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Akram helped me get my yorker right: Umesh

Indian pacer says he will use the toe-crusher regularly in England

Tall, well-built, quick and naturally athletic – Umesh Yadav is an Indian fast bowler in the Australian mould. After a successful tour to Australia with India A, where he picked up a five-for and scored 90 in a first-class match, Umesh is back to the Indian team, for the ODI series in England.

In a chat with BCCI.TV, Umesh spoke about varied aspects of his game including his bowling strategies, the new ODI rules, the Indian bowlers’ improved batting skills and his own fitness.

You did really well in Australia for India A recently. Are you carrying that confidence here?

That tour was very good for me. I bowled well and picked wickets on flat pitches. There was bounce but they weren’t as quick as we had expected them to be. So we had to assess the wickets, study the bounce and bowl accordingly. Getting a five-wicket haul was a huge confidence booster and I hope to carry that confidence into this series.

Your bowling plans will have to drastically change here?

The wickets in England are generally softer and have spongy bounce. My plan will be to try and bowl as full as possible in order to give the ball the time to swing. The ball stops before coming on to the bat here unlike in Australia, where it skids through. The good thing here is that you just need to bowl with discipline and rest assured the ball will do something.

Everyone knows you need to bowl full in these conditions but we still see bowlers dropping it short. How tough is it to change the length suddenly after bowling a certain length in the previous series?

It shouldn’t get too difficult but sometimes it takes time to adjust the length. At times a bowler is trying to bowl a certain length but his body is in the rhythm to bowl a different length. That results in lack of confidence and the struggle grows bigger. Your muscle memory kicks in based on the thought process you have been following in recent times. You need to alter your thought process and send a message across to your muscles. When you walk to your bowling mark, that’s when you need to continuously tell yourself to bowl full. You have to keep reminding yourself. Even if you get hit for runs, it is important to stick to the fuller length because that is your only chance of picking a wicket. If you shorten your length, the chances of taking a wicket will be close to nil.

How easy or difficult is it to adjust to the different balls – you played with Kookaburra in Australia and now you will use the Dukes.

The Dukes ball is very similar to the SG Test ball we use back home in terms of swing and movement. Kookaburra is very different as the seam flattens out after 10-15 overs and it gets tougher to grip. It takes a while to get used to the Kookaburra but Dukes is fine because we are used to bowling with the SG.

You, Bhuvi and Shami are India’s most experienced pacers in this attack. Those two are coming from a long Test series and must be a bit tired. Doest that put more responsibility on you?

Bhuvi and Shami have had a long season. It is only normal for them to be a bit tired. So, the new bowlers who have joined the team will have to take up more responsibilities in that regards. The onus will be on us to take them with us and keep pushing them to carry on.

You spent a lot of time with Wasim Akram at KKR. Is there anything in particular you have worked on with him?

I had a problem with the yorkers as my ball often strayed on the leg. Wasim bhai helped me with that. He said, ‘when you are at your bowling mark and about to bowl a yorker, just keep all your focus on the spot you want the ball to pitch and don’t think that it will go down the leg side’. He said it is very important to be aware of your whole body and its position – whether your bowling arm is following the ball and how your follow-through is. You have to ensure that your body and mind are in perfect sync. Even the slightest of angle change will affect where your ball pitches. He told me to make sure the body is always behind the ball and you follow the ball till the end.

Do you think modern fast bowlers don’t use the yorker as much as they should?

They say that the yorker has gone out of fashion but I don’t agree with that. If a bowler is not bowling yorkers in the death overs, it is because he is facing some problem or is not confident that he can bowl it. When you are not confident, you get confused. In that state even if he tries to bowl a yorker, it ends up being a half volley or a full toss. Everyone knows how to bowl a yorker but not everyone can. That is because of mindset. The key to getting it right is to go with a clear plan, only focus on bowling the yorker and be very confident about it. If a batsman steps out to force me to bowl shorter, as a bowler I should counter by sticking to the same yorker length. If he steps out once, it doesn’t mean he will do it again the next ball. If bowled accurately there is no better delivery than yorker in cricket.

