Binny eager to grab whatever role he gets
Stuart Binny is looking at the tour of West Indies as an opportunity to prove himself as a utility player India could rely on, across different surfaces. The allrounder, who at 32 is the second-oldest member in the squad of 17 for the four-Test series, hopes to thrive on a specific role given to him by Anil Kumble, his one-time Karnataka captain and current India coach.
"I see it as exciting times for me. I was part of the South Africa series which happened here but again, playing in India was difficult for me. But on an overseas tour, I'm looking to play the role assigned to me," Binny, who has played six Tests over two years, said. "I will look to bat at No. 7 or 8, it depends on whether we play with the extra bowler or not. It also depends on the wicket. I may play as the third seamer or if the wicket has grass, then I may play as the fourth.
"Basically, my role is to take some of the pressure off our fast bowlers by keeping one end tight. That's basically my job when I bowl. Obviously with the bat, it is pretty much simple. Obviously to bat with guys who are set and try and take the team to scores that we want to put on the board. Also, for me to bat with the lower order is going to be crucial."
Binny can be used as a new-ball bowler too, like he was during the second Test against South Africa in Bangalore. On that occasion, India played two specialist quicks in Ishant Sharma and Varun Aaron. In Sri Lanka in August last year, Binny played a holding role to ease the burden on R Ashwin and the pace duo of Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav at different stages.
Questions over Binny's effectiveness with the old ball have been raised time and again, and not without merit. But he isn't sweating over that, and instead explained the need to stick to the methods that have brought him 183 wickets in the first-class and List A formats.
"I have realised that the quicker I try to bowl, I tend to get less effective," he explained. "When the ball is old, it is all about bowling areas and bowling one side of the wicket. I pretty much stick to my strength, which is bowling one side of the wicket, and bowl to a field that is only off side and stick to bowling there. I am not going to try to bowl quickly at that point of time. I think my main weapon is to swing the ball and if I can get that from the fourth stump getting away, then that's my job."
One of the marked changes in Binny's approach in recent times has been his fitness, something he was not known for in the past. He attributed much of the change to his inability to endure long spells on the field on sapping days. The Binny who trains at the nets these days is a leaner, sharper version of the one who made his first-class debut in 2003-04.
"It was a choice that I had to make, especially if I wanted to play," he said. "Being leaner and stronger helped my bowling. The reason I fit into teams is because I can bowl and not because of my batting. For me, bowling was crucial and I had to get fit for more opportunities and at a higher grade. It took me two years to get into the condition right now. You get IPL along the way and you do not get time to train because you travel. But that is no excuse. It is a lot of sacrifices but good ones.
"I looked after my diet. That helped me 65-70%. It is about eating at the right time and five good meals. You need to balance and eat good protein. I did a lot of running in the first year. Now, Shankar Basu (Indian team's trainer) has brought in power training in the last few months. That has helped a lot of guys to bowl well in the second, third spell. That is what training is about. All this has ensured I'm now able to be as effective in my second and third spells."
While Binny understands the team needs him to step up with the ball, his batting abilities have somewhat been understated. His tally of 194 runs in 10 Test innings doesn't inspire much confidence, but there have been spikes in his graph. His half-century on Test debut that steered India to a draw from a tricky situation on the final day of the first Test against England two summers ago was one such effort. His 49 in the second innings of the final Test in Sri Lanka helped India extend their lead and eventually clinch a series win, their first in the country in 22 years.
If it boils down to India playing five specialist bowlers, chances are Binny will be thrown into the deep end, a possibility he is ready for. "I have batted at No. 6 most of my career and the only thing I changed in international cricket was that I had fewer chances to score than when you play in a Ranji Trophy match," he said. "You don't really try to convert that. My approach is pretty much simple, I try and get myself in and then play the way I know to play.
"I have never been asked to change my game, even when batting at No. 6. It's also important that we score runs; just not hang around in Test cricket. I feel sometimes in Test cricket, it is a bit easier because they start to attack you a little more than the other formats. No. 6 is a crucial spot, it depends on the role. Sometimes I might have to play against the second new ball. That's what I have been doing in the last week - to bat against the new ball."
Binny's sense of comfort, when asked about his equation with Kumble, was evident. Equally evident was the confidence in his batting when he skipped down the pitch to loft Kumble's gentle seam-ups over the makeshift sightscreen at the KSCA 'B' ground. "Anil bhai has captained me in Ranji Trophy in fact" he said. "He pretty much knows my game inside out. What he has spoken about right now is not too much technical stuff.
"I was 21 when I played my first Ranji Trophy match with Anil bhai. He had just come back from a Test and he was tough. Thilak Naidu (the former Karnataka wicketkeeper) was all about jokes but Anil bhai was about getting the job done. He is more relaxed now and we get more smiles now! He has been positive. He has told us to play aggressive cricket. For me, it works because he has seen me play and develop as a cricketer. You are never going to stop learning. I play Test cricket but that is not everything. He has pushed us to strive for higher things. Three days ago, it wasn't about my Test hundred. He started making me believe that I can score a Test hundred."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo