Dhoni: The Monk.

Laxman’s take – “The perfect combination of brain and brawn”

One thing that every cricketer would want to have that MS Dhoni has?

Temperament. The reason MS Dhoni has been so successful, is his temperament and situational awareness, which is so important for a cricketer. He understands exactly what is to be done as a captain and as a batsman in a particular situation, and he delivers more often than not. You may have the best technique and skill, but you need to know when to do what, which Dhoni does brilliantly. His game is totally different when he comes to bat early and when he bats down the order during pressure-cooker situations, which all boils down to situational awareness.

Has he put more thought into his batting over the years?

Yes, he has, and a lot of it. The Dhoni during his debut was one-dimensional and the opposition bowlers could make him play according to their plans. But it is amazing how he has progressed as a batsman. He understands his own game and has the hunger to keep improving. I would say that MS Dhoni is an all-round player now.

This calmness that he is known for, is it his nature or does he make a conscious effort to be that way?

Calmness cannot happen overnight and it is a conscious decision by him to be calm. Especially when you are leading the side, you don’t want your captain to be restless or panic. Right from the first day I saw him, MS Dhoni has always remained the same. He has always taken cricket as a sport, which I think is his biggest strength. He doesn’t get emotionally attached to the result. He will be disappointed if the team losses, but he is not someone who will brood over the loss. He is always looking to start afresh. He is a very balanced cricketer and there are very few I have seen in my career who are as balanced as MS Dhoni.

Is he the perfect example of a cricketer who uses his brain and brawn to good effect?

He does no doubt. He is one player who has succeeded because of his brain. It is only because of what is between his two ears that he has succeeded. It is the main reason why he has become one of the legends of the game.

Anand Subramaniam

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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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