Couch Talk 178 (Play)
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman (SJ): Hello and welcome to Couch Talk. The guest today is former New Zealand fast bowler and bowling coach, Shane Bond. He talks about his injury-curtailed career, his advice for young fast bowlers, how team bowling plans are developed, the captain’s role in a fast bowler’s success, and some of the highlights of his career, amongst other things.
Welcome to the show Shane.
Shane Bond (SB): Thank you. It’s nice to be here.
SJ: It’s absolutely my pleasure. Let’s get started with the injuries you had to deal with right through your career. Your career was cut short, you were able to play only 18 Tests and 82 ODIs for NZ. Was there every any thought in your mind of cutting back on the pace or shortening the run up or changing the bowling action to reduce stress on your body?
SB: To be fair, no. I had to remodel my action once I had surgery on my back. I spent a lot of time going over that, making the adjustments I had to make. There were a couple. I had a mixed action, and certainly I had to make some adjustments there. In terms of throttling back, No. It’s probably one of those things, I perhaps should have done, in hindsight. Perhaps I should have taken more time, and dropped my pace a little bit but in saying that, I always felt that my success came from going 100% all the time. That was my role in the team to do that. So, I just tried to prepare the best I could and fulfill that role. Unfortunately, it meant, for me, few injuries came along the way, but that’s sport.
SJ: Was that your pride or ego of being a fast bowler getting in the way, perhaps? In the sense that you wanted to be bowl fast, and it’s always a thrilling sight to see a fast bowler in full flight on a cricket field?
SB: No, I don’t think so. My point of difference (from other bowlers) was my pace. If I dropped the pace to be more accurate, I would have fallen back in to the pack and would have been competing with every other bowler. At the end of the day, my ability to bowl 90 mph aded a different sort of variety to what was already a very good bowling attack we had anyway. That’s the role I wanted to do, and I loved doing it.
SJ: When you began your career, it was towards the end of another NZ fast bowler whose career also was interrupted by injuries – Dion Nash. Was there any input or advice from him how you should go about managing your body?
SB: I mean, guys talked about it. It’s par for the course that if you play international sports that you’re gonna get injured at some time. We talked about different things that we were doing as bowlers, and the strengths of each other. You want to stay on the field as much as possible. But unfortunately, or fortunately, some people are more durable than others. The stresses we had on our bodies, we just didn’t cope that well. I think that was a frustrating thing. It is always frustrating when you cop publicly some stick that you are hurt all the time, but you are doing everything you can behind the scenes to stay on the park.
SJ: You were the bowling coach for NZ for three years, from 2012 till the end of the 2015 World Cup. Now you are with Mumbai Indians franchise as well as their bowling coach. When you have younger fast bowlers under your tutelage, are there things that you pass on where they can protect their bodies a little bit more?
SB: Yeah, definitely. That’s one side of the game that I actually quite enjoy, and I think is important that the player management aspect – they call it “bowler loading” – it’s just being aware of the amount of load that’s going through a bowler. Not just from the bowling point of view, but everything that goes along with the game: the weight training, running, etc., and try to make informed decisions around that. Because, if somebody gets hurt, it’s just not good enough particularly these days since players are your assets and you want to keep them on the field. What you don’t want to be doing is making the same mistakes over and over. So, I’m quite big on measuring those bowling loads. That way, there is at least someone you can sit down with, and review it. You can see what’s transpired and make some adjustments to their program to lower the chances of the players missing any games. I think you are always having those discussions with the bowlers: How much they are bowling, the type of bowling they are doing, rest and how they take it. You try to build the trust with the bowlers so that they are confident that even if they take the rest – a couple of days off – they can perform at their top level.
SJ: We have in international cricket now, James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, to name a couple, who are quite young, and really fast bowlers but have had issues to their backs. Considering what you had to go through in your career, if you were to give them advice to these young ones, what would you tell them so that they could have a productive career?
SB: I think, particularly when you return from injury, take a little bit longer than you think you need to. A week or two at the back end of recovery from an injury could save you a lot of time and perhaps prevent re-occuring of the injury. With players like Pattinson, Cummins and Corey Anderson, you want them playing for your country because they can win you matches, there is a tendency to hurry these guys back in to the starting teams. Particularly from the bowling point of view, you go from just bowling in the nets in preparation and straight in to international cricket. Not only is the intensity high when you are bowling at that level but there are things as well – intensity in the field, the promotions and the travels etc. That takes its toll on people. So, sometimes you want to take a measured approach. Play some club cricket, play some first class cricket, just to manage that intensity back up in to the national team, and once you are there, you still need to give the guys an opportunity for breaks because you just can’t do fast bowling well 12 months of the year; a) you can’t sustain your fitness and b) you won’t sustain your performance or pace.
