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A peek into preparing the next crop of Indian cricketers

Paras Mhambrey, India U-19 coach says it is important for young bowlers to keep thinking about their game

While working with the youngsters (Under-19s), you have to see the skill and talent in the context of the experience that they have. Their understanding of the scenario and the ability to read situations has to be gauged and enhanced.

I don’t want them to go through the motions in the nets, but want them to keep thinking about their bowling. I really want them to be intelligent bowlers. I think if you are able to do that, your chances of being successful and picking wickets consistently increase. They need to focus on understanding the options at hand and choosing the right option for a given situation. It is a process and takes a while and it is also about being able to do what is required consistently in matches. Hence, you need to constantly work on the process with them.

Working on basics: You have to work in the right areas with youngsters as even though it is basics, it helps them in the long term. Demonstrating helps them understand the essence and once they understand and master, it's only then that we are moving forward. So I have been focusing on the basics and once you have that, you can then take it further.

While working on the basics, you can’t go overboard with the technical bit, but tweak it a little only if you feel that it is absolutely required. With the season in progress and the ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup about to start, I don’t want to cloud their thinking. I want to keep it as clear as possible so that the bowler is able to go and perform.

We work on the basics like the lengths that the bowler hits. It is important to be consistent with the length in the shorter format.
For example, our practice is about six-ball sequences. Whenever we are bowling in the nets, I ask them to tell me what deliveries they are going to bowl, what lengths they are going to bowl and then after six balls are bowled, I ask them what is the success rate that is achieved and how do we get better. What we look to achieve is to get 4 off 5, 5 off 6 balls as planned. These are the couple of things that you need to work on at the U-19 level.

Pace: While working with fast bowlers, if someone is an out and out fast bowler, then you need to encourage him to bowl quick. Pace is precious at any level and if I feel that’s his forte, I will encourage him to do that. While doing that we also need to focus on how consistently he can hit the right areas. The wicket-taking deliveries are something he needs to work out and we also need to assess what lengths he needs to bowl to get those wickets and also use his pace effectively. It is something that you can work with every bowler. These youngsters are ambitious young guys who want to bowl fast and it is great to see the effort that they put in the nets and in the matches. Obviously there are a lot of wear and tear, however, if you have someone like that, I would encourage him to bowl quick as long as there are controlled body movements. These things are a work in progress and have to be worked on continuously.

Variations: Variations are an important aspect in this format. The bowler needs to vary his pace. Yorker, the bouncer, the slower ball, slow bouncers are some of the variations we focus on. While working on variations, we create situations in nets for practice with field settings.
For example, I ask them what fields they are going to bowl? What changes they are going to make if what they are already doing, isn’t working? We are also working on how to set the batsman up. In a six-ball sequence - when you have bowled two dot balls, then you expect the batsman to go after you to release that pressure so what are the lengths that you need to bowl? Work on the field setting as well for that particular ball. That’s the kind of work, we do to get them to build a thought process about their game.

Bowling in the sub-continent is hard work. I think these bowlers are a lot smarter, intelligent and more aware of it which I think is the best part. They are trying their best, hitting the deck hard putting in that effort in each and every delivery which is good to see.

In the one-day format, you are going to get hit, so you have to bear in mind that the margin for error is less and take it as a challenge. On a flat sub-continent wicket, if a bowler picks up a couple of wickets at economy of three or four with a few maiden, then those are good figures.

It is more about analyzing the situation before and after and comparing them, which I do. I try to understand their thought process while bowling a particular spell. We also discuss the options used and what could have been done differently; their views on it. I ask them if we could have tried some other thing which is about presenting them with different options, because under pressure in a match situation, the thinking can get cloudy. Their thinking can get vague and there could be too many things on their mind, so there is no clarity. So to understand what transpired, we sit after the game and go through the spells and try to deconstruct them.

