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A coach helps a player discover himself: Bharat Arun

India’s bowling coach reveals how he works with every member of the attack

The term, ‘support staff’ has gained utmost importance in modern sport. And the fact that coaches are included in that term is apt too, for at the highest level sportsmen don’t need so much coaching as they need support.

That support can come in many forms. It could be an observation that would help a player get rid of a minor technical glitch or it could be a simple pat on the back. Sometimes, merely lending an empathetic ear is all that a player needs. The key is to understand what kind of support is required at a given moment.

Team India’s new bowling coach, Bharat Arun, believes that coaching in international cricket is mainly about man management. To be able to help a player technically, a coach needs to first understand what ticks him mentally and emotionally. Coaching, he says, “Is a journey where you help the bowler discover himself.”

In a chat with BCCI.TV, Bharat Arun opens up about his coaching methods, shares his experiences of working with cricketers at different levels and offers insights into how he deals with every member of India’s current bowling attack in a way as unique as the individual himself.

You’ve been with the team for a while now. Have you settled into the dynamics of the team?

It has been good so far. The fact that I have worked with most of the boys earlier and I know them pretty well made it a lot easier for me to settle down.

What was the first task you set out to achieve when you joined the team in England?

It was a huge challenge for me and there were great expectations. It was also the time when we hadn’t too well in England. So, the first thing was to try to figure out what exactly the problem was and to create a positive atmosphere in the team and motivate the boys to get out of the difficult phase.

We started out really well in England and the victory at Lord’s was one of the greatest in Indian cricket. We couldn’t sustain that momentum because we fell short on experience of playing in England.

Over the years when we have traveled overseas, we have seen that our bowlers have not been able to thrive in helpful conditions, generally because they took time to determine the right lengths. Do you see a bit of improvement in that regards?

Since the early 2000s the Indian team has dispelled the fact that we don’t win overseas. We have won considerable number of Test matches and have come very close to winning the series on many occasions. So, the trend has definitely changed. One major factor is that now there is a lot of foreign exposure for our players. The Under-19 team plays a lot abroad and so does the India A team. That is crucial because no matter how well you simulate the conditions, there is nothing like actually playing in those conditions. Due to this exposure the boys are well aware and more mature when they get into the national team. Making mistakes is the best way to learn and these boys have the chance of making those mistakes early in their careers. When they graduate to the Indian team, they have already learnt from their mistakes.

The bowlers know when they go to England, they have to bowl fuller. In Australia it’s back of a length. But sometimes the implementation is not consistent. Why does that happen?

According to me here the bowler understanding his strength is the key. For someone who swings the ball, the length is always fuller, no matte the conditions, whereas a bowler who gets lateral movement, has to pitch it that much shorter. Once you are aware your own skill and what you can do with it, you will do well.

How do you go about making the bowlers understand that?

As a coach the first challenge lies in you understanding them and then on the basis of that helping them understand themselves better.

Sometimes, what the coach thinks of the bowler and what the bowler thinks of himself can be two different things. So, you first need to know what the bowler thinks of himself. These guys have reached here believing in certain things and perceiving themselves in a certain way.

With many bowlers what they think they are doing and what they are actually doing is very different. Bowlers rely on feel. You rely on sensory perception when it comes to your release, your body movement and everything else. That’s where the coaching and the video analysis come in.

With the help of the videos we show the bowler what is actually happening although what he feels would be totally different. Another thing is how the ball behaves when he leaves it. A coach tells a bowler to observe what the ball does when his arm is closer to the body at the time of release and when it is away. Once the bowler has this information, he can use it to his advantage in various match situations. This is what game awareness is all about.

You have coached teams at various levels – U-19, Ranji Trophy – before joining the Test team. How does the process differ at different levels?

Coaching more or less remains the same. What changes is man management. At the U-19 level you are managing kids who want to excel and here you are dealing with grown men who know what they are doing. At the junior levels the mistakes are a lot more and you need a lot of patience. As the senior level your job is to add value to the already developed style of the bowlers. Building trust is a bigger challenge at the senior level. The pressures remain the same because for a kid playing at U-19 level is as much pressure as it is for an international cricketer to play Test cricket.

The role varies according to the situation as well. Sometimes, you need to point out a technical glitch whereas other times a bowler just needs positive feedback and motivation. No matter how experienced a player is, he will always benefit from the right feedback. The trick is to understand what a player needs at that particular time.