SJ: I want to switch gears and talk about fast bowling itself. In your time, you, Shoaib Akhtar an Brett Lee, to name a few, were bowling at speeds in excess of 150 kph. When the ball is delivered at those speeds, the batsmen facing you realistically have no time to see the ball delivered and then plan a shot. So there is premeditation in the batsmen’s minds of the kid of shots they want to play before the ball is bowled. It’s a question from listener Kartikeya: Does that premeditation have an effect on you as the bowler on how you plan to get that batsman out?
SB: I think the premeditation is more prevalent in the shorter forms of the game. There, the batsmen guess where the bowler is going to bowl and they do that particularly to put the bowler under pressure. They do that to manipulate where the bowlers’s going to bowl; they will charge down the wicket and then, predict that [next ball] the bowler is going to pitch it short and so they will sit back. Given the fields and the patterns that the bowlers bowl to, the quality batsmen will have the best guess. That’s why you see them paddle or walk across the stumps because they think they have a fair idea of where the bowler’s gonna bowl. But when you bowl at 150k’s, you wonder sometimes how they do that?
From my experience, just working with Tim Southee and working through some variations in the nets up against Kane Williamson, his ability to see what was going on in the hand, and see the ball, was staggering. Even I [as the coach watching] couldn’t see the seam but he could see the different finger positions, what Tim was trying to do, he could whether the ball was wobbling, he could tell which way [Tim] was trying to swing it. May be, that is a mark of a genius. I was staggered by his ability to pick that up so early. May be, that’s what separates the great players from the not-so-great.
SJ: Let’s say you are bowling in a Test match. You are feeling good, you are in rhythm and you are ripping the ball at 150k’s. The batsman, let’s say a really top level batsman, is picking it from your hand, and he can sense from your angle and the field, what is coming. When you see that the batsman is already prepared on facing what you are going to deliver, how do you adjust as a bowler?
SB: That’s a good question. I’ve played against a number of great players who, even when you are bowling quick, seem to have all the time in the world. [Laughs]. That’s a real challenge. You do your work before you take the field. So you have ideas of the zones that you need to be bowling and you just try to hang in there – with great players it takes that little bit longer. If it doesn’t work, you have a word with your captain and away you go. You pick a different line of attack, or different length of attack, set different fields. From bowling point of view, it’s all about creating some doubt in the batsman’s mind as to their decision-making. If you can create that doubt, that’s when they make the mistakes and you will get the wicket. The challenge against the top batsmen is that they know the game so well, it can be very difficult to do that [create doubt], and some times, it turns in to a patience game. And other times, You bowl balls that are too good for them, and it’s nice when that happens.
SJ: When you are bowling, what sort of visual cues do you take from the batsman to say, “Alright, he’s picking me really well right from the hand. Even before I’m delivering the ball, he’s already made his mind.” What sort of things you look for so that you can recalibrate your bowling strategy?
SB: When you go in to a game, you already have an understanding of the zones that the batsmen like to score, the areas that they are particularly strong in. Obviously, you want to stay away from those. Some times, You think there is an area you want to attack and play to a batsman’s strengths. Also, you know the areas they don’t score in, and try to target those, and make them go out of their zones to score. You look at their technique, see how deep they are batting in their crease, what sort of shots they are looking to play, what tempo they have brought to their game. Some players like AB de Villiers will bring different stuff on different days. So, you’ve got to be adaptable to what the batsmen bring to the table.
SJ: We talked about batsmen premeditating. About bowlers – was there premeditation to your bowling or was it just a product of what happened in the delivery before?
SB: It’s a combination of both. You have an idea of where you want to bowl and how you want to set the batsman up based on an over. You might feel the best way to get a batsman out is to bowl the wider delivery and get him to drive. May be you feel like it is going to take you 2-3 overs to get him to do that, so you bowl a tight line, bowl the bouncer, and after two or three overs, you prepare to throw the wider ball out there as the sucker ball. That may not necessarily be the ball that gets him out and it is something else, but in your mind, you try to construct an over before you start thinking about: “Okay, how am I going to get this player out?”.
The whole process gets shorter in the shorter formats of the game. In T20, every ball is an event. Every ball is vital. You have got to have the ability to think clearly under pressure. Weigh up what happened the ball before and execute what you think is the very best ball you can bowl given what happened before and on what the team needs.
SJ: I want to talk a bit about your time as the bowling coach with NZ, especially in a Test series scenario. You had Southee, Boult, [Neil] Wagner, [Doug] Bracewell, [Ish] Sodhi, [Mark] Craig, Adam Milne at your disposal. How do you construct a bowling plan going in to a series? I understand you sit down with your bowlers and design it based on their strengths and the opposition. This sort of information we don’t get as fans, or outside observers. Could you give us an insider look of how a bowling plan is developed, how that information is disseminated, etc.?
