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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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Batting is about balance; bowling about alignment

Saurashtra coach Shitanshu Kotak shares his coaching mantra in this detailed piece

When I was around 35-year-old, I realised that there will soon come a time when I will have to stop playing cricket, but I love the game so much that I couldn’t imagine being away from it, so I thought coaching would be an option. Because I was never a naturally gifted or talented player, I thought a lot about the game and worked hard on building my game. Since I had spent time understanding the nuances of the game, I believed coaching would be something I would love to do. I have realised coaching is more challenging than playing cricket, because when you are playing you have to just look after yourself, here you have to look after a whole team.

To pursue coaching as a career option, I did Level 2 in England (where I had played for 20 years) and also did Level 1 and 2 in India. I watched Australian and South African coaching CDs to know how they work. The same season that I retired, I was offered the role of coaching Saurashtra during the domestic T20 tournament in March 2014.

Since most players in Saurashtra get to play district level cricket and local tournaments alone, they don’t have much exposure or are as connected with cricket the way players in Mumbai or England are. They aren’t exposed to different conditions and wickets so those are the aspects that I talk to them about to help them understand how to address different situations in varying conditions.

I work on motivating them to aim higher and beyond domestic cricket or not being content with fifties but going for bigger scores. If everyone strives to play better cricket, the team will improve and professionalism will also come in. These are some of the things I have started looking into. But instead of talking to them too much, I work slowly helping them realize and set bigger goals for themselves and the team.

While building a team, it is essential to know all the 15 players individually. When you are coaching a Ranji Trophy team it is not about just coaching and teaching techniques, but the coach needs to know and understand how and what each player is thinking; the mindset, how determined he is and how strong he is and work with each one accordingly.

It is important how and when you talk to a player about issues that you spot in his game. The coach also needs to understand and anticipate how a player will react and absorb to something that is told to him.

Over the years I have seen that, no matter how technically good a player is, even if he is scoring runs or taking wickets, they always develop small faults or wrong habits during the season. So, it is important how quickly you pick them up and help them realise that and address them. There are things that coaches who have been players learn on the ground and the experience helps in coaching.

It is also important how you prepare players mentally.

Mental preparation: Ravindra Jadeja made his debut when I was playing, and I have seen him for some time now. He is a good team player and believes that if he performs he will be picked and if he doesn’t he won’t be. He doesn’t sulk. He is a match-winner. I feel he has potential in his batting. I have watched him score triple hundreds for Saurashtra, but he is yet to score a big knock for India. It’s about the mindset.

When I discussed it with him he said, ‘When I play for Saurashtra, I bat at No 4 or 5 and feel like I am playing as a batsman while for India I go in to bat at No 7 or 8.’ When he bats at No 7 or 8, he thinks he has to start playing his strokes, he needs to score runs so he plays with that sort of a mindset, so he doesn’t bat like a batsman, instead starts batting like a lower-order batsman.

He has the ability to play like a batsman, so can’t be a lower-order batsman. Since I was confident that Ravindra will be selected to play for India, I told him to make sure he wins a few games for the team before leaving and scores enough runs. I also told him that when he plays for India he should forget what number he is batting at, and bat like he would for Saurashtra - bat as a batsman. I told him, he can start attacking when he sees the team is nine wickets down and not from the beginning. Because while batting at No 8, you feel the team has already lost seven wickets and will very soon be nine down and then I will be on my own. So before others get out, you get out yourself. There is no point in thinking like that and this is what I told him.

You need to bat and just bat and whatever minor technical issues that the player has you work on it. During the season it is very hard to change things. The only thing that the coach can do is make the player aware about the area he is struggling in and why. If the player is aware of it then you try and work on it.

For example, if someone’s balance while batting is not great, and if he is falling over, he will struggle against the in-swinging balls. If an off-spinner is bowling to a lefthander like Jadeja, and if the batsman is falling over a little bit, he won’t be in a comfort zone, as the balls would keep hitting the pads. So if a player is aware of minor things like that, then while playing, they can be more careful and see that they see off the spell.

If the coach thinks that the player can handle it and is clever enough then explain the issue to him. Experienced and smarter players will understand and try to manage. If they are aware they can still perform. During the offseason or when they have 15 days to a month, they can work on it; until then being aware of what they need to be watchful about will help them survive.

Working with newcomers or players who have been with the team for a shorter time: Dharmendra Jadeja was also playing when Ravindra was part of the team. Because of the ability that Ravindra possesses, he was getting more wickets and thus more attention. In a scenario like this, it was my job to ensure that Dharmendra understands that he too is an important player for the team. I have to help the bowler understand that there are times when someone else would be getting more wickets and they have to continue playing the way they do.

Bowling always works in pair. I also have to impress upon Dharmendra that he is doing a good job and there will be more expectations from him when Ravindra is not around and he has to be prepared for that. It is teamwork. Talking to the player is the mental side of coaching.

With newcomers, for example opener Mohsin Dodia, Vandit Jivrajani, or Samarth Vyas it is important that they have confidence in the coach and it is up to the coach to give them that. For instance, until the match against Services in Delhi, we had opened with our regular openers - Sagar Jogiyani and Avi Barot. In that match, it was our turn to bat with six-seven overs left in the day, and I thought it was better to open with the debutant, Dodia. I didn’t want Jogiyani to go when I had the choice of the third opener. In a scenario like this, the newcomer might think that he is being sent in instead of the regular opener because he is debutant and that he would be in trouble if he gets out. So I ensured him, ‘Once I give you an opportunity you will be given at least around three games. You will be playing even if you get out tonight or tomorrow morning. Don’t think I am saving someone and sending you bat for last few overs.’

Talking to the player makes a difference. It helps builds trust.

Work with the bowlers: Since last year we have been following a process for preparing our bowlers for matches. In the extras (the bench strength) we have two or three bowlers besides the playing 11. We give them 30 minutes of bowling practice during lunch time. During the practice sessions obviously batsmen bat, bowlers bowl, but you can’t work specifically on bowlers. So the lunch time is utilised for that and it has helped. We now have Saurish Sanandiya performing well for us this year. He was in the squad for most of the 2014-15 season and we worked with him. Similarly we worked with Jivrajani, who has been with the team since the first game. I try to work on their consistency, variations while sharing whatever knowledge I have, so when they get an opportunity they are prepared to play. We have also worked on their batting for some time which has resulted in better contributions from the lower-order this season.

We have decent spinners and good batsmen, but I always felt that Saurashtra needs to develop fast bowlers who can bowl on any wicket. Bowling in the right areas will fetch you wickets even on batting tracks and help win away matches as well. This is a process, and another area I am looking into to build a more complete squad to win the trophy one day.

Work with the batsmen: We do a lot of work with the batsmen during practice sessions. To me batting is a lot about balance. I work from the basics like grip, stance because the balance depends on all that. So no matter how good a batsman you are, there is always room for improvement and again the mindset is a crucial factor. How the batsman plans his innings is very important. Once he is settled, how he prolongs the innings is very important. How he thinks while playing on different wickets matters. The mindset and the technique have to change accordingly.

It is different while playing on a batting wicket than playing on a green wicket. I try to make them aware of the things that they have to keep in mind for different wickets. When the balance is not there the batsmen goes out of comfort zone. The foot work on different wickets is important. Not everyone is good at a particular shot. Batsmen have to be able to play different shots depending on the wicket, where they can score runs on that particular wicket is what we work on. However, too much information can also clutter a player’s mind so it has to be done gradually and depending on the need of the hour.

However, it is a process and things can’t happen right away. You can’t force changes, but telling them helps players realise the importance eventually.

After being relegated to Group C we were always planning to play positively and seek results. We started the season with matches at home when we also had Ravindra Jadeja and Cheteshwar Pujara in the team and we went for outright wins. Against Services we went for a win chasing a total in excess of 300 even though we already had three wins, and had secured first innings lead in the match we could have played safe. But I thought if we played for survival we might be bowled out as it was a grassy wicket while there were higher chances of winning if we played positive and aggressive cricket. At a point when we lost four wickets before lunch, it looked dicey but we went at the target and won.

In a similar situation against Goa we stopped because had we lost they could have come went into competition. So you have to keep the bigger picture in mind.

Shitanshu Kotak

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