Transcript: Couch Talk 48 with Venkatesh Prasad

Couch Talk Episode 48 (play)

Guest: Venkatesh Prasad, Former India Cricketer and Bowling Coach

Host: Subash Jayaraman

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Subash Jayaraman – Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is Former India cricketer and bowling coach, and the current assistant coach for the Royal Challengers Bangalore, Venkatesh Prasad. We will be talking about his coaching stint with India, the role of coaches in cricket, the state of fast bowling in India, and also discuss foreign coaches vis a vis Indian coaches. Welcome to the show Venky.

Venkatesh Prasad – Thank You!

SJ– What exactly is the role of a coach in international cricket? You have some former cricketers like Shane Warne who have openly mocked the notion of coaches in cricket, with respect to John Buchanan. What in your opinion is the role of a coach in international cricket?

VP– As far as Shane Warne and others, whatever they have said, I’m not really sure  what they have said about the role of coach, but I think it is very important- I’m not saying it because I’m a coach now. For an international player, it is very important for a player to have somebody who he could go to and speak to about issues, whether they are skill related or tactic related, or technical related, if you need to go and have a word with somebody, somebody to look up to, who is elder to you. You need someone for sure. These are all the roles of a coach.

A coach doesn’t mean that he needs to do only about tactics and technical aspects. It is not that as a coach you don’t speak about technique to the experienced players as well. At times, some faults do creep in when you have been playing for a long time, when you are not really thinking about the game. You are always thinking about the tactical aspect of the game, not your own game. Sometimes some mistakes will creep into your game, and that is when you need somebody who is experienced. That somebody is a coach, who should have the knowledge of the game, should have played the game, also some coaching experience and the background, so that he could identify the root cause. I think it is extremely important.

When I was going through my lows in my career, I could obviously speak to Srinath, who was very close to me and we played together. He as a player has to concentrate on his own game. So, at times I had to go to my coach, or coaches who were part of the team, and then work on it. You definitely need somebody. The role of the coach is from a skill to being a friend, or a father figure, or a teacher or a good communicator, there are so many other things. Those are all the roles for a coach.

I feel a coach’s job is extremely challenging, more challenging than the player. I can say that since I’ve been a player, and now I’m a coach. As a player, you think of your own game. You think of your strengths and your weakness. As a coach, you have to think about 11 players, or 15 in the squad, and trying to understand each persons psychology, each player’s mechanics, strengths, his moods, and so many things. That is extremely challenging.

SJ– You were the bowling coach for Team India from 2007 to 2009, and you were let go by the board. During your stint, we saw the introduction of some of the most exciting fast bowling talents we’ve had in a while and also, the rediscovery of Zaheer Khan. How do you think they have progressed since that time you were let go and Eric Simons was brought in?

VP– I’m not very sure, honestly. I do get in touch with them once in a while, because I’m also involved in the Indian Premier League. I do get in contact with the bowlers like Ishant Sharma, R. P. Singh, Munaf Patel, and Zaheer Khan – who plays for Royal Challengers Bangalore where I am the assistant coach as well. I keep contact with them and talk about things. I can probably, if they got something, I let them know that I am always there for them. They do come and talk to me about a few things. Having said that, it is not like working with the bowlers as was when I was the bowling coach of the Indian cricket team. You tend to lose that bit of touch. They are very exciting, though, no doubt about that. All these bowlers I mentioned already, and along with them, Vinay Kumar and Abhimanyu Mithun. Mithun is an exciting prospect. Just that he is not getting enough opportunities. He can bowl up to 140-145 [kmph] and he got an extra bit of bounce and the ball comes back in. I think he is like Srinath, in his early days when he came into the squad.

SJ– You brought up Abhimanyu Mithun. In his debut series in Sri Lanka, he did quite well. Everybody was excited about what he could do. He was consistent. He is under your tutelage in KSCA [Karnataka State Cricket Association]. What are you doing – and you have Javagal Srinath in the system, the two premier fast bowlers for India – to move these guys, Vinay Kumar and Mithun, to the next level?