SB: We had some generic plans that we spoke about. Obviously, we had two world class bowlers in Southee and Boult who are swing bowlers, who want to bowl fuller. We talked about how they would bowl at the back end of the innings. We wanted to be aggressive and hostile at the back end, to the tail, make things as uncomfortable as we could to the lower order. You sift through all the information, you work out where the batsmen scored, the zones they are weak at – the line and length you want to attack. Then, you would sit down and discuss that as a group and sign off. Particularly because some of these players have played against some of these players and may have had success.
You come up with plans A, B and C against these players. You will also dig all the information on the bowlers themselves, about the certain times in a Test match where they have had most success, the length that they bowled with most success, and where the ball got hit when they had success. You can break down Trent Boult and tell that when the ball swings, in the initial few overs the ball really moves, you might leave mid on open and allow the batsman to push the ball when it moves across; and you might get a couple at mid-wicket because the ball swings and goes quickly through that area and so brings in a catching chance.
Not only is it filling information or working out stuff on the opposition, but there is also working out where and when is the most effective time to use your bowlers. If they did miss, where did they miss, so you can prepare a cover. And, also perhaps some areas that you might open up for fielders so that it can be difficult to score in those areas because of the balls discussed in the talks. You can manipulate your bowlers to the times when they bowled at their very best, and hope they perform that role. Obviously, you crosscheck it the captain and he has to sign off, those are the things that we need to do.
SJ: Obviously, cricketers, no matter what you say about plans and skills, they are still humans and there will be days when they are feeling their best but the balls are not coming out right, or for any reason the plans that they have in place don’t work out. So, how swift is that feedback? I have seen you, and when Alan Donald was the bowling coach of New Zealand, you would be by the boundary lines and constantly sending messages. Are you looking at – as a bowling coach – what is continually happening on the field and then try to pass on a message on any correction, or reaffirming the faith in the plan, etc.? How swift is that feedback?
SB: That is the art of coaching, isn’t it, and also having those discussions with head coach as well. There are times when it is important for the players to speak their mind, and you don’t mind if they have a tough season or a tough match. It is important that they work out, how they do certain things in a game. Other times, when it might be critical part of the game, you might just walk around the boundary and offer a little bit of an advice – “Hey, if you thought about this as a plan, would you consider doing something like this?” I think that is all part of the trust process. It takes a little bit of time to build that up. You start to understand the body language of the players. You can wander on the boundary sometimes, and you may not even have to talk about cricket – just distract them if they are a little bit down on themselves. In my point of view, you just learn about how perhaps best to do that, the longer you coached, the better you knew your players. As you went along, you start to understand when the player was feeling good and when they wanted to be spoken to. Some days you are not going to get it right, but the players have to understand that you are going to help them as best as you could.
SJ: With the input of technology now, where you have ball by ball stats and the pitch maps, and beehives, the hawk-eye available now at the push of a button, in a way the feedback can be quite rapid, if the player wants it. How receptive are the players? They have to take accountability for their job on the field. Let’s say you have a plan where bowlers A, B and C were supposed to bowl 3 different lengths to a batsman, but then you realize that they haven’t done what they were supposed to do. So, you got to them at the intermission and tell them to stick to certain areas. How ready are they to take criticism and accountability for their actions?
SB: It is important that all roles have a level of accountability. What the planning does is, it gives you a starting point. You want to have a plan that you can fall back on, when the percentages are not in your favour. Obviously, when you get into a match, sometimes the pitch is playing differently that what you expected and so you have to have the ability to adjust and not just be stuck your ways. You need that start point, the point where you say, “If all else fails, we can go back to this. What history has told us is that this is a pretty good area to bowl as a group.” That is the starting point of the discussion, and as the game goes, as the ball gets older and the conditions change a touch, you need that ability and flexibility to say “hey, this hasn’t quite worked. What are we going to go to now?” I was lucky that I had the expertise and the brains in the team to come up with plans to do this and that.
You want the bowlers to own it. Some bowlers enjoy their preparation side more than others. You really need to know clearly at the back end of and ODI and T20 innings about what you are going to do. That is when the real pressure is on, and things can get away from a bowler. You got to be very careful about not making things too complicated for the bowler. When you are under pressure, you only want to know one or two key things about what you need to do. That is the big thing for me to say “Look, as long as you have a plan, back your plan under pressure.” If it doesn’t work, sometimes a batsman is going to play well and that is the way the game unfolds. I try to encourage players every day and get their confidence in down their thing. They have got confidence in what they are doing, and a lot of the times, they succeed.
