India in England 2014 August 20, 2014

Trevor Penney's awkward outing

A day after being "given a break" by the BCCI, fielding coach Trevor Penney had the ignominy of conducting what could well be his last training session with the team

"Think only of the pick-up. Forget the stump," Trevor Penney shouts at Sanju Samson, who has just fumbled in the hurry to get a throw in. The young Kerala wicketkeeper-batsman is part of the ODI squad going through a fielding drill, the players are training in their new blue kit, the ball is white.

Fielding coach Penney and bowling coach Joe Dawes have been sent on leave. "They can go on holiday, or go back home," the BCCI secretary Sanjay Patel has said. "They can even come to India if they want." Yet they are here, at Lord's, five days before India's first ODI, which will be played under new assistant coaches and a team director.

They are overseeing India's first training session after the two demoralising three-day defeats in Tests. They have been asked to do the job until the others join the team. B Arun and R Sridhar are expected to join the team on Thursday. Ravi Shastri is likely to be with them on Friday, when they play their warm-up match against Middlesex. Sanjay Bangar will come on the 23rd. Until then, Penney and Dawes have to co-ordinate training sessions. Ouch.

This is awkward. One final assignment after you have been asked to leave. Or go on a leave. If Penney is frustrated, angry or embarrassed, he is not showing it.

As Dawes and Fletcher kneel down outside the empty Lord's pavilion, drawing up a batting order for the nets, Penney has already picked up his cones and taken Suresh Raina and Ajinkya Rahane aside. Dawes will go and oversee the nets, almost to be cleaned up by a straight hit back at him.

These are two of the best fielders in the Indian side. Penney has himself been an excellent fielder.

Rahane has had an ordinary second half of a Test series. Raina is still smarting from a drop from the ODI side. Penney, well Penney does not have too long. During this half hour, it seems nothing else matters to the trio. It seems almost therapeutic. A dance. A trance.

The fielder has to walk towards Penney, who is about 15 yards away, and can hit to the left, to the right or at him. He has to change direction, pick up, and throw at a stump.

"Nice pace off the mark."

"That was a good one. Stretched you."

After a while, Raina has hit the stumps twice, Rahane once. There is a bit of competition on. They applaud each other at direct hits, but also want to hit the stumps more often.

Rahane makes it two-each. Immediately Raina takes the lead.

Rahane has had an ordinary second half of a Test series. Raina is still smarting from a drop from the ODI side. Penney, well Penney does not have too long. During this half hour, it seems nothing else matters to the trio

"That was a lazy one. Let's do two more."

Now Penney lays out the cones at the boundary edge, in a circle. This looks like the boundary edge. Raina and Rahane have to stand at the edges, about 20 yards apart.

"Sureshi, can I use your bat?" asks Penney. Raina nods. Now he starts hitting hard, between Raina and Rahane. They have to practise relay throws. Yet they need the get the technique right. Who goes hard at the ball, who is ready to accept the lob and throw as hard as he can?

"Sort it out among yourselves," shouts Penney.

The first one is drilled hard, and bisects the two. On the next, Rahane goes hard, and Raina stands back. Suddenly Raina realises Rahane is not going to make it, and dives behind Rahane. The four is saved, but the throw is not great. "Eight on 10. Just because of the throw."

The next time Raina dives behind Rahane, he lobs the ball back up. Rahane lets it rip. "Nine on 10."

They keep changing roles. Sometimes Raina fields first, on other occasions, Rahane. Once they have got this right, Penney asks the two to take overhead catches. Except the two have to look into the sun while taking them.

A few are dropped. Rahane takes one at the edge of the boundary, tosses it back before falling over, and Raina makes sure it does not go to ground. They knock hands, Penney smiles. Fielding can be such a joy. There are no pesky slip catches rearing their heads here.

There is a poignant moment at the end of the half hour. Just as Raina and Rahane are about to leave, Penney shouts, "Two each more."

Does he want to extend this session? Or is this because the last catch has been dropped because of the sun?

The three have worked with each other for a long time. The two have grown as ground fielders and outfield catchers. "Thanks Trevor," shouts Rahane. That won't do. The three converge.

Penney has some advice. He checks on their palms after some of the hard hits at them. They shake hands. Is this the last time they will be working together? You assume Penney is thinking of only the pick-up, and not the stump.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 22, 2014, 8:31 GMT

    excellent article. observation rather bringing in judgement.. heartening :)

  • David on August 21, 2014, 13:53 GMT

    @ switchmitch asked me if I "think close catching is not a part of test fielding skillset..."

    Slip catching is critical to test fielding, but why is it such a problem for young Indian players? Young South African & Aussie players swallow up slip & close catches from day one. They never have problems.

    Perhaps the problem with young Indian players is they don't play MATCHES with slip & close cordon catching. Playing T20s & ODIs they get no slip catching, just lots of ground fielding. Pajama cricket builds NO test skill sets - fielding, batting or bowling.

    Another possible reason that these young Indian players have problems is that when slip & cordon catching on dust bowls the ball is not moving at real pace. India's dead slow tracks (& bowlers) don't have the catching challenges of wickets that have a blade or 2 of grass on them!

    BUT ... India's biggest problem was BATTING. How did Penny make these young Indian players into bad batsmen? I thought Dravid was handling the batting?

  • cricketfan on August 21, 2014, 13:52 GMT

    Completely agree with comments from @njr1330.

    To tweek what @RAJEESHKUMAR said - we don't have a good opening batsmen pair, don't have good fast bowler(s), don't have even one allrounder. May I add that we don't have a good middle order or good set of spinners? I don't think change of captaincy would drastically change the results. Captaincy is overrated. If the team is good, even Sreeshanth can captain any side. In short, the team lacks skills, temperament and commitment to succeed in Test Cricket. It will give us some peace of mind if we can realize that and move on.

    Coaches can improve players' skills when the players show commitment and temperament. Without those two, even Sachin Tendulkar would be a nobody. Firing coaches at best is an attempt to soften public mood.

  • Subramani on August 21, 2014, 11:25 GMT

    Firstly, I did not know who Penny was when he came in. The selection of Dawes was even more surprising when the likes of Fanie De Villiers and Shaun Pollock had expressed an interest in being India's bowling coach. On researching I saw that Joe Dawes was an honest police officer in Australia who was also a pace bowler. The selection of Penny and Dawes would show how the BCCI functions. Ad hoc and nepotistic to an influential network. I remember Dawes had been selected when the team was touring Australia in 2011. That mean 3 years and the fast bowlers still cannot deliver Yorkers consistently or even the slower ball. From what Mr Monga has said, Penny was pretty professional in his approach to his job. If he has been for 3 years also, I am not sure what happened to slip fielding. A good slip fielder is one who positions himself strategically like Laxman and Dravid used to. Ashwin Vijay and Rohit from the present lot were good at slips once. What happened to them.They have regressed.

  • Nicholas on August 21, 2014, 10:49 GMT

    Am I being too simplistic if I say: 'India are great when it's hot and dry, India are rubbish when it's cold and damp. England/N.Z. are great when it's cold and damp, but rubbish when it's hot and dry' .... How is sacking Trevor Penney [one of the world's truly great fielders] going to change that?!

  • Arun on August 21, 2014, 10:36 GMT

    @Greatest_Game. I see Rahane filling up half the words in your comment. Rahane is a good fielder and he will be good, no matter who the coach is. So are most Indian players. Ground fielding is not the problem, never will be with the younger lot. Slip and close cordon catching is the problem. And it is the fielding coach's job to drill this skill into the players. The younger lot are not accustomed to fielding in the slips, which was occupied by seniors till not too long ago. It is the coach's job to make this happen. And Trevor failed to do that. The same fielders (who are undeniably good ground fielders) were making the same mistakes time and again. If you look beyond your bromantic eulogy of Trevor's work ethics and bias induced rants against all and sundry in BCCI, even you can see that Trevor failed to deliver where it mattered - unless you think close catching is not a part of test fielding skillset...

  • RAJEESH on August 21, 2014, 7:07 GMT

    @natty_no_goals: if IPL is the culprit, then standards of Aus and SA must also go down as lot of their regular players are part of it. Pujara was not a busy player in IPL and even in ODI. Ben Stokes and Robson did not played any IPL match. None of the Pakisthan players were part of IPL. But still they performed badly. So stop blaming IPL. I think the problems India facing are 1. Lack of good opening player. They always played better in test when Viru and Gauti was around in good form. Akash Chopra played a good part in the drawn series(1-1) vs Aus in 2003-04. 2. Continuing with Dhoni as test CAPTAIN. Relieving him of leadership duty in test will give him a sufficient mental rest which will help ODIs also. 3. Lack of fast(not medium pace) bowlers and a fast bowling all rounder. If Binny was clicked as a bowler, things may be different. Rishi Dhawan can be a good choice in future. Actually, I am surprised on how India managed to win in Lord's without these basic entities.

  • David on August 21, 2014, 6:30 GMT

    @ switchmitch says "Trevor Penny was given a lo(oo)ng rope and the results he produced were not even close to justifying the slack in the rope."

    At the Wanderers, in SA's 2nd innings, Rahane, with a brilliant direct hit, ran out a well-set Graeme Smith. Then, with 3 overs left & SA 16 short of a win & the record test run chase, another Rahane direct hit ran out Faf du Plessis the architect of the chase. In one move, Rahane changed everything, left SA vulnerable, & saved India from major loss.

    This from cricinfo's commentary: "India's fielding creating the opening. Who would have thought that?" Trevor Penny would have thought that! Penny gave Rahane the rope with which to snare SA, twice. Penny's results saved India from historic defeat. During the Champion's Trophy & the World T20, India were lauded for exceptional fielding. PENNY PRODUCED RESULTS!

    Has Penney's training suddenly gone bad? Doubtful. Has India's batting been awful? YES! Now, how did Penny's fielding training do that?

  • D on August 21, 2014, 1:37 GMT

    This happens in corporates around the world: People are told they will be let go off, but asked to stay on until their replacements join. As long as they have a basic level of professionalism, they will properly carry out the tasks assigned to them in their last few days, if for nothing else but for the payout at the end. I can't believe this became a story. Slow news day huh Cricinfo?

  • Nik on August 21, 2014, 1:28 GMT

    These drills are what we do at club level! What the team needs is someone like Mike young to change to a more attacking fielding culture. All three of Dawes, Penny and Fletcher need to go (failure to close out close moments in the bowling department, abysmal fielding and insipid coaching). Forget process - now look at results!

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