You must have learned a bit about swing bowling as well from Akram?

I have learnt that if at the last moment, your body is not in the perfect alignment of the ball, you shouldn’t try to swing the ball because it will either stray down the leg side or too wide outside off. The better your body control and position at the release point, the more accurately will you be able to bowl where you want to. That body alignment at the time of release is the key to bowling fast while swinging the ball. If your wrist position is wrong, your swing will go wrong. If your head is falling over, your line will be ruined.

What is it with the Indian pacers and the sudden improvement in their batting?

We don’t work a lot on our batting but we ensure we are good enough to lend support to the team when needed, that we are capable enough with the bat to contribute with some handy 40-50 runs at the end of the innings. We now have the basic understanding about batting and can at least occupy the crease to solidify the team. We have seen over the years that the opposition tailenders have frustrated us with their batting. So why should we give our wickets easily? We too will make them work hard for our wickets.

Does batting well have a positive effect on your bowling?

It helps a lot because spending time at the crease with the bat gives you better idea of how the ball is behaving or what the pitch is doing. That helps us in forming our bowling plans and also in out-thinking the batsmen.

How has the rule of new ball from each end in ODIs changed things for you guys?

It has made things more helpful for the fast bowlers. Earlier, the ball deteriorated very soon in the innings and there wasn’t much left for us. Now you have the chance to swing the ball for 20 overs. Also, all the pacers in the side now get an equal chance to bowl with a new and hard ball. The downside is that the chances of getting reverse swing have reduced as compared to earlier. However, we still try to maintain the ball in case it deteriorates earlier than usual. If we can get the ball to reverse after 17-18 overs, there is no respite for the batsmen. So we keep checking the ball for any wear and tear.

Compared to India, the pacers’ role become bigger in overseas ODIs. Do you bowl more in the middle overs?

The pacers’ role changes significantly when we are playing away from home. In India we generally take the new ball and then come back to bowl in the death while the spinners take over the middle overs. Here we play a significant role throughout the innings because the ball keeps swinging even after it is 10-15 overs old. Having said that, spinners do play a part in these conditions as well. Sometimes, even if I am bowling well, Mahi bhai will take me off and bring on the spinners for a bit. That means he is saving me for the death overs. So, the spinners’ job is to ensure they keep it tight before the pacers come back on.

How differently do your bowling plans change depending on the phase of the innings – initial overs, middle overs and at the death?

If not many wickets have fallen in the beginning, the plan is to contain runs and build pressure to induce an error from the batsman. But sometimes, you go for wickets in the middle overs, especially during the batting powerplay because you want new batsmen out there. In the death overs, you basically have to make absolutely sure that you bowl exactly to the field that is set. With only four men outside the circle it has become harder to save boundaries. And you don’t want to give away too many of those in the end overs. The batsmen are required to go big in the death overs, so frustrate them by denying them the boundaries.

The perception of injury often looms around you. Please clarify the details of your recent back and shin injuries.

People keep coming to me ask me if I am injured. There is a lot of talk about me having back and shin injuries recently. I want to clarify that I had a stress fracture in my back four years ago and had a reaction during the 2011 England tour, which I missed. After that I have not had any injury. I have never had any shin problems at all. So, yes, I am 100 per cent fit and I have been playing a lot of cricket.

Shirin Sadikot

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Time to fight back, show character: Raina

Southpaw talks of his preps for England ODIs and the need to lift the spirits in the camp

In every sports team there are a couple of guys who, besides contributing in the areas of their expertise, are also unofficially in charge of the team’s energy quotient. These are the players who will run around encouraging their team mates, clap vigorously and be the first to hi-five someone on a good goal, a brilliant save or a stunning catch.

Suresh Raina has always been one such team man for India. For him keeping the spirits high within the camp is as important as skill-based contribution. Team India need him and his personality more than ever before as they look to put the Test series defeat behind them and start afresh for the ODI series against England.

