Ishant is one of the unluckiest bowlers - Eric Simons
Eric Simons is approaching the end of his term as bowling coach of India. It hurts him that early reports suggested he was sacked, or, to use popular parlance, "the first casualty of the two whitewashes". Had the results of his work as bowling coach been more conspicuous, he may not have minded such suggestions as much. There are contrasting views on Simons. The players all praise him, which is why his contract was extended in the first place. Outsiders look at the likes of Ishant Sharma and Sreesanth, and conclude that their apparent lack of progress is Simons' failure.
In what was, in all likelihood, Simons' final press conference as India bowling coach, he spoke at length about various issues and bowlers. He disagrees with the notion that Ishant does not know how to take wickets. He insists Ishant has worked on his game, bowling six to 18 inches fuller on the Australia tour than he previously did, and that he has been unlucky.
He says Sreesanth is one of the most skilled bowlers he has worked with, but the fact that he could not inculcate consistency in him was something that disappointed him. Contributing to the World Cup win is a cherished achievement, as is helping Ishant regain his pace. Here are some excerpts from the press conference.
How has your overall experience been?
I don't want it to sound like a cliché, but it has been an incredible experience for me. I hoped to come along and teach some cricketers some things, to share some input, but I think one of the incredible things was that it was a learning experience for me, not only as a cricketer but as a person.
Is Ishant unlucky or does he not know how to take wickets?
It's a funny one. In one of the first series [of my tenure] versus South Africa, in the Test we won in Kolkata, he bowled brilliantly but didn't get the rewards he deserved. You could see his frustration. To me, he is one of the unluckiest bowlers in the sense that for how well he bowls, and the number of wicket-taking balls he bowls, he just doesn't seem to pick up the wickets I believe - and everyone else believes - he deserves.
We know that the Australians were pleased he wasn't involved in the one-day series. He bowled so well [in the Tests], he was the one that troubled them. Morne Morkel is a similar bowler to Ishant [they are both tall]; he also bowls really well but doesn't pick up the number of wickets we expect him to. For Ishant to hit the stumps, he has to pitch it fuller, and that means the batsman has more chance of keeping it out. He has to find the right mix of deliveries to bowl.
Can one be unlucky for so long?
In the past, maybe you could make the point that he was not really that unlucky; but in the series against Australia, the nick that went between Laxman and Dhoni, the balls that looped and dropped safe, ones that hit the splice and did not go to hand, they were really down to poor luck. I really think in this series Ishant kicked on a long way in terms of the number of wicket-taking deliveries he bowled. I really do believe he was unlucky. I hope he is not discouraged. I hope Indian cricket sticks with him. They have got an incredible cricketer in him.
It's believed that if he can pitch the ball a couple of feet fuller, he will create nicks and not just go past the bat …
We found that his length in Australia was a good six to 18 inches fuller than what used to be his regular length. We worked on getting his length right. It is not always that easy, you know. I think the movement he is now getting, both away from the batsman and back in, is going to make a difference.
He wants to play one-day cricket. Should he?
When I arrived, opinion was that focusing on Tests would be best for his development, and I think he was happy with that. At that stage that was probably the right decision. Personally, I believe he is ready for one-day cricket now. I think he is bowling exceptionally well. It is all about control and confidence. But I am not part of the selection process. You are at the nets, you know the guy, you know he is ready and when to let him go, and when not to. Maybe being conservative with Ishant is the way the selectors want to go. I think he is ready, but that's the selectors' decision. I'll live with that.
You were so impressed with Munaf Patel. Why wasn't he given a chance in the Tests in England. He even lost out to an out-of-shape RP Singh
When RP Singh came back into the side, the point I made was that, because we didn't have anyone who could bowl at 145kph, we had to be innovative and clever in the way we put our attack together. The thinking was that if you lost someone like Zak [Zaheer Khan], you wanted someone a little bit different. That counted in someone like RP's favour.