VP– It is not with Venkatesh Prasad and Javagal Srinath, it is with one’s self, I suppose. The players, the bowlers need to understand that after reaching a level, sustaining in that level is  extremely important, and I think the instrumental motivation has to be there. that has to come from within. They are doing everything for sure. Probably, in the case of Abhimanyu Mithun, may be the reason he is being left out is because he is not playing T20s. I think what is happening in the Indian scenario as of now is that the players are getting selected based on the T20 performances, in the IPL, which is sort of global.. What is happening is that somewhere down the line, the people concerned are mistaking that [T20} performance and selecting the players to the next level. It is very important for the selectors to give a lot of weightage to the domestic tournaments – the Ranji Trophy, the Duleep Trophy, the Irani Trophy, The Deodhar Trophy and so on. At the moment, in my perspective, they are giving more weightage on the T20 performance in selecting players to a 4 day game or even India-A team and so on.

SJ– What is the impact? You say fast bowlers are selected based on their performances in IPL…

VP– Not just the fast bowlers. What is happening is, the players have understood there is a lot of coverage or importance given to those performances. So the players know that that is the easiest way to come into the India, or India-A team or so on.

SJ– I understand that they get into the limelight via the IPL and that catapults them to A-team and national team selection. But, that is a terrible way to go about it, especially for fast bowlers.

VP– For anybody. It is not just about fast bowlers. A lot of batsmen have been selected that way. I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m trying to say that the importance needs to shift away from the IPL. IPL is a great platform for these players. But, from there, they need to bring those performances into the Ranji Trophy games, which really tests the player. Ranji Trophy, the format that we play in, the amount of competition that we have got, it is not a easy platform to perform. I have always said this, before anybody gets into the Indian team, he needs to spend about 3 years in the Ranji Trophy. The points is – a) we will get to see the consistency of the player, and b) he would go through the ups and downs of his cricketing, and the way he comes out of it. That is going to teach you a lot! Once he comes into the Indian team he would be so experienced that he would know what to expect at the international level. Even if he played in the international level, he would’ve gone through those slump in the domestic matches and that is the experience that he is going to use in the international career. I feel this is exactly how they have to go about it. Unless and until someone is an extremely good prospect, and you need to really fast-track him, or maybe in the Indian team you need somebody very urgently… like, now Rahul (Dravid) has retired, and we are now looking at Virat Kohli or Rohit Sharma and so on. So, that is how I feel. Virat Kohli, before he got in, Rohit Sharma, they all played 2-3 years of Ranji Trophy. That is the way it has to go about it.

SJ– You will not get any argument from me about that. I too believe that players need to play plenty of first class cricket before they get into the international scene.

I want to touch upon the case of Ishant Sharma. He has played over 40 tests now. He is a veteran. We saw his performance- no consistency with the line, the length he is bowling. Where do you think the fault is?

VP–  I wouldn’t say there is any fault in that. As I’ve said in the beginning, he was an exciting prospect. There is no doubt about it. He did  extremely well in the first year of international career. I was fortunate to be there and guide him and help him out. He had the talent, no doubt about it. but, it is just about showing the right direction and talking the right things. I’m not sure how the coaches are going about all these things. I can’t comment without knowing about it, but yes, he did lose his way in terms of his line and length at some point of time. There was lot of over-bowling that was happening as far as  Ishant Sharma was concerned. Whether it was matches, or whether it was net sessions or so on. It is important for the team management to monitor their players.

Also, there were a few injuries to him now and then, few niggles. When there are injuries, you tend to think of them more, it is a psychological thing, isn’t it? some faults do come in. This is where the coaches get in. I don’t know how it is going about now, though.

SJ– Let’s think hypothetically. If you are the bowling coach right now, with the Indian team in Australia, how would you have tackled the situation differently to get them back on the track?