In a chat with BCCI.TV, Raina sounded positive and confident as he strives to lift the team with the bat, ball and his mirth.

How did you spend your time after the Bangladesh ODI series?

I practiced in Delhi, Noida on a turf wicket and played a few matches in rainy conditions. I went to the Lucknow sports college where I stayed in the boarding school as a kid and practiced there a lot. For the last 10 days or so, I was in Mumbai working at the BKC (Bandra Kurla Complex) indoor facilities. I feel good going into this series and having done well here before there is a level of confidence as well.

Did you have a session or two with Sachin Tendulkar at the BKC?

He came there to play badminton and since Arjun practiced in the nets there, Sachin paaji came to give him some tips. I went up to him and asked how should go about things in England. I had a lot of conversations with him mainly on the mental side of things. I also worked with (Pravin) Amre sir there at the BKC on various aspects of my batting.

What preparations did you do keeping in mind the English conditions? Did you practise against the moving ball?

I played a lot with a taped tennis ball to simulate the movement. We have two long practice sessions here at the Lord’s and then a warm-up match against Middlesex. Then we go to Bristol and have two more practice sessions there. We have enough time until the first ODI to get into the groove and settle down in these conditions.

How is it for you guys to join the team that is smarting from the Test series defeat?

The team is going through a difficult phase right now and it is time for us to show character. It can be difficult sometimes to move on from such defeat but you have to fight your way out of it when you’re playing at the international level. The new players will bring freshness in the squad which will help the guys who have been here for the Tests regain the positivity. They are striving to learn from their mistakes and we will add fresh spirit.

As the senior most player to join the team for the ODIs, do you take it upon yourself to bring positivity and exuberance in the camp?

Yes. I always try to maintain the cheerfulness in the team, on and off the field. I am the first person to run to the bowler or fielder when a wicket falls. Small things like running to the bowler at fine leg or third man to fetch his sweater can make a huge difference in the team’s atmosphere. It is contagious – when one player starts doing it, another follows, and before you know the whole team is pumping with energy and high spirits. This energy takes time to build – sometimes four overs, at times 10 overs. To create that atmosphere someone has to take a lead and make that extra effort. Everyone is either thinking about their own batting or bowling. But I have learned from my coach that these small things can add a lot of value to the team. Mahi (MS Dhoni) always says that when someone makes a brilliant stop or takes a good catch, go and pat him on the back. That shows how involved you are in the game. If I just stand there minding my own business, everyone will just go through the motions. But if I go and pat someone, he will come and do the same when I do something good. That creates a positive aura around in the field, makes you feel lighter and lifts everyone around. That is something that’s in my hands and something I have been doing for the last 10 years.

You have been very open about your desire to bat higher up the order in the ODIs. In recent times, have the difference between batting at 4 and 6 reduced?

The roles have become a lot similar since the two new ball rule has come. That means I will get a more or less new ball to face. In that way the ODI skills have become much more similar to Test skills. The good thing now is that even when batting at 6, I don’t have to bat with tailenders or protect them because this lower order can really bat. Another important aspect of batting at that position is the powerplay overs. It has been a tricky area. Often teams lose wickets in heaps trying to hit everything out. We have been trying to read it over the years and planned as to how to go about that phase. It is very important to have at least one set batsman during the batting powerplay. He needs to carry the score forward while allowing the man at the other end to get in.

How seriously are you taking your bowling, given your role as a part time off spinner?

I know I will be called upon to bowl 4-5 or even more overs and I am prepared for it. The good thing is that I have been bowling regularly in the ODIs. I know that my role with the ball is mainly to contain the runs and I always try to stick to it. But I saw during the Test series that the odd ball was dong a bit from the roughs. I am looking forward to contributing with the ball.

You spent a bit of time with Sourav Ganguly. What did you work on with him?

I had a chat with him on batting. Being a leftie he guided me on things like arm position and other subtle technical things. However, most of it was about the mental makeup when batting in England.

Shirin Sadikot

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