If you have bowlers who are all similar then the batsman never has to change his angle or think differently. It was a pity Munaf didn't play because he played a major role in the World Cup success. It's not always what he has done in terms of wickets, but what he allows the other players to do.
What do you make of Sreesanth's progress?
One of the best things about being involved with Indian cricket is the high skill-level of the players. I have not met someone with the skill of Sreesanth. He bowled a spell to the Australians in Bangalore, when the ball was reversing, and I said to him: "there are maybe one or two bowlers in the world that can do that." His skills are phenomenal.
Unfortunately the way the batsmen are today, the way the game has evolved, you need a lot more than that. You need consistency. That's something I have tried to impart. There is no point in bowling three or four good balls in an over, and then letting the batsmen off the hook. That's the evolution of a bowler, to stop doing that. You watch Ben Hilfenhaus. His plan was very simple and was very successful too. Sometimes having a very simple gameplan that you can execute really well is better than having too many options.
But one of the biggest criticisms of you is that Sreesanth and Ishant haven't evolved …
Cricket is a package. Sometimes great cricketers are not the ones with tremendous skills, but those with a great work ethic. For a guy like Sree, I am disappointed.
I disagree about Ishant, though. The criticism I got was that he was bowling 130-132kph. We needed the pace back. In this series against Australia he was bowling at 140-plus again. Our attack was probably quicker than the Australian attack, which is quite unusual for an Indian attack. We have got back the pace, I think it's now about developing the tactical perspective.
How do you see Umesh Yadav going?
I watch Umesh with great excitement. I started working with him two years ago, at the Delhi Daredevils. So often on television people say his wrist is collapsing. To me that's commentary. How you fix it is coaching. He was given drills two years ago, and he has performed them diligently.
He is now bowling this beautiful away swing at 145kph-plus, he is an incredible athlete, and he has got incredible stamina and strength. I think he is one of those bowlers who, when he bowls 145kph, makes the batsmen feel like it is 150 because he is so relaxed in his run-up and has such a rhythmical action. I just think, as he grows and understands his craft better, he is going to get better. He is one of the most exciting bowlers in the world today, not just in India.
Have you warned him of case studies of young Indian bowlers before him who have lost pace?
I talk to him about what I believe he has got to do. I don't know what happened with other young bowlers. Each one is going to have different stories about what happened and what didn't happen.
How has it been working with Zaheer, who has been in and out of the side?
One of the things that is very encouraging is how fit Zaheer is looking at the moment and how excited he is about playing cricket again. He is a player with great skill, and I think he has a big role to play in mentoring the cricketers and bowlers around him because he has a very good understanding of his craft, and he has the ability to teach that. He is working hard physically to make sure he is available as much as he possibly can be, and I think that's where the key lies.
What about the spinners?
R Ashwin has been bowling really well. He has grown a lot as a bowler. [Pragyan] Ojha has grown as a bowler; we've talked a lot about the seam bowlers, but he has grown leaps and bounds as a cricketer and as a bowler. It was a pity that he wasn't able to play a bigger role in our team make-up [in Australia]. We weren't able to pick two spinners.
What is your biggest achievement as India's bowling coach?
It's sometimes difficult to measure progress from the outside, but I see the growth of some of the cricketers. Sometimes when you are in the nets, you just know that the guy with you is not ready and needs help; a journalist sitting on the side may not see it, but you see it in the player's eyes, in his confidence. I've helped people like that; people like R Vinay Kumar, even Praveen Kumar, who was obviously a more established cricketer, but grew as well. Ishant Sharma and Umesh Yadav are players I am very excited about.
It's more about individuals growing as cricketers and people. I think from that perspective I'll walk away feeling that I've made some contribution, and take some pleasure and enjoyment out of that. Then there's the World Cup of course.
What are your future plans?
I've been appointed head coach of the Delhi Daredevils, so that'll be my next assignment in the cricketing world. I've got business in Cape Town, and that's where I go back after the IPL. A few people have spoken to me, but I haven't made a decision yet.
Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo