Couch Talk 143 (Play)
Guest: Aaqib Javed
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ)- Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. Today’s guest is former Pakistani pacer and current head coach of UAE, Aaqib Javed. He talks about the coaching of fast bowlers, reverse swing, legal and illegal ways to altering the condition of a ball, his playing career and his views on match fixing amongst other things. Welcome to the show Aaqib Bhai.
You have been a coach for a while now. What do you teach a young fast bowler that’s under your guidance?
Aaqib Javed (AJ)- It depends. Sometimes, you assess their technique. When you see a young fast bowler, you want to watch their technique because it is important to have an injury free action. It is better to have the assessment when they are 15 or 16, because from the age of 16 to 19, it is a crucial time as the bone growth doesn’t end at that stage and you have got a lot of injuries especially stress fractures in the back. So, it is good to have a complete action assessment before they are 16. As you develop their technique, you assess them as bowlers as to what they deliver, the speed, swing and control. That process is never ending.
SJ- Let’s say you have a set of 4-7 fast bowlers with you and they have come through the assessment process and they have pretty good action. On a day-to-day basis, what is it that you are working with them on?
AJ- Nowadays, we run weekly skill testing which is about assessing their progress [as bowlers]. There are six criteria – bowling with the new ball; hitting the off stump; using of tools such as cones, aiming for the top of middle and off; using a 1 foot round target which the bowler has to hit 6 times, first with new ball then old ball, practice bowling to right handers and left handers (with the target), and then bowling Yorker length – assess them on bowling at block hole and the other at the (side) white line, and practicing bouncers where we use a stick with a 1 square foot target; normal bouncers, slower bouncers. You gather such data on the bowlers and you come to know which bowler is lacking in what – new ball or old ball, bowling yorkers or bouncers, slowers… So this is the actual process of assessing them.
SJ- When do you consider someone to be as close to being a complete fast bowler? They come to you [as coach] when they 16, 17 and 18 and they go on to play international cricket. I am assuming there is a maturing process by which they understand how to attack different batsmen, in different conditions, using different types of balls – Kookaburra, SG and Dukes. How long does it take someone to mature in to a complete fast bowler?
AJ- I don’t prefer holding fast bowlers back. [By observing them] during practice sessions, during target games where we give them scenarios similar to a game and if somebody is pretty accurate with the new ball and is able to bowl yorkers, and has some variations, he is ready to go, because you don’t want to waste the fast bowler’s time. If somebody is ready at 18 years ago, you let them play because the fast bowler’s life time is as it is pretty short compared to spinners. I prefer spinners to spend more time in domestic cricket and take quite a few wickets.
SJ- You talked about bowling action and the stress fractures in the back. When do coaches generally go for remodeling of a bowlers’ action? What are the pros and cons of it? For example, some coaches advised James Anderson to remodel his action but that made him a lesser bowler. He then went back to what was natural for him and he has come back to be a great bowler. Where do you draw the line?
AJ- You’ve got to be very careful. I would only suggest changing somebody’s bowling action if he is injured, or if before injury you have indications that he’s got lateral flexion of the back, hyperextension of the back, his alignment is not right, because I want all of the bowlers to have good alignment—the last three paces [before delivery] in one line – the landing foot, delivery stride and follow through – because we want all bowlers to convey all the pace towards the target. And then the first and most important thing is, with all of these injuries, the front leg position at delivery stride should be braced. Braced means more height, more power. You can’t teach this to everyone, but there are rare cases if you have done their alignment then it becomes bowler who has a braced leg, but until there is any indication of injury I don’t prefer them to change their action. There should be a solid reason, which most importantly is injury prevention.
SJ- These days you have a huge number of support staff with any cricket team, especially an international cricket team. Is there over-coaching of the bowlers, rather than focusing on the basics?
AJ- Look, when you said more sports staff covering their areas I think it is really good, because if you have one coach for all aspects of the game like batting, bowling, fielding, then you might get carried away, might sometimes make mistakes which if you have separate coaches, specialized bowling coach, then you can’t miss it because your responsibility is to look after your four or five bowlers.
I think if you have specialized coaches they will think about it, they will put a right plan because they have so much time to just focus on four or five guys, so I think I’ll go for more coaches than less support staff because to begin with, you’re still way behind if you compare cricket with baseball and basketball and tennis and even football because their protocols and their professionalism on and off the field, it’s still a huge gap. We need more professionalism in cricket, and still can’t be compared with other sports in the world.
I think you need to be more specific and so you need more people who are specialized in their field to guide the players.
Overcoaching in fast bowling can be changing their action unnecessarily, because there is no role model in fast bowling where you say, “This is the only way to bowl fast or good”, because West Indian fast bowlers used to have front on action, so there is nothing wrong, Flintoff had a front on action, there are many bowlers who had front on bowling action and side on bowling action like Waqar, Dennis Lillee, Wasim Akram, so you can have the best in any action but it should be suitable to you. You can’t change a side on bowler to front on bowler or front on to side on. We need to respect their natural action and the focus should be that while we are coaching we are enhancing their performance. It’s not about making them a model—I still believe there is no perfect model. The coaching is all about enhancing their performance.
SJ- I want to talk to you a bit about your playing career as well. You just mentioned about Wasim and Waqar. How different do you think your career would have been if it hadn’t come parallel with Wasim and Waqar who were the unquestioned stars of the Pakistani bowling attack? In addition, you had Saqlain and Mushtaq also. How did you fit into the team plans?
AJ- It’s about your role. I always had a clear mind about my role in the team. Especially in the one dayers, we had a very composed composition as bowling unit. Wasim and myself used to bowl the new ball and then we’d bring Waqar in with the old ball with his reverse swing, so our composition was really good then. We had Mushtaq and Imran to play around.
Look, it’s difficult because when you have people like Wasim and Waqar bowling from the other end, it is a little bit of pressure, and until you don’t give the opportunity to the bowler to take the tail-ender’s wicket (laughs) you hardly take 5 wickets in a match. I would say that if I hadn’t parallel to Wasim and Waqar, I might have had better performances than I have done. I hardly bowled to tail-enders and whenever you [get a chance] playing a game you have to bowl against the wind, which is sometimes really difficult for a bowler, especially in New Zealand or England where you’ve got quite fast wind blowing. It’s really hard fighting against the wind all the time. Yes, I think if you play as number one bowler or number two bowler then you have definitely greater chances to perform better.
SJ- You just mentioned about reverse swing. Every Pakistani fast bowler in the last 30=odd years, it’s as if everybody knows about reverse swing and how to do it. It’s like they are born, they are given a name, and then they are told “this is how you do reverse swing.”
AJ- For us it is about culture. We have such culture where they are seeing bowlers bowling reverse swing and then that it comes from national team down to club cricket, club cricket to schools, because everyone wants to know what it is. Same thing goes to doosra. When Saqlain started it, nobody else knew about it and now you’ll find many youngsters even bowling doosras, which I think is not a great choice at the moment because you’re bending your elbows for your doosras but reverse swing is one that is not a secret anymore. It used to be our secret but now it is open because I have seen Anderson and others bowling it perfectly.
SJ- When did you first come across reverse swing and whom did you learn it from?
AJ- Frankly speaking it is not from the national team. Before that, even playing club cricket there are people who know this thing because reverse swing is so common in Pakistan. You don’t have to wait for some elite bowler or coach to tell you because it is in your culture. I’m surprised that India got a similar sort of environment and I sometimes find out about many Indian fast bowlers who have no clue about reverse swing. If you are playing on dead slow pitches when there is nothing in the pitch you’ve got to produce something in the air, and reverse swing is ideal because you can create angles, swing, and dismiss any sort of batsman.
SJ- There are legal and illegal means of altering the condition of the ball to aid in the generation of reverse swing. I have heard stories from first class domestic cricket in Pakistan—through ex-players, journalists, and just fans—about how it is so pronounced and how both methods illegal as well as legal are used. What about your experience? Have you tried them both?
AJ- I think, yeah. There are two ways of bowling in reverse swing. One is using a tool to damage the ball. The other is if you know how to make a ball reverse, if you have a new ball and usually whenever you are bowling bouncers or short pitch ball or sometimes even the length ball we used to hold across the seam. When you hold across the seam you will be able to get that shiny side of the ball or not shiny side of the ball, when you repeatedly practice this then you come to know, “okay, if I am holding the ball across seam this part of the ball is going to hit the surface.” When you are repeatedly hitting the surface with the cross seam ball, you create marks on one side. When you are holding the ball on the seam and the seam is hitting all of the time it is not going to have an affect on both sides of the shine, but if you are holding across, it is only hitting the ball on one side of the ball so, generally, it is a bit difficult process because you need a lot of practice to know that from where you grip the ball and hold the ball and hit the right side, and this process is a bit delayed, because you’ve got to wait sometimes for 25 or 30 overs, but I think this is the right way, there is nothing wrong. It is within the limits and can be done even staying within the limits.
SJ- Of course we have heard from Imran Khan and others about the use of a bottle cap, spikes in your boots, or even saw dust that various countries and various players have tried over the years. Have you ever tried any of these methods to try to get reverse swing faster?
AJ- Look, everyone, when you want to learn and you want to, I mean, many many times in the practice because when you practice reverse swing still I am giving balls to my bowlers to practice, but I never encouraged them to use any tools because there are ways of doing it: use the surface of the pitch. Sometimes when you are young and you want to achieve something quick, we have used different things. Yeah.
SJ- There is a question from a listener Ahmer Naqvi, from Islamabad. This is about the balance of power between bat and ball, and every day it seems like the batsmen are getting more of a free hand while anything the bowlers come up with is put under the microscope. What do you think – will the balance be restored by newer skills or newer laws in cricket?