SJ: Even with the best of the plans, they can go to waste when a particular batsman is ON on a given day. It seems like AB de Villiers has a purple patch going for a few years now. How do you prepare for someone like that? Is the plan essentially defensive? You want to concentrate on the lines and lengths that you want ot bowl, and you hope for AB to make a mistake? How do you approach that, first as a bowling coach, as well as in your playing career when you went up against players like (Adam) Gilchrist or Ricky Ponting, etc.?
SB: There is an understanding that when you are playing the best of the best – AB is one of the finest players in the world, if not the finest – if he has his day, sometimes there is very little you could do to stop that. What happens though, in my opinion, too often you get on the defensive too quickly. Once you are on the defensive and get the team to bowl full to players like AB, he knows where the ball is going to be, then you are probably in more trouble. The information is all out there about where these batsmen – you won’t say have a hard time scoring, but – have a lower percentage options are. The challenge for the bowler is to stay there for as long as they can, particularly when they are under the pump or someone like AB de Villiers is going at them. That is why players like de Villiers are so hard to bowl to. They work you off your plan of where you want to bowl to, and the next thing you know is that they are on a 60 or 70 and you are in trouble. They score so fast that they take the game away from you. It is the challenge for the bowler. “I can bowl a good ball at these blokes and get whacked, but I just have to hang in there a bit longer. If I can hang in there, they can make a mistake and I can get him out.” That is why you try to make the preparation. “Look, if you can stay here, this is what the information tells you about the player.” It doesn’t guarantee a success, but when de Villiers or (Kane) Williamson or (David) Warner puts you under pressure, you know the areas that you need to bowl and it gives you clarity in those situations.
SJ: I want to ask about the role of a captain in such situations, when you are going up against Williamson or de Villiers or Warner or whomever. You played under Stephen Fleming, who is considered a tactician, a strategist. When you were coach, your captain was Brendon McCullum, who came across as a very aggressive, positive mind-set, going for wickets all the time. As a strike bowler, how does a captain’s tendencies – hanging back and defending vs attacking all the time – how does it affect you as a strike bowler?
SB: The biggest thing from my point of view is you want to have the faith of the captain, and knowing that the captain has the faith in you. If you feel that you have that faith, it is a huge confidence boost. You can be the best captain in the world and have very ordinary bowlers and you certainly cannot go on the attack, with four slips and a gully. In the World Cup, when the likes of Southee and Boult were bowling and were on the top of their game, you can captain in a manner like that because those guys can keep the line and length required. Sometimes, those guys aren’t quite in their form, so it makes it a little bit more difficult. At the end of the day, a captain can only use the resources he has got and if he has got good resources, then he can do that. That is why the preparation is important. Even though the you may have resources, sometimes the wickets are flat, and you have to know how to stop the run flow and still have a plan to get somebody out. It is a combination of both. The captain should have the right mindset, should sum up the conditions well, and then have a good preparation work to know the zones for each player. It is big responsibility to have, particularly in T20 cricket. If the captain is not on top of his stuff, you can run into a little trouble.
SJ: Finally, I want to wrap up the conversation. I want to talk about the highlights of your career. During your career, you had a thorn in the Aussie flesh, especially in the VB series in 2001 and in the World Cup – you had a 6-fer. Are there any Test match spells and ODI spells that come to your mind when you look back at your career?
SB: There are a few. In particularly, when I took wickets in the Test matches, they were the highlights. I like Test cricket, they are the ultimate challenge. When you got bags of wickets, when you have spells with 3 or 4 wickets that turned a Test match, they are the most memorable ones. The 6 wickets against Australia was like a dream unfolding, that it was in a World Cup was unbelievable. Just sad that we lost the game, really. I was lucky enough to have some great spells. You still relive those moments and never forget the feeling that you had, particularly when you did something and the team had success. As you said, there have been a few in both ODIs and Test formats. I will always enjoy the wickets that led to a Test win – they were the most special.
SJ: Given that, any regrets on your body not allowing you to continue on?
SB: Ah, no. People still say that my career was cut short by my injury. I was a late starter anyway, at 26, and I finished at 34. Mitchell Johnson has hung up the boots, he is of the same age as I was. Having watched in that last Test match [in Perth], what he was going through, I was going through the same. I wasn’t bowling as fast as I used to in the trainings before. I found it hard to stay motivated. I think Ian Chappell made a comment about retirement – when you start to think about it, it is the time to go. I agree with him. I had a couple of years, but with back injuries, I never thought I would play for New Zealand again. All the games that I did, were for me a real bonus. I am just happy that I had the chance to play as much as I did. I am really lucky that the game has been good to me, that I am still involved in it and making a living out of it. It has been brilliant.
SJ: Alright! On that note, Shane, thank you so much for being on the show. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you!
SB: My pleasure! Thanks!
Episode transcribed by Bharathram Pattabiraman