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Important to work on mental and tactical aspects with spinners: Bahutule

Bengal coach writes about working with young spinners

As coach I work on the mental, tactical and technical aspects of a spinner. While working with youngsters, it is important to build their confidence.

Since the batsmen play spinners well in India than anywhere else in the world, there is a big chance that coming in to a Ranji Trophy match, a spinner might get hit a lot or an aggressive player would try to dominate and unsettle him. These are the kind of situations for which he needs to be prepared for. The mental make-up of a player is as important as the physical aspect.

The technical aspects should be worked on only in the off-season. We can work out a few adjustments by looking at the videos during the season. I am not a big believer of making too many changes because every bowler, every spinner has his own method of bowling and as long as he is spinning the ball and getting turn, I don’t believe in changing technical aspect (of his bowling) too much. If he wants to develop a variation, certain technical adjustments can be looked into.
Youngsters come from different levels of coaching, different formats so they have learnt something or the other along the way; so when they come to me at some stage I don’t try to change too many things. Besides, if I also talk to them too much about the technical aspects it is likely to create confusion. With too much input their originality or (what) their strength is, goes away. I keep it simple.

I like to work more on the mental aspect and the tactical part. For the Ranji Trophy, the preparation is more about tactical and mental aspects to get wickets. I try to develop a spinner be prepared to bowl on flat pitches, where there is no turn and the bounce is very even, where it is easy for a batsman to play. The reason being, once you learn how to bowl on a flat pitch where there is no spin, it will be slightly easier for the bowler to bowl on a pitch where there is purchase from it. However, when you don’t have any purchase from the pitch you tend to put in more effort; there is more body involved in the bowling action. 
The tactical aspect is about understanding how to read a batsman - by looking at his stance and the footwork. With the availability of videos you can gauge where you can attack the batsman more. It is important for a spinner to read that and then set the right fields accordingly. Here the captain plays a crucial role in giving the bowler confidence and convincing him to bowl to certain fields in order to create pressure on the batsman. For e.g.: There are times when you keep short-leg and a silly point to create pressure and on other occasions depending on the pitch you can bowl without the short-leg and silly point to create pressure, forcing the batsman to make a mistake. These are small things, but they make a huge difference in setting up a batsman. Bowling on flat wickets is very crucial, I think that’s where the bowler learns the most and becomes a good bowler.

After working with the bowler, a coach can then have a word with the captain during the meeting about what they have been working on and then it falls into place during a match.

While practicing it’s only the coach and the bowler. One-on-one interaction helps the bowler become more aware of the situation and analyse it much better. I prefer not to stop and talk to a bowler when he is bowling. I let him have a spell, discuss and then let him bowl another spell. We usually have three-over spells. Between the spells we discuss what improvements can be made and the cycle continues. This helps the bowler himself realize aspects of his bowling. It helps him be a better analyser of his bowling rather than me constantly telling him what is to be done.

Building the confidence – I think the more a spinner bowls on flat wickets against good batsmen, he will himself understand a lot about self and will try to improve. If a young spinner overthinks, then it is bound affect his confidence and it will also create confusion. As a spinner one is bound to bowl bad balls. The moment you accept that, it is easier to move forward. It is about preparing yourself mentally.

Practice - I am from the old school and believe in spot bowling which includes bowling from different areas of the crease and also bowl the variations. Most of what I have learnt is through a lot of spot bowling. A bowler becomes aware of his action, rhythm, from where he is bowling in the crease, what sort of delivery goes through, how much pace is there on the ball and the flight of the ball through spot bowling. 

There are different drills for different formats. In a four-day match the line and length is different as compared to one-day and twenty20. So practicing accordingly in nets is the important. In T20 and one-day, there is slight change in the line and length because batsmen tend to be more aggressive. The white kookaburra ball comes on to the bat quickly so the lengths are slightly shortened as that makes it difficult for the batsman to get under the ball and hit it. 

With the three types of spinners – left-arm spinner, leg-spinner and off-spinner, coaching depends on the action of the bowler; it depends on how much effort he is putting in spinning the ball. Eventually for the spinner it is important to spin the ball and bowl in the right areas consistently. In the longer format you are bound to bowl 25-30 overs in a day and that too it has to be bowled with accuracy if you want to pick wickets. In one-day and T20, the overs are limited so the margin of error is less. It’s important to spin the ball more than anything else.

When I guide spinners, I try to impress upon them the importance of bowling their stock balls more, 80 per cent of the times. It is the delivery; a bowler is confident about and is his go to ball during pressure situations.

I believe in having a good stock ball and one or two variations. He needs to have one or two variations which create doubt in the mind of the batsman. For a leg-spinner it can be a googly and a flipper.

In the nets we work on bowling a stock ball four to five times and a variation to create a doubt. Knowing your strengths is the key which you will realize during spot bowling. In the nets I give them situations to work out. E.g.: If the bowler has to bowl four overs to a set batsman before lunch in a four-day match how will he go about it? (Match Simulation) If you have too many variations then you will leak runs and you won’t be able to create pressure or get a wicket. Then after lunch, the bowler will have to rebuild. So in those four overs if you concentrate on stock balls only and create pressure, giving away only about 10-12 runss, it will be economical.

In India we use the SG ball while Kookaburra is used in other countries. It makes a huge difference to the spinner so regular practice is required with both.

While coaching an experienced spinner you don’t need to tell him much since he has played a good number of games and performed well through various situations. Most state sides have a combination of young and experienced spinners so it is important that they learn from each other.

In Bengal for example we have Pragyan Ojha who has got a good record in Test matches. There is not much I need to tell him because he has already performed in tough situations at that level and knows what pressure is, what areas are crucial to be worked on and how to set-up a batsman. On the other hand we have a young offspinner, Amir Gani and Pradipta Pramanik, who are Under-19 players and need more guidance.

I tell the young spinners to learn a few things from Ojha. He is accurate in his line and length which makes a huge difference and it creates pressure on the batsman which is what the youngsters need to learn from him. I explain to them these nuances and make them aware of it.

Also they can learn from Ojha’s work ethic and it will add to their cricket, like I had from the likes of Anil Kumble in the dressing room.

Sairaj Bahutule

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A coach’s job is to show the way

Haryana's batting consultant, Bhave talks batting and various drills

It is pretty evident that in North of India teams play aggressive cricket and in the West, teams believe in the waiting game. There is a marked difference in how teams approach cricket. Haryana has been a pretty good team in the past and my job as batting consultant involves looking after the batting unit which also includes quite a few youngsters at this stage. We work on the technique of the batsmen on both mental and physical levels. The other job is to work with the complete batting unit which will also include the experienced ones.

The experienced ones have played cricket in a certain manner for a while so with them it’s all about recommending effective adjustments. With youngsters you can thoroughly work on their technique as their batting style can be refined at the early stage of their careers. Making changes is best avoided during the season. We have had few off-season camps where we have been working thoroughly with the batting unit with the help of video analysis. Amongst the prominent youngsters - Himanshu Rana, who is one of the U19 India players, Rohit Sharma, Mohit Hooda, Chaitanya Bishnoi and Shamsher Yadav, who have been added to the squad and shown a lot of promise so far.

With any winning team it is always a combination of youth and experience which works. We are hoping that some of the guys who are already in the team for a few years start performing in a way which is expected by Haryana, so that the team becomes more successful.

I am looking forward to the one-day format because I think their skill base is more suited to one-day cricket. 

I think the coach’s job is showing the way. You can’t go out there and bat for them or bowl for them so it is about sharing your experience and showing the way. Besides telling specific things, I think the coach should discuss ideas which will make them more effective performers in the field. It is more about selling ideas which some of the brighter ones catch on to and do well.

Preparing youngsters for tournaments: To prepare players for competitions, we looked at their mental set-up as well as their technical side using video analysis. We found certain issues in their batting technique which needed to be addressed for which one-on-one sessions with players were found to be very productive.

The next phase was to try out the newly acquired technique in the nets as well as the practice matches. Along with this, players were given lots of mental exercises. It is the mental set up of the player which separates the good from the best. Some of the techniques we use for mental preparation are deep rooted in yoga. Techniques like visualization and imagery amongst others are important in making a player realise where he needs to be when he is in the competition.

We have gone about our business in a very comprehensive manner and the results will show. The work which is being put into the group shows results when the new technique is adopted by player in its entirety. The team has shown glimpses of good batting performances towards the end of the four-day format where Nitin Saini started scoring a lot of runs and the youngsters held up well to the challenges of first-class cricket.

 Continuing from there the players are also responding well in the ongoing Vijay Hazare tournament. Presence of Virender Sehwag in our dressing room is also helping their game. Batting tips from such a great role model also helps the youngsters immensely.

Batting practice: Batting in the longer format is as much a mental exercise as it is physical. It is important that the players understand that going back to the simple ball-to-ball approach is the most important thing in multi-day cricket. Enjoying the process of batting for a long duration in multi-day cricket is also immensely important.

In the present domestic scene, lots of result oriented pitches are being prepared and hence occupation of the crease with a healthy strike rate has become imminently important. It is very essential that in multi-day cricket, a batsman is able to bat not only in one, but multiple sessions. There are also variables involved like tough batting conditions where the batsman needs to soak pressure for a while and then go on to the offensive. In multi-day cricket it is also essential for the batting unit to take the game forward at such pace that the team gets into a position of strength from where they can think about outright wins.

I think all the present day cricketers are blessed with the brilliant shot making ability, but at the same time they are deficient on the defensive aspect of the game. However, with the strike rate that they possess, if they last for a couple of hours on the pitch, the number of runs they score is quite higher than the previous generation. But it has to be a combination of both to succeed. 

Keeping all the factors in mind, I believe that no matter what pace you bat at or how aggressive you are, the very best of aggressive cricketers in the world possess very sound technique and that’s what I try to instill in the youngsters. There has to be a method behind aggressive cricket, as it helps you to shift gears if need be.

Approaching sessions in context to the innings: I always tell youngsters, that if you can become a situational batsman you have won the battle. A batsman’s role changes with every session. I am a big fan of batsmen who understand the situation and have the resolve to sort it out in the middle across different formats. The best way to score runs is by being in the middle. The player has to bear in mind that the objective of the team is at the top of the agenda. If there is a task assigned to you for a session by the team, you assess the bowling, the pitch, the weather condition and all other factors which come into play and which help in achieving the team objective. 

Batting drills –
There are certain drills that are suited to facing fast bowlers on turning tracks, others for wickets conducive to fast bowling, so on and so forth. There are a lot of drills which will help prepare for executing shots under pressure. I also believe that the side-arm tool that we use now, which throws the ball at the batsman is very effective. You can crank up a decent pace and movement with it. If you are an expert at that it gives batsman great practice. These drills stem from different situations in the match and the way players approach them. Match simulation or a centre pitch activity without nets is probably the most effective batting drill. It allows the player to understand the field positions, gapping (finding gaps). One can use imagination and put it a structured manner and it becomes a drill.

Surendra Bhave

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