VP– I don’t know what went on. it is just the management, about managing players. It is not technical or tactical, just about managing the players, and how you get the best out of them. One needs to really be there to do it. From the outside you cannot be saying {anything about it]. The same players who went in 2008, won a test match at Perth and came close to winning a test match in Sydney, but obviously for other reasons, things did not go our way. We won a match at Perth, which no Indian team had done before. And, not only that, we won the CB series fair and square. We didn’t have a foreign coach then. When we went to England in 2007, we didn’t have a foreign coach then when we won the series after the World Cup. We went to South Africa, we won the inaugural T20 World Cup, and we didn’t have foreign coach. [laughs] I’ll leave it to others to think about on what I want to say.

SJ– That is exactly the point that I wanted to ask you too. The international coaching scene is dominated by the Aussies. Then there is a handful of South African coaches. Then there are the English and the Zimbabweans too, with Flower and Fletcher. Why don’t we see Indian coaches, or people from the sub-continent as international coaches? We produce equal number of players, equal number of people who have acted as coaches at different levels? Why don’t we see that?

VP– My argument was always, even when they appointed Greg Chappell, I was always of the opinion that along with the foreign coaches, they have to have two or three Indian coaches in their team or coaching staff or as a back-up and so on, where they get to learn more about coaching. Our management, if they thought about grooming more people. They do get the best [coach], what they or you consider the best. Along with them, you need to have the Indian coaches, because they are the ones who can understand the Indian mindset. Having said that, they would be coming back and spread the message of how these foreign coaches go about doing their job and so on. But now, having worked with a few of the coaches, there is not much of a difference in how they work or how I work. I can proudly say that I’m on par with them, if not better. And, it is important for the authorities to know that they need to groom coaches. Whenever there is an opportunity, they need to make the Indian coaches get some experience, let them get to know more about coaching, make them learn how to tackle a situation – which we need to be doing. This does not happen, even from the time when we had appointed Greg Chappell.

SJ– Do you think there are preconceived notions within our institutions to always seek coaching talents outside of India, for whatever reason?

VP– From what I’ve heard is that, the foreign coaches are unbiased.

SJ- In terms of player selections and stuff?

VP- Yes, player selection and other things, which I completely disagree with. I’ll never agree to that at all, absolutely. If they say that they are unbiased, I can’t say much on that. There are a few coaches who are very good in India, who know the game very well and have played the game at the highest level, who have done their coaching courses, and still can be unbiased. That is how you need to look at it. it is a wrong thing to say that Indian coaches are biased. That is what I’ve heard, nobody has said this to me, but that is what I’ve heard. Suppose somebody has that idea, I completely disagree with it.

SJ– I can only hope, from a fan’s perspective, that the situation changes.

You talked about India’s performances at Perth , and the CB series, going to England, right?

VP– Absolutely. When we won those championships, you should’ve seen the involvement from the senior players. It was fantastic. When we went to England, we were literally down in the dumps after the World Cup loss in 2007. That was a huge thing. We didn’t have single foreign coach in our management team. It was fantastic to take the team along with Robin Singh and Chande Borde, who was more lie father-figure. Having said that, Rahul Dravid, and (V.V.S.)Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar and everybody. The way everybody co-operated with Robin and myself was tremendous. That is what management is all about – to allow the players to express their opinions and giving them the freedom to express is the key When we could do it, suddenly things [changed] and I don’t know what happened.

Anyway, as of now, the Indian team is amazing, it has great talent. Great potential, some extraordinary talent and good leadership as well. Obviously, they are grooming Virat Kohli to take over from Dhoni, and there is Gautam Gambhir who is competing  for that as well. I still feel that Dhoni is going to stay on for a few more years. He has been really good in handling players. He doesn’t get perturbed much about the situation, he handles it very coolly and calmly. And there is great talent and potential. I would like to see them win more tournaments and matches not just in India, but abroad as well.

SJ– Just two quick questions, and I’ll let you go, Venky. One, our performances in England and Australia were, to put it mildly, especially our bowlers, was pathetic. Praveen Kumar was outstanding. But other than that, he didn’t have much support. In Australia, Zaheer was good in patches. Umesh Yadav was decent in patches. How would you buck the trend, how would you turn the performances around?

Two, what advice would you give to the youngsters who are coming through – Umesh Yadav and Varun Aaron?

VP– To answer your last question, I think they have got to bowl a lot. They have got to bowl a lot. Because, that is when they get to understand their bowling more – when to release, how to release, pitch the ball in the areas, what is the corridor of uncertainty, bouncers. Also, understanding the nature of the pitch, behavior of the pitch, and read the batsmen. It is very important for them to learn all that. it is not just about hitting the gym. No doubt that they are working on their fitness. Having said that, there is a lot of importance given to their fitness than to their bowling.

The bowlers get to understand about bowling, only if you keep bowling a lot. In terms of his release, speed, wrist position… You cannot get all these experiences just by playing matches. you need to bowl quite a lot in the net sessions as well. That is where you get to learn a lot about the bowling as well. A lot of importance now is being given to going to the gym, and making sure that you look strong and so on. That is not the only thing. They need to have a very good balance between fitness and bowling. I would say that you need to bowl that much more to understand your bowling. By spending a lot of time in the gym, they are cutting down on the bowling time, and suddenly they have to bowl 20 overs in a day in a test match and they break down because they haven’t bowled enough. Their muscles are not used to bowling that much. You need to be bowling 45 minutes or   hour every second day.

That is the answer for the last part of the question you asked.

To begin with, in England and Australia, I don’t know how the team management or strategy was. i would just not blame the bowlers for the whole loss. It was a complete whitewash in England and Australia. Our batting was the most experienced batting in the World! And, I would have expected them to put up 300 in every innings! With Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar and Dhoni and so on, you can see the batting line up there.

If you can’t put 300 or even 250 runs minimum, it is very difficult to expect too much from the bowlers, simply because, our strength is batting. The whole world knows about it. Yet we still keep talking about bowling.

SJ– I wanted to get your perspective on that, as a bowling coach and former India bowler. I’m not taking any blame away from the batsmen and putting it entirely on the bowlers. I’m not doing that.

VP– Probably, they went wrong tactically, I feel.

SJ– You stressed plenty on the need for these bowlers to be bowling a lot. The way the international calendar is, so many ODIs, T20s, this and that. and then, on top of it, you have the IPL too, which runs for 2 months. They don’t get to bowl much at all during the IPL. What kind of effect it has on the overall development and growth of these young bowlers?

VP– Ah well, I think it is obvious that they have to work in tandem with their coaches and so on to keep monitoring the load on their body. It is really difficult to answer this offhand. Only when you are working with a certain bowler, you can prioritize the whole load- the amount of time he spends on fitness, the amount of time he spends on bowling; and as he is nearing the competition he can taper down his bowling or taper down his fitness {work] and do more of bowling. It works differently for different individuals. That is why I said that a coach’s job is extremely challenging, because you need to understand the physiology and the psychology of a player, a bowler in this case. Probably Ishant Sharma bowls a lot, and Zaheer Khan bowls pretty less. That is where you need to strike a balance, and at times, you need to pull Ishant Sharma back from bowling, especially in the nets. Whereas you need to push Zaheer Khan at times to bowl more in the nets. So, it depends from individual to individual. And whether, they have been on the road for a long time, or if somebody is coming out of injuries, there is a lot of difference.

SJ –On that note, Venky, thanks a lot for coming on the show. That was an absolute pleasure having you on the show.

VP– Thanks, Subash. Thank you very much.

SJ –Thank you.

VP– Bye, take care!


[Download the episode here]

Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman