“Scoring runs is all very well. But to win a Test match, you need bowlers to take 20 wickets”.
As clichéd the sentence is, its worth cannot be overstated. And so, the five wise men in charge of Team India’s selection, decided to send a pack of seven pace bowlers – including a seam bowling all-rounder – to England for the five-Test series.
While the batsmen ruled the roost in the first Test, the Indian pacers put up a rather courageous and disciplined performance on a moribund Trent Bridge pitch. Bhuvneshwar Kumar bagged his first Test five-wicket haul and Ishant Sharma delivered a burst of brilliance during his post-lunch spell on the third day.
The way the pacers stuck to their plan of bowling full and straight, was testimony to the time and effort they put into their preparations since getting to the UK.
To get an insight into how the bowlers readied themselves for the big Test series, BCCI.TV spoke to India’s bowling coach, Joe Dawes ahead of the Lord’s Test. Dawes spoke about the variation in the pace attack and discussed some of the bowlers individually.
How challenging is it to come here with such a young and inexperienced bowling group?
There’s no doubt it is a challenge but it is more exciting really. We have seven young bowlers. You can spend a lot of time getting overwhelmed by that fact but you’d rather take it as an exciting challenge. We prepared well and used the two warm-up matches to get the lengths right and adapting to the conditions. That has made the boys more confident.
It’s important for them to rest their bodies but then also get stronger before going into a series of five back to back Tests. That is a massive task for us – to get their bowling right and also ensuring their fitness level is high.
Although the wicket in first Test was more like an Indian pitch, what is the single most important thing they need to be mindful of when bowling on England pitches?
It’s all about sticking to a simple plan of trying to hit the top of off-stump and bowl a good bouncer. This group of bowlers did well in South Africa and New Zealand and they have learnt that in overseas Tests when the conditions are in your favour, you don’t need to try too hard. Just stick to the plan and let the wickets do the rest.
We put a target on the top of the off-stump and ask the guys to hit it. You’d rather get driven on the front foot than hit off the backfoot. The process started when we got here. In Leicester, in our first practice match, the boys were still adapting and they bowled short often. In the second warm-up, that improved and the length got much fuller. We saw the result in the first Test where the boys bowled consistently full length.
How has it been to have such a large group of pacers?
We are in a good place when it comes to our pace attack, having seven, including Stuart Binny, to choose from. For the first time we’ve got a couple of tall guys in Ishant and Pankaj, which is good. We’ve got Bhuvi, who swings the ball and we have pace in Shami and Varun. Stuey can be very useful in conditions conducive for swing. So, irrespective of the kind of wickets we get, we have all basis covered when it comes to our bowling.
Stuart Binny didn’t bowl much in the first Test. Do you reckon he will have a bigger role to play with the ball in the coming matches?
Stuey could play a very important role in this series if we decide to go in with five bowlers in most matches. A seam bowling all-rounder is great to have in any side. The good thing about him is that he is a really fine batsman too. That means playing him doesn’t deteriorate our batting. And even if he doesn’t bowl many overs, we still have a proper batsman down there. He has worked really hard on both his bowling and batting.
A crucial weapon for the pacers is the bouncer. Do you think it remains as effective with the pace of most Indian bowlers?
I know the bouncer is not that effective on the slow and low wickets. But it is a weapon that every pacer has to develop. Bhuvi is perhaps our slowest bowler in this attack and yet he has the best bouncer in the group, because it is a surprise. He has gotten Chris Gayle out with a bouncer a couple of times. The key is when to bowl it. But if you don’t bowl it, you’re letting the batsman off.
What is your first impression of Ishwar Pandey?
He’s a good bloke and good bowler. He’s someone who would just settle in and bowl good line and length. We think he is a big part of the future of this group because he is someone who can just lock in from one end, ask questions all the time off the batsmen.
How has it been working with someone like Pankaj Singh, who is a veteran in India’s domestic circuit?
Pankaj has been fantastic. It’s been such a learning experience to talk to him and to listen to him talk about cricket. That maturity of having been around longer than the other guys shines through. He knows what he wants to do. He has to step up to meet the challenges of international cricket like anyone who gets in the team first and he has been working hard. But he comes in with a belief in his game, which is a big part of the process.
Who is the leader of India’s bowling attack after Zaheer Khan?
The obvious choice is Ishant. He has been around for a long time, played 55 Test matches. He needs to step up and assume the leadership of this attack.
Do you think he is ready for that role?
I think he is exciting. You’ve got a bloke who’s 25 years of age and played 55 Test matches. He has had a pretty rough time so far – came in as a super star, got injured, went in and out, had various levels of success – some incredible highs and lows. I admire the fact that he doesn’t let much of that affect him. We push him to be the leader and he wants to be one. We’ve got high expectations off him and does he always meet them? No. But that has never been for the lack of trying.
Don’t you think for a bowler of his skill and potential he is a little inconsistent?
I know people are sick of hearing that Ishy is unlucky. I don’t think he is unlucky but he doesn’t always get the reward when he bowls well. He bowled really well in SA and NZ and got some good wickets too, but it still doesn’t reflect how well he actually bowled. One thing I can tell you is that now he understands the mental side of bowling much better. He knows what he wants to do and we have seen that in the last year or so. There is still a ball every over that you don’t want and that’s frustrating. But I believe he is improving in the consistency aspect.
He seemed to have a lot of problems with his front foot, especially during the two practice matches.
I think it’s a sign that he has improved his pace and was trying to get his lengths right. We worked on his run-up during the second practice match – a run-up is something that keeps evolving with time. Because he is now a little fitter and stronger than he was and is more confident, he needed to make a tweak in his run-up, which we did.
What is your take on R Ashwin?
I admire that Ash has great belief in his ability and that he is very single-minded in what he tries to do. Can he keep it simpler? I think he can. But that is part of the learning process. He is the fastest Indian spinner to 100 wickets and that is amazing considering the great history of spin bowling in the country. He now has to adapt bowling on the overseas wickets.
“Scoring runs is all very well. But to win a Test match, you need bowlers to take 20 wickets”.
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Professional sport is fairytale sprung to life. One day you’re an ordinary human being, fighting your way through life, going through the motions and living out the script.
The next day the script changes. You find yourself on a pedestal higher than most people in the world. You are no more ordinary.
But his fairytale began when in the 11th year of his domestic cricket career, he got a call into Team India. In his third ODI, he achieved the best bowling figures in the format by an Indian. A few weeks later, he was batting to save a Test match for India in England.
Binny walked in to bat on the final day of the Trent Bridge Test after the quick fall of Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and MS Dhoni. There was moisture in the air and the English pacers were getting the ball to reverse swing prodigiously. Binny batted for 164 minutes and scored 78 of the most crucial runs of the match.
After saving the Test, Binny shared his joy with bcci.tv in a delightful chat.
How does it feel like to be a Test cricketer? You’ve had to wait quite a bit for this one.
It’s an unbelievable and very proud feeling, especially for the family and all my friends who supported me throughout the tough times I faced to get here. Personally it was a very special feeling to walk out on the field for my first session of Test cricket.
You’ve been playing domestic cricket since 2003. At any point, did you stop thinking about Test cricket?
To be honest, I never really put too much pressure on myself to play any format or at any level. I’ve always made sure that whatever cricket I am playing, I enjoy myself. I didn’t think or not think about playing Test cricket. I just took it as it came. But at the moment I am really happy that I have a Test cap.
Not a bad start to the Test career – under pressure, match saving knock.
I was a bit disappointed with the way it went in the first innings. I did the hard work for the first 10-15 minutes – which is the most crucial phase for a batsman – and then played a loose shot to get out. So today I just wanted to go in there and spend as much time in the middle as I could.
The ball was reversing and wicket started doing a bit especially with the new ball. There are not many players who get a chance to save the Test for their country on their debut. I did and I am really happy that I took it.
You weren’t much in action for the first four days of this Test. Did that make you doubly determined today, the thought of making your Test debut memorable?
Yes, that’s right. The wicket didn’t suit my style of bowling and I had to understand and accept that quickly. I was told that a Test match lasts five days that so I will be required to play a part at some point. So, I went in to bat with a very positive mindset. I knew that if I survived the first 30 minutes, the wicket would ease out. I went with the mindset of playing out balls instead of scoring runs. When you get to 25, that’s when you realize, okay, a Test fifty is here for the taking.
The ball was reversing in the morning – they were getting it to shape in. With what game plan did you enter to bat?
I normally bat at No. 6 for Karnataka and so I tend to play a lot of reverse swing. I just used all my experience of batting for my state when we were under the pump, and in India the reverse swing comes into picture all the time. I tried to do what I do there – clearing the left leg and looking to hit a lot straighter.
Jadeja was struggling big time against the moving ball. But when you came in to bat, he too started to look a little more comfortable. Did you tell him anything that helped him in the middle?
Jaddu is the type of player who likes to play positive but today the requirement was to bat time. We spoke about just trying to put bat on ball, look solid and not lose our wicket at any cost. The game would have opened up had one of us gotten out at that time. It was all about watching the ball hard and batting for each other.
In hindsight, do you think the wicket was misread a bit, given how less you bowled?
I don’t think we misread it. It was a hard wicket but there wasn’t much bounce. Even the English guys were surprised at how it played out. When we were batting, it felt like we were batting in India. It was a funny wicket.
Your father’s highest Test score is 83. Was it on your mind?
Actually I didn’t know about it. When I went back to the change room, it was pointed out to me. Hopefully, there are many more Test matches to go for me and I will be able to overhaul his score.