Indian training camp September 6, 2006

Mongia praises new methods

Rahul Dravid is put through his paces in the nets © Getty Images
What have baseball-style throws, golf balls, baseball bats and gym-style mats got to do with cricket? On the surface, not a lot, but India's elite cricketers have made use of all of the above at various times during the innovative training camp that will come to a close tomorrow as the team gears up for cricket's most arduous challenge - contests against Australia (and West Indies), albeit in the neutral environs of Kuala Lumpur.

After a mishap that involved overenthusiastic fans and a barbed wire fence yesterday, it was expected that the six players assembled for the last leg of this camp would go through the training drills in the empty concrete bowl that is the Chinnaswamy Stadium. But in the morning, with fielding practice first on the agenda, the more sylvan settings of the B ground adjoining the main venue once again rang out with adrenaline-fuelled shouts as the players worked on throwing the ball.

Dinesh Mongia, who spoke to the media later, said: "Greg [Chappell] spoke about the use of the hips, not just the shoulder and the arms. He spoke about using the whole body in a throw, and how it's much better than just using an arm or something like that. So we are working on that.

"Greg said that if the skill is right then there would be less injuries and the outcome is much better. So today's morning session was about that."

Thilak Naidu, once on the verge of national selection and a Karnataka stalwart, watched the goings on with great interest, and spoke of the influence of Mike Young on teams worldwide. The old-timers may have considered it sacrilegious at first, but the American baseball coach undoubtedly played an enormous role in taking Australia's ground-fielding - and especially the throwing - to another level.

Naidu himself couldn't speak highly enough of Young, whose methods he has watched in person once while in Australia. Mongia, when pressed to mention the major difference between this and previous camps, spoke quite animatedly about the greater emphasis on skill, and not just in the fielding department.

"Previously, two or three years back when John [Wright] was there, he was more into physical fitness and all that. I guess that was also very crucial because John brought all that in. Now I think that Greg and Rahul [Dravid] are very keen for the skill work."

The skill-work that Mongia spoke off involved a session with golf balls and a stump in the morning. The batsmen fronted up on a concrete pitch, and played their shots armed with a solitary stump as the dimpled ball was pinged down at them from a distance far less than 22 yards.

The extra bounce tested both footwork and reaction-time, and there was more of the same later in the afternoon when the bowling machine came into play on the main ground, with the ball coming down at the batsmen from the sort of height once associated with the likes of Joel Garner and Vincent van der Bijl.

Mongia, who has been around a while, added that the extra height from which the ball was delivered made all the difference. "It is something new because with the bowling machine at that height. I think it's about ten feet and with the ball coming out at that height, it's really good practice."

Sachin Tendulkar fine tunes his game before India head to Malaysia © Getty Images
Considering that Australia will most likely play the tall trio of Glenn McGrath, Stuart Clark and Mitchell Johnson, the practice certainly won't go waste, even if the pitches in Malaysia aren't expected to replicate the trampoline bounce that once characterised the WACA in Perth.

And as Harbhajan Singh and Ramesh Powar took their turn in the nets, and in front of the bowling machine, Dravid, Mongia and Sachin Tendulkar moved back to the B ground for slip-catching practice. Ian Frazer, armed with a baseball bat, kept the edges coming, and a narrow cordon struggled initially to get their bearings. Once they did though, there were some stunning reflex takes, with Mongia - who has never looked like a consummate athlete - earning applause from the two legends for a couple of audacious one-handed grabs.

He knows though that it's his batting and bowling that will come under intense scrutiny with many others biding their time on the sidelines. "In last two to three years, I have worked hard on my bowling, batting and fielding, so I obviously want to prove a point as an allrounder," said Mongia, who earned a recall largely on the strength of his performances for Leicestershire in the county season. "I have spoken to Greg and Rahul and they think that I have a role to play as a bowler as well."

With Australia having struggled at times against more guileful left-arm spin from Murali Kartik, Mongia may yet have a crucial role to play in Malaysia. And after the Sri Lanka triangular fell victim to bomb blasts and poor weather, the opportunity to swap baseball bats and stumps - innovative as such drills may be - for a 3lb willow and 5 ½ ounces of stitched leather will be a welcome one indeed.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo