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The tale behind India’s bowling success

India’s bowling coach, Bharat Arun, dwells into the work gone behind the perfect six games

Sixty wickets in six games, bowling out all oppositions thus far in the tournament - who would have thought this Indian bowling attack was capable of doing so before the start of the World Cup?

Opposition batsmen made merry, line and lengths seemed wayward and hitting the right spots on the wicket looked farfetched. Doubts about abilities were raised, lessons learnt, if any, questioned, and the power-packed batting line-up was considered to be India’s saving grace in their attempt to defend their World Champions title.

Things have changed though. And quite remarkably so. Suddenly, there is this pace trio hunting in a pack, bowling with venom, hitting the right lengths and turning results in their favour. If Mohammad Shami and Umesh Yadav share the new ball to build pressure, Mohit Sharma backs it up by keeping things tight helping R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja bank on the pressure to get wickets. Player roles have been identified and they have been played to perfection.

But how has this transformation come along? What’s the story behind India’s success with the ball this World Cup? We try to find out from India’s bowling coach, Bharat Arun, as he sheds light on India’s pace battery in a chat with bcci.tv.

Six games, six wins, 60 wickets – those make for some great numbers!

(Smiles)I think you can’t ask for anything better. Six out of six and sixty wickets can only make you proud of the way the boys have performed thus far. Looking forward, you can take the confidence and consistency of all the six matches into the quarter final game. Excellence is about repeating what you have done in the past and the challenge now is to go on repeating what has worked for you and what has been successful. But from the tournament point of view, we start from scratch right now.

How is it that the bowling unit has suddenly found the ‘right line & lengths’?

I feel, in the Tests and ODI series it was not the case of us not bowling well. We bowled well but we did it in patches. If you look back, every bowler, at some point of time, has bowled a brilliant spell. What we were lacking was bowling as a team. We worked out the areas where we have been economical and did a detailed analysis on it. We also discussed with the bowlers that there were certain areas they bowled which were difficult for the opposition to score of.

Once they got it clear in their minds, it was all about executing them well. I think our practice sessions have been really fruitful in that regard. We had the advantage of center wicket practice that immensely helped the bowlers to get their line and lengths right. The batsmen too have a huge role in it. When we had centre wicket practice sessions, the batsmen gave feedback to the bowlers as to which lengths would work and which ones would go for runs. A lot of interaction takes place between the batsmen and the bowlers and they help each other in understanding what exactly the bowling strengths are.

How do you come to a conclusion of the right areas to bowl at?


We identify details of when the bowler has been expensive and economical. We have our video analyst who keeps a record of all the deliveries bowled throughout. Accordingly, we chalk out plans and identify the specific areas were the bowlers have bowled and in turn the batsmen have found it difficult to score runs. We also keep a tab of how a specific bowler has given runs and through what type of deliveries. You then get to know the percentage of the right length to bowl. Once you understand that it is just about putting that to practice. We practice having those things in mind and simulating challenging situations in the drills.

Leading into the World Cup, how beneficial was the Test and ODI series?

It was a pretty long and tough Test tour and we played just three games in the triangular series. It wasn’t a bad tournament for the bowlers. We did exceptionally well against Australia after putting up 267 runs on the board and took the game to the last over after Australia were sailing at one point. The second game against England was low scoring but we did well in trying to defend 200 as England managed to get the target only in the 47th over. These threw light on what the good things are that the bowlers have done and the areas where they bowled were highlighted, which was huge in terms of the bowling awareness.

What exactly is bowling as a unit?

Bowling in unison is basically complementing each other while you bowl, which does not necessarily happen every time with every team. Sometimes, bowlers can get carried away if they are bowling well. At that time the bowler needs to understand his role and limitations. Also, if a bowler has bowled well from one end, the bowler from the other end should try and not to be over attacking, instead should try to stifle the runs. The idea of putting pressure in a one-day game is to stifle the runs. Getting wickets is one way of keeping the runs under check but how you go about doing it is more important. You need to maintain the pressure every single time and be consistent in it. This understanding of roles is important.

How have you approached the new rule of fielding restrictions of being allowed only four fielders outside the circle?

The new rules can be taken in two ways. With less fielders outside the circle, if you go a bit wayward, you can go for runs. But if you are bowling to your fields, it can be a great advantage. If the bowler can bowl exactly to the field set with one extra fielder inside, it can be used to your benefit. This is when plan execution plays a key role. We have taken it as a challenge and set ourselves situations wherein we can try and work it to our advantage. So far it has worked pretty well and we would hope it works well ahead.

Mohammad Shami has been exceptional this World Cup with 15 wickets so far. What do you make of his progress over the last few tours?


He has been really impressive. Mohammad Shami is one of the bowlers with the best release of the ball from the hand. The seam position of the ball at the time of delivery and landing is outstanding. He can bowl at 140-plus consistently with the same kind of seam position, which is a great talent. The great man, Richard Hadlee, has been impressed by Shami’s talent and labelled him as someone who will work wonders for India in the future. When you have those words coming from a bowling great, what else do you need as a bowler? Shami can look forward to a really bright future, which augurs well for Indian cricket.

How do you see the future of this current pace attack?

This is an exciting pace battery that can bowl at 140-plus. India has never had a pace battery of three to four fast bowlers who can bowl at 140-plus consistently. It augurs extremely well for the country. I still remember an India-Australia game from the recent tour where an Indian was the fastest bowler among both teams. That is an encouraging sign. This is something we need to highlight and take inspiration from. Once these brand of bowlers taste more success it will only help the upcoming fast bowlers in the country.

Also, the best good part about this attack is that they learn from each other and have a healthy respect for each other. For example, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is experienced and keeps talking to most of the bowlers about bowling in certain situations. They have become their own constructive critics. They like to discuss what they did with their fellow bowlers or what the other one would have tried in a similar situation. That has gone a long way in understanding their roles and strong points which is of the reasons for our success in the World Cup so far.

What would be the way forward to unearth more fast bowlers from the country?

There are a few bowlers back home who are good enough to emulate the current crop. There is a very healthy group of fast bowlers emerging from our country. We need to play a big role in making sure that these bowlers are nurtured properly. Regular monitoring will make sure they remain fast for many years to come.

The Under-19 is a great stage where young and upcoming bowlers get a taste of overseas conditions. It is important at that stage to identify the potential bowlers. It is a bigger challenge to train them and make them achieve their potential. The conversion of U-19 to the senior level should get higher in the years to come if the youngsters are given the right exposure and monitored well. Once that is done, I am sure we will have good quality bowlers emerging from our country.

Anand Subramaniam

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Raina reigns over Eden Park

Indian batsman speaks about the masterful run-chase and his maiden World Cup hundred

India were three down for 73, with Ajinkya Rahane run-out after putting up a fifty run-stand with Virat Kohli. Suresh Raina walks out to bat. 21 runs later, Kohli is out bowled and India are 92 with the top four back in the hut. Zimbabwe cheer, Indian fans wear a worry on their forehead.

Fingers are crossed hoping for an Indian win and the job is left to two individuals who would later teach a lesson on ‘how to plan a successful run-chase’. It takes 20 deliveries for MS Dhoni to hit a boundary, 19 for Raina. Runs come slow; there are not many big shots, instead some meticulous ones and twos that keep the scoreboard ticking.

In over number 30, Raina shows first signs of aggression and tonks left-arm spinner Sean Williams for two consecutive sixes. Raina has got his eye in; he knows he can take his side over the line, and he couldn’t have asked for a better master in run-chases other than MS Dhoni.

Meanwhile, Raina is batting on 47; he goes for a sweep and mistimes it. The ball is up in the air, Hamilton Masakadza is under it, the crowd behind roars for a drop, Indians at the Eden Park hold their breath and the catch is dropped - a costly one at that. From then on, begins the Suresh Raina onslaught.

Cricketing shots being hit in the ‘Raina-zone’, mighty heaves into the crowd, gentle nudges for boundaries and finally a single to record a maiden World Cup century. Eden Park is at its feet to applaud a hero and the thirty thousand odd crowd is roaring in jubilation. Dhoni is unbeaten on 85, Raina on 110; their partnership a 196. Man of the match, Suresh Raina is a relieved and satisfied man. After taking India home in a tense run-chase, he spared a few minutes for a chat with bcci.tv.

Excerpts

How special is a maiden World Cup hundred?

This was an important knock for me. I wasn’t getting much time to bat after my first knock against Pakistan but I was feeling good about my batting in general in the tournament. I knew a big hundred was round the corner. Getting a century in a World Cup is always special and I am feeling great at the moment. I am very happy today and I feel I have done something really special for the team. I got a Man of the match award in the U-19 World Cup and I have got one today. This is a special one and I will cherish this. I would like to dedicate this ton to all my fans who have prayed for my success and backed me even when I have not got big scores.

In a way, will this batting performance augur well for the middle-order?

You are right. The middle-order has been a bit untested so far since the top order batsmen were finishing off things for us. When the top order failed on one occasion against the West Indies, MS Dhoni finished it for us. Personally, today was the perfect platform for me to show my prowess with the bat. I knew if I could stay at the wicket till the last ball of the match I could win it for India. I feel I made the most of my chance in the middle.

India were in a precarious position with four down and just 90 on the board. How did you and MS Dhoni plan the run-chase from that position?
  
Me and MS Dhoni have been having great partnerships over the last seven to eight years while chasing. We wanted to take the game as close as possible and knew if we did that we would end up on the winning side. Me and MS have played so much that we understand our respective games well. We as partners trust each other and we showed that we could win from any situation. We had the belief that if we stayed at the wicket, we could finish the game with a couple of overs to spare.

I had to play my shots. I had a plan of targeting the left-arm bowler and I knew I could clear the field. It was very important to maintain a balance between the mode of attack and defense. It was important to rotate the strike, look for singles and doubles and get that one-off big hit. When the off-spinner came on, I knew Dhoni would target him. Also, we wanted to make the most of the batting powerplay. We have seen games changing in the batting powerplay be it with the bat or the ball. We were very sensible with our shots in the batting powerplay and made good use of it without losing a wicket.

Did you time your big shots or was it just natural instincts?

My plan was to attack the bad balls. You need to be courageous and back yourself. It pays off at times and at times it backfires. Number 5 and 6 positions in the batting order are crucial and you need to back your instincts and be calculative in your stroke play at the same time. You need to minimize the risk factor when you are chasing targets. Strike rotation was important and taking singles was difficult instead of hitting the big shots. I knew I had to take singles. It was important to curb my natural instincts and I think I was successful in doing that. One of my strengths is to attack the left arm-spinners and I did just that when I got the opportunity. I now know how to play when I have situations like these in the future.

Was it intentional to target the smaller parts of the ground for run-scoring?

I don’t think so. I was using the pace of the bowlers to work them to third man and point. I feel I was playing proper cricketing shots. I believe I can hit the long ones at any point of the game. I had to be explosive and expressive in my shot selections and today was one of those days when everything came good. A lot of credit has to go to Sanjay Bangar who has been working hard on improving my game in the nets. Not to forget Ravi Shastri and MS Dhoni who have always been there to back me. Dhoni has been leading all the team meetings and expressed his thoughts to the whole team in a very positive manner.

Did you skip a beat when you mistimed a sweep and were dropped?

(Smiles) MS had told me not to play that shot because it is not a shot that I usually play. I had a single for the taking that time. But later on I am glad I could capitalise on it and get a good knock for the team.

What do you think has been the success mantra for India in this World Cup?

The outlook of this team has changed completely after the ODI tri-series. This team is looking totally different in the World Cup. The reason is, everyone believes in their game and trusts his own abilities and have been executing their plans well. The bowlers have looked great in comparison to the ODI tri-series. That is a result of tremendous self-belief. Credit to each one of them to bring back the lost belief and channelise them into performances in the World Cup. The good thing about the batsmen as well is that they are performing in unison. If one fails, the other performs and it goes on in that order. I think this is the way a team should perform in a World Cup; working as a unit, backing each other and playing their roles to perfection.

We have taken sixty wickets in as many matches which is outstanding and we have a few tons under our belt as well. We have a belief that we can chase down or defend any target. We just need to be humble in our process, respect our opponents and not get complacent having won all our pool games.

How pumped up is the team for the quarter-final?

We are all looking forward to it and we believe we have a good all-round side. Everything is working well for us and if it works well for another two weeks then it would be great. Now it is all about those three crucial games - the quarters, semis and the final. We need to continue what we have been doing over the past one month and work on our strengths. We need to get our focus on the rest of the three games. As of now we need to go and play really well against Bangladesh. They have reached this stage playing some good cricket. I hope we do well and we believe we will. 

Anand Subramaniam

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