AJ- I already mentioned that cricket is still a sport which is not comparable to other elite sports like football, rugby, American football, baseball, because without technology you can’t improve. Talking about illegal bowling, it’s really difficult still for any biomechanics lab to produce something which is used during the game. Every analysis is made in the lab, in indoor centers, and it’s not, you can’t compare bowling in the lab with that in the match. We need technology which is accessible and useful for the bowlers during the match and during the game.
Another thing which is you saying the new rules are all for the batsmen, look, after all from childhood to elite players, batting is the attraction of cricket. People and the new generations want – with set up of the game in 50 overs and T20s – people want sixes. There are a few exciting bowlers but I think the real excitement is people want sixes, fours, that is the ultimate. I still think nowadays there are the crackdowns on all the bowlers but I think in the future I can see the ICC conceding more than 15 degrees, because 15 degrees is really minimum. I think if they give another 5 to 7 degrees, you will have quite a good skillful people playing at the international level.
SJ- I want to talk about U.A.E. and you as their head coach and the world cup coming up, but I’d like to touch upon one thing briefly. Rameez Raja in a recent article on Cricinfo writing about match fixing and the kind of things that went on within the Pakistan team of the 1990’s, said that, “It is the most awful and sickening feeling. When a bunch of rogues you share the dressing room with are fighting tooth and nail to lose a match, it kills your desire to play the game, and whips up a desire to kill them.” This article was also in relation to the attempts to bring Mohammed Amir back in to the game. What are your thoughts on it?
AJ- Look, I was the one person that went against the players report and tried to produce evidence against some of my friends and colleagues. I am really anti-corruption. It is not good for the game, and I would endorse Rameez Raja’s statement because you have to set examples. The best way to setting an example is, once you have made a decision, then, back it up. I won’t welcome Amir to come and play the game at the international level.
SJ- About the mid-1990’s team? Raja mentioned about the players within the team desperately trying to lose matches… Were you aware [at that time] of things happening within the team?
AJ- Yes, there were some moments. And I also mentioned that at one point I went against 3-4 guys in the court. There was something fishy going on at that time. Nowadays, I would say there are tighter restrictions around the people doing the wrong things. Even till fewer years ago that [fixing] existed. It is really bad for the game and I am totally against it. I never wanted anybody to get away with it. If Amir has done it [fixing], he has to face the music because ICC and the cricket boards should be able to set high standards which is non-tolerance of any wrongdoing.
SJ- Okay. On to U.A.E. This world cup we have 2 groups of 7 but for next world cup in 2019, they have decided to go back to 10 teams. As head coach of a team that is outside the top 10, what are your thoughts on this decision?
AJ- [ICC} has to decide which way they are going because I’m still confused – do they want to grow cricket or do they want cricket to remain within 8 countries? I think cricket has scope and it is spreading.
They can play around with the format. You can still have 14-16 teams in the world cup like they did in the last World T20 where they started with a qualifying round and give opportunities to teams outside the top 10 but have a chance to beat the lower ranked international teams. The lower ranked [full member] teams should feel some pressure.
If I were to ask ICC or those people who have the idea of having lesser number of teams at the world cup, what have Bangladesh and Zimbabwe improved on in the last 15-20 years? Nothing really. They haven’t improved their standards. And they won’t until you put them in a situation where they have to grow and feel, “If we don’t grow, then someone like Ireland, U.A.E. or Afghanistan will beat us and move forward.” Also, what is the logic of having 10 teams then? What is the logic of having Bangladesh and Zimbabwe all the time in the world cup? Why? Why not other teams who are growing and doing well?
SJ- I agree with you completely. Cricket should always look to expand rather than contract as they are trying to do.
What do you think are U.A.E.’s prospects in the 2015 world cup?
AJ- You have to be careful when you go to a world cup, especially the 50-overs world cup. You have to plan things which are doable and set targets that are achievable. We have detailed thoughts on these and we will come out with a plan, “let’s go to the world cup and win 2 games.” So, we are focused only on two wins at the 2015 world cup.
SJ- Lastly, you might think this question is a bit cheeky. I was a 14 year old kid watching the India v. Pakistan game in Sharjah in 1991 where you took 7-37 and it was a reason for a heartbreak. The hat trick you took, how many of that three LBWs would still stand as LBW if there was DRS?
AJ- [Laughs]. Must be missing few! [Laughs]
I think I was lucky to get away with three LBWs because it is really hard for an umpire to give three consecutive leg befores. I would say that the umpire was quite brave. [Laughs] Nowadays, you can’t even think of having three LBWs in three balls.
SJ- Did you think all three were plumb?
AJ- Well, not plumb… but close enough. But that moment is gone, finished.
SJ- Alright. Well, Thank you so much Aaqib Bhai, thanks for being on the show.
AJ- No problem.
Episode transcribed by Kathleen Galligan