This is a very young bowling attack that we have. In a way is it easier to mentor the youngsters as they are more open to suggestions and lessons?

Age has nothing to do with how open or close one is. I have come across many young bowlers who are pretty rigid in their ways and some experienced ones who are very open to suggestions. When you come across a player who is rather closed, and you feel like you can really add value to his game, you need to find a way to reach out to him and knowing what ticks him. The key is to make them comfortable but still be hard on them. It’s about tough love. And it only comes with trust.

How differently do you deal with someone as experienced as Ishant Sharma and a new comer like Varun Aaron?

Ishant has already played 60-odd Test matches. He is very smart and knows what he is doing. My task as is to add a new dimension to his bowling. I have discussions with him and try to learn things from him as to what he did to get to where he is. Using that information and taking into account his technique, we come across a few things that we can do to add something to his bowling and make him more efficient. At this level you have to improve constantly. We call it the one per cent factor. The players who constantly look to be one per cent better today than they were yesterday, will come out on top. For this small improvement, you need to pay close attention to detail.

With someone who is new, you use the experience of Ishant and package it to him in a way that would suit his style. You find out who is the bowler the youngster looks up to and why he admires him. Then you pick aspects of the role model’s game and use them to improve the youngster. You identify a few things that he can do to bridge the gap between him and his role model and convince him to do it.

Do you also use Ishant as the catalyst to communicate with the other bowlers?

Absolutely. Ishant is the leader of this attack. The bowlers look up to Ishant and sometimes, when he comes up with an idea and talks directly to the younger guys, it creates much more impact than the coach saying it. It is smart to get the senior bowler speak to his colleagues directly about what he did right and the lessons he learnt.

You and Ashwin go a long way and I’ve seen him working closely with you in the nets. What kind of role do you play with him?

With Ashwin my role is more of a guiding hand. He is a very intelligent bowler and sometimes, when you have a lot of variety, you don’t know what to use when. I just give him feedback regarding that. Sometimes, when you have played for so long, bad habits creep in. During a particular series, you may do something that brings you success in those conditions. But when you do too much of it over a course of time, it becomes a habit. You unwittingly take it into the next series where the conditions might not be conducive to that particular thing. That’s when you need to go back to the basics and clear the slate in order to fill it with tactics that will suit the next series. That is the key to succeed in all conditions. Ashwin is a phenomenally skilled bowler and we just need to ensure he is much closer to the basics in order to use his skills more appropriately.

He comes across as a very intense cricketer. Do you, at times, also have to ask him to take it a bit easy?

Sometimes, being over-aroused is as bad as being under-aroused. There is an optimum level of arousal that a player needs to maintain, and that’s what we mean by controlled aggression. When you get too deep into something, you don’t see the little but important things around you. We keep reminding him not to get there and help him maintain the optimum arousal level. Once we do that, he is okay.

Is it fair to say that bowlers and pacers in particular are much less complicated in the head than batsmen?

That’s probably because a bowler always has another chance but a batsman doesn’t. As a bowler even if you are hit, you can go back, reassess your options, come back to bowl a great spell and get the batsman. When a batsman gets out, all he can do is sit and mull over it, sometimes for days, before he gets another chance. That’s probably the reason why the bowlers don’t over think as much as the batsmen.

Do you encourage the bowlers to work on their batting – it not only adds to their value in the team but also makes them better equipped to read the batsmen?

The most important weapon for a bowler is to have a psychological impact on the batsman wherein he creates a doubt in his mind. To be able to create that doubt and outthink him, the bowler needs to first know what the batsman is thinking. That’s why we encourage them to bat in the nets and we also talk a lot about batting with them. We talk about what kind of price tag they need to put on their wickets. Lower order runs are very frustrating for the opposition and a massive confidence boost for the bowler when they come on to bowl.

What impresses you the most about the current bunch of bowlers you are working with?

First is of course that we have four bowlers who can clock high speeds constantly. Another thing I love about this attack is how closely knit they are. There is a very healthy competition among them but they also genuinely enjoy one another’s success. When one bowler is down, the others pull him up. They spend a lot of time together, in the nets, in the gym and also in the evenings. It is very heartening to see.

Shirin Sadikot

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We’ve proved we are no pushovers: Joshi

Jammu & Kashmir coach reflects on his new assignment and the historic win against Mumbai

There is a rare joy in watching an underdog come out triumphs. The odds are against you, reputation is not a worry, yet when you emerge on the winning side at the end of it; it tastes sweet. Ask Sunil Joshi - former India spinner and now the coach of Jammu and Kashmir about a triumph of the underdog and he replies with an ‘I guess we’ve proved we are no underdogs already’ reliving his side’s historic win against 40-time Ranji Trophy champions - Mumbai.

It’s been more than 24 hours since that victory at the Wankhede stadium, yet the memories are fresh like it just happened yesterday. A few words of inspiration were enough for a spirited J&K side to turn the odds in their favour.

“The message to the dressing room was clear. I just said, ‘this can’t get any bigger boys; beating Mumbai in Mumbai in a Ranji Trophy fixture will be huge’, recalls Joshi. “I could see that eagerness in the side to do well when they walked out on the field against Mumbai. They were confident throughout the duration of the Test and the result is there to be seen. We told ourselves that we have the capability to defeat the best side in the competition. We did that against Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy earlier and this would be no different.”

The moment the side won their Mumbai fixture, there was no fist pumping, no over the top celebrations, a warm hug was followed by a gentle smile on the field and in the dressing room. History was created but it was as if it was just another day on the field for J&K.

“This win is huge you know,” Joshi explains. “It will only instill more belief in the side that they can defeat the best in the business. This win is right up there in our books and we are very proud of it. Defeating 40-time champions in their own backyard is surreal and will serve as a catalyst for performances in the years to come.”

So when did this team realise they were capable of causing upsets and make a name for themselves in the big league? “When we defeated Delhi in the Vijay Hazare Trophy,” Joshi replies. That Delhi side resembled half an Indian national side and some big names in the ranks. We developed a belief in ourselves that we were not mere pushovers. That win brought about a spark in the side and charged us up for the rest of the tournament and season ahead.”

Joshi also credited Captain Parvez Rasool for holding the team together during tough times and hoped for the all-rounder’s success. “Rasool is an extremely talented cricketer. We have wanted an off-spinner who can bat well and I think Rasool is an answer to that. His records are there to be seen which also won him the Lala Amarnath Award for the best all-rounder in the last year’s Ranji Trophy. He is a thinking cricketer with a stable head on his shoulders. He is someone who is tailor-made for the longer format and has the game to adjust for shorter formats. He is a useful cricketer and I only hope that he continues performing well for our side and yields results in the future.”

Mumbai’s loss to J&K has stirred a few former cricketers who have questioned the caliber and hunger of Mumbai cricketers off late that was synonymous to them in the past. Joshi believed that lesser known teams over the years have proved a point and the league is no longer about just the big teams and big names.

“We have to realise that teams are getting better with each passing season. The Ranji Trophy is no longer just about the big teams. This league is springing up surprises each season and the lesser known teams have also strived hard to make a name for themselves.

Teams like Kerala and Goa are putting up far better performances than they have in the previous seasons. Maybe the big teams have remained where they are and not improved over the years which has given other teams a chance to showcase their prowess. There is a constant effort to improve within each team and that is why we see smaller teams also coming to the fore.”

Behind the cheers and joys, the success and frailties lies another short story; that of Joshi himself. There is a fondness with which he talks about cricket in the valley, its players, the ambition to watch Jammu and Kashmir at the pinnacle and a gentle tone in his voice that signifies an eagerness to succeed as a unit.

“I have been watching this side for the last couple of seasons. I noticed that this bunch is capable and destined for bigger and better things. I did get a few offers from other sides as well but I wanted to do something for this side and there was a vigour in me to take it up as a challenge,” Joshi gives a recap.

Joshi still remembers the moment he walked in as coach of the J&K side. “The reception that I got from the team was phenomenal. Never did I feel that this was a new setup and I had to fit into it. The thing is I was still playing cricket till the last couple of years. These players know me and respect me and that is the feeling I got when I walked into the side as a coach. Also the crucial factor that helped us to bond better was the age difference. There is not much of an age gap between me and the side which helped us in bonding and understanding things better. I have not been out of the game for long and I roll my arm over at the nets. I am thoroughly enjoying my stint with this side and I am only working towards the betterment of this side,” signed off Joshi.

Anand Subramaniam

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