To prepare them mentally, we keep talking to them. It is an ongoing process. You can get carried away in a situation where the batsman goes after the bowler. In such a case, you can’t really think clearly due to various factors, and at times, you bowl a delivery that you shouldn’t. It happens and with the younger lot, it will happen more because they haven’t played enough cricket. It is acceptable to a certain extent, but we have to think about how we can improve. So we discuss every point. A particular delivery that he could have bowled after setting the batsman up. Setting up a batsman takes a while, but as they continue to play, they will make the right decisions with experience.

White ball cricket:
Since most of the cricket at the junior level is played with the red ball, the solutions ls to keep bowling with the white ball. The white ball generally swings first up and then after a few overs, the ball stops moving. It also requires understanding of the conditions and pitches and how the ball will behave on it. It is more about making them aware about the multiple factors and the finer nuances that have a bearing on the outcome.
You have to keep talking to them about it as these small things eventually make a big difference. It’s just about creating an environment where they start thinking about these important things which they might not have done in the past.

Bowling in different phases of the game:
While practicing for the different phases of the game, we divide them in two spells while working in the nets. The first spell is with the new ball and the second spell is with the older ball. Generally, the first spell is about 36 balls with the new ball and then they come back with the old ball and bowl about 18 deliveries. During practice, sometimes we set the field and the boys have to respond. We give them a six-ball sequence where, for example, first two are going to be short deliveries, the next will be slower one and fourth and fifth will be yorkers outside the off-stump and the last one is a bouncer. And then we gauge the consistency, the accuracy that we could generate. After every six-ball sequence, we discuss how successful we were and what can be done.

Then in the next round they bowl about 12 balls without the batsmen and practice hitting different lengths. Here too we pick the delivery. For example, on which stump is he going to bowl the yorker. That’s how we break it down because we need to cover all the bases.
When you are going into a game, you know who is going to bowl your death overs and that’s where skill practice comes handy. It’s important to make them understand what their role is going to be in that situation. Maybe as a strike bowler, you have to come in first change during the second Power Play and you should be able to play your part well.

We give them that clarity about what is expected out of them – their role and focus on that and nothing else. After giving them clarity of which phase they are more likely to bowl, we cover all the basics not only with the guys who are assigned for Power Plays or death overs, but with the rest of the guys as well. We work with the spinners as well because then we can have the option of using them in the Power Play as well or in the death overs. 

During a tournament, I don’t focus too much on the technical aspects. I don’t want them to be confused. That’s the line we must be careful with. We are feeding them information in small bits at a time so that it is easier to grasp. We are careful with how much information to feed and when to feed. Probing and egging them to try different things is an ongoing process.

I let them take the decision and generally ask what do they think? Sometimes they will also say ‘I don’t think I should have bowled that one’. I want them to self-analyse. I want them to think and be aware of that what they are going to do. I am happy as long as they do that.
Fitness – the youngsters are very aware of being fit. They work well. You have to ensure that there is a balance and not go overboard with hitting the gym. There should be more of net bowling and skill work supplemented by gym training.

Paras Mhambrey

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It is important to overcome mental barriers

Assam coach Sanath Kumar says bowling is his team’s strength

This is my second stint with the Assam team. Most of the boys who are part of the squad now made their debut under me during my tenure from 2004-07. Most of them came from Under-19 and played the Ranji trophy. Now they have around six to eight years of experience, which is a huge advantage. I have known these talented boys for some time. My job is to back them and give them the assurance that they will be given enough opportunities to play and perform.

Earlier, after one or two bad games there would be five to six changes in the team. Since the time I have taken over, we had 17-18 players and I have backed them regardless of the outcomes. Giving them that comfort helps them perform consistently.

What I look for in a player is how he handles pressure and his work ethic. If I see that commitment and willingness to go the extra mile in a player, I back him. In the beginning itself, I made it very clear that I will back them as long as they are hundred per cent committed and I see them enjoying the game whenever they are on the field.

We don’t a have huge bench strength. We have around 18 to 20 quality players and we have to manage from a limited pool. So I worked accordingly. Most of the players in the team have played a fair amount of cricket. They have been to the NCA (National Cricket Academy).

They have attended those camps and know the game. While talent is there, the challenge here in Assam is that they don’t have a strong system at the local level. They hardly get to play any games because of the absence of local leagues. The only matches that happen are four to five district matches held between December to February.

To give them more exposure, I take them out to participate in tournaments like the KSCA tournament, the Buchi Babu tournament in July and August and make them play practice matches. We also have net sessions there as during that period from May to September, there are heavy rains in Assam and the possibility of play is minimum. The lack of indoor facilities make it that much more difficult for the players.

The players lack the exposure that teams like Karnataka, Baroda and Mumbai have where there are lots of players who have played at the highest level. This makes their task difficult as they get a bit overawed by the big names in the opposition. This is one of the reasons they start thinking in a negative way instead of thinking in a positive way.

To address these concerns, I try to make it as simple as possible for them and try to channelize their thinking in a positive way. For example, I tell them ‘Even if the best bowler bowls a bad ball, it’s still a bad ball and even if an ordinary batsman plays a good shot, it’s still a good shot’.
I try and encourage them and look to create a positive mindset. I tell them, ‘Instead of getting worried, you should look to perform against the best’.

I always believe in the process than the outcome and always ask the boys to focus on present. I believe in enjoying the game, enjoying pressure situations and going all out against the best teams. I tell them that there is no game which is big or small and that they must look to perform in every game.

Our practice sessions are much harder than the competition so that they mentally get used to the tough conditions.

I always ask them to focus on winning the sessions which in turn helps the team to dominate the game. I get them into the comfort zone by taking out the importance of result and focusing on the enjoyment factor and competing with the opponents. Simple things like focusing on the process and focusing on the strength and backing themselves helps.

I always speak to them in a positive way and applaud all the positive things. I give batsmen individual targets like playing 250 balls instead of runs; give them partnership targets which makes their job easier. With the bowlers, I stress upon bowling in partnerships and making use of the crease to change angles and to keep the pressure by bowling in good areas. We work on alignments and target bowling and make them understand that a small change of angles makes a huge difference to their bowling. I also talk about understanding a batsman’s strength and weakness and bowling accordingly. We also work on close-in catching and fielding to make them realize the importance of fielding.

During the initial part of the season, we work on technical aspects. Once that is done, it is only the mental aspect which really matters as matches approach. At the first-class level and above it, is the mind that really matters. For example, if you observe all the great players, it is their mental strength that sets them apart.

Assam’s strength is fast bowling which is also because the wickets here are on the uneven side. The ball doesn’t come on to the bat easily, so batting here is a bit difficult. The boys are naturally strong, they are very athletic and wiry, and so they have stamina and can bowl long spells.

They can easily bowl ten overs on the trot which is a huge advantage according to me. It is easier to work with bowlers even on bad wickets because you have to focus on bowling in the right areas. To improve batting you need access to good wickets, which is very difficult here. However, our batsmen work hard and have done well when we play outside.

While travelling for matches during the Ranji Trophy, we travel three days ahead so that we have at least two nets sessions to get used to the conditions and wickets. Most of the places we travel to, have good practice facilities that the batsmen start enjoying from the very first day.

They get the feeling that they too can bat really well because the wickets are good and they can play through the line. There is not much of lateral movement and off the pitch. In Assam, the ball cuts off the pitch so it’s a challenging task to bat.

It is thanks to the team work that Assam have been able to sustain a good run over the last couple of years. One thing that has helped the team come this far and perform with consistency is that everybody is thinking in the same way. The boys are giving their best and they are thinking as a team than as individuals. One won’t find many big individual performances in our team, most of the time it is the bits and pieces of performances and the gelling together as a team that is making the team successful and consistent.

Sanath Kumar

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