Interview: Venkatesh Prasad November 6, 2007

'Only our bowlers can swing it at pace'

India's bowling coach, Venkatesh Prasad, talks to Anand Vasu about the progress his charges have made, and the work that lies ahead

Venkatesh Prasad is bursting with optimism. In the course of a half-hour conversation he uses the word "positive" and its synonyms more often than Robin Sharma does in one of his self-help books. Most things are "very good", others are "fantastic", and some are "excellent." Prasad doesn't even have a contract yet - only verbal assurances from the board that his tenure has been extended for a year - but that doesn't stop him from doing what he can. In this chat with Cricinfo he tries to explain the work that he has put in with the fast bowlers.

Prasad with prize pupil Pathan: "His interaction with me is fantastic" © AFP

Looking back at your tenure with the team, how would you assess the progress the fast bowlers have made?
It's been mixed, in the sense that I'm happy with the effort and the kind of open-mindedness the bowlers have shown, in terms of responding to what I'm saying. They're also able to express and communicate with me about how they want to go about their job. This is fantastic and exactly what I'm looking at. It's not just me standing there and telling them what to do. It's about them coming forward and talking to me, telling me what they're capable of doing, and taking on that responsibility. They have been successful to some extent. Yes, there's still a long way to go.

One problem has been consistency. What kind of work can you do to address this?
There is no specific work one can do in terms of addressing the issue of consistency, or being able to be disciplined. What has to be done is to make sure the net sessions that we have are as good as match scenarios. Make the practice more meaningful and purposeful. That is what is extremely important for the players, especially the bowlers.

For example, Sreesanth bowls a fantastic outswinger. All he needs to be looking to do, to be more disciplined, is to make the batsman play most of the time. That should be the aim for any fast bowler.

You need to come with a goal - say, get the batsman out caught at slip. To do that you have to be consistently hitting a good line and length on and outside the off stump and getting him to play off the front foot. That sense of responsibility is starting to come now. It takes a while because there are so many distractions in the present day and age. That means these boys need to focus that much harder.

Would it be a fair comment to say India's bowlers sacrifice pace in order to be accurate?
No way, not at all. That's not a fair comment at all. Everyone was touching 135 and above, including Irfan Pathan. Sreesanth and RP [Singh] were probably the quickest, but the most consistent in terms of pace and line and length were Zaheer and Irfan. Zaheer with his experience, and Irfan with the kind of positive person he is... they were touching 135 and above. It's not a fair comment when people say Indian bowlers were reducing pace to get consistency. That's wrong. In fact I would go a step further and say that our bowlers are the only ones who can swing the ball at 135-140. We don't have that many fast bowlers around the world who can do that - most of them are line bowlers who can hit the deck hard. We bowl quick, but we also release the ball in such a way that it's in the air for longer, which gives the ball a chance to swing.

What is very important in fast bowling is the body position at delivery - hips and shoulders aligned, all movements and momentum going towards the batsman, seam position upright... There are a lot of aerodynamics but I don't want to go deep into that and confuse readers. The key to swing is to release the ball in such a way that it spends more time in the air, and with the seam upright. That helps bowlers get swing even at 140.

Would you put Irfan Pathan's revival down to the mental aspects of the game?
Definitely. Both of us have done a lot. Talking a lot. I really appreciate Irfan in this regard. His interaction with me is fantastic. Every time he keeps coming and talking to me about what he did and what he can do. Sometimes I go and speak to him.

I speak to all the bowlers, including the spinners. When they're bowling in the nets, if I see something about length, line or flight, I go and speak to them, find out their reasons for trying something, go into the plans they have. I try to get deep into their mindset, and if need be, improve them or correct them on the tactical part or appreciate their thinking, as the case may be.

Irfan is one who has interacted with me a lot over the last month and a half. He has understood how it is to be left out of the team, so he wants to work that much harder to ensure that he performs and stays in the team. We have worked on the line, length, and what he needs to be doing when he is bowling a slower ball - where he needs to aim, what line to keep, what length.

Sree has been working on the slower ball coming from the back of the hand. Zaheer and RP have been working on yorkers. There is plenty of depth, but getting back to the consistency, everybody knows they were not consistent enough. They were consistent in patches.

What has been happening is that there has been a lot of communication between me and the bowlers. This is fantastic and exactly what I'm looking at. It's not just me standing there and telling them what to do. It's about them coming forward and talking to me, telling me what they're capable of doing, and taking on that responsibility

One problem India's bowlers have had is that they've been expensive in short bursts in ODIs, either at the beginning or at the end.
Yes, it has been a bit of a problem. I've said this before. We need to work on discipline. We need to work on bowling in the right areas. What we've discussed in terms of bowling to opposition batsmen needs to be implemented. We don't mind getting hit where the field is set. You have a sweeper cover and a deep third man and have all fielders on the off side inside the circle. Then if you bowl a short ball and get hit over the leg side, that is a bad ball. What we're trying to say is that with a field like that, you have to be predominantly full and outside the off, and if you still get hit, then it's okay.

You need to think positive and send messages to yourself from your mind: "This is what I want to do," instead of "This is what I don't want to do." When the negative thought gets into your mind for even a second, you end up doing what you're trying to avoid. The mental aspect means you have to be thinking of what you have to do the next ball. Whatever happened in the last ball is the past, or history. Whatever you're going to do in the coming balls is the future. You have to, at all times, think about the ball you're going to bowl, the present.

You've got a one-year tenure at the moment. Is that enough to work with the bowlers?
One year is not enough at all. You need to have a longer term. The mindset has to change. In general, and not just in cricket, the [Indian] mindset is one of trying to be safe. That's how we're brought up. That needs to change. For that to change, it takes a long time. You have to give a lot of confidence to the players and trust the players. That's management skills. You make them feel comfortable and that they belong to the team. That's when they understand that it's not about just six or seven guys in the team. Even the 12th, 13th, blah, all feel a part of the team. Even I am important for the team's success. That's when you get the best out of a player and the best out of a team as well. That's what some of the other teams do successfully.

Right now I am just working with the bowlers because these are the powers given to me. I'm trying to tell them that they are the best. They have the quality, capability, potential and talent to do wonders. It's just a case of making them believe that they can do it. How I can make them believe is by trusting them. It's all about them. I'm just a facilitator. I just have to ensure everything is organised and everything is in order.

Anand Vasu is an associate editor at Cricinfo