'Sometimes the right tactic is doing what the batsman doesn't want'
The year and a half that Eric Simons has been with India as their bowling consultant has been a period of success for the team. For him personally, it's been a period of change. By his own admission, he came to India with what he had learnt and found a way to coach, which worked. What other teams could learn from India is their ability to remain cool while taking decisions, to not panic or get consumed by the hype, Simons said. That allows them to tap their talent, rather than rely on adrenaline, which wears off in a short time. Looking ahead to the England tour, he was confident of India's chances. "It almost doesn't bother me which group we select," he told ESPNcricinfo. "There are so many bowlers bowling well that if someone can't play or the conditions suit somebody in particular, then I don't think that we will be weakening our attack regardless of what combination we go in with, whether it is 3-1 or 2-2 or whatever."
I remember one of the first spells he bowled after I got involved. It was against South Africa in Kolkata, when he bowled a really great spell but didn't get any wickets. He was stressed, and I told him, "Ishant, you bowled a wonderful spell so let's focus on what you have done there." Like Pragyan Ojha's spell against Australia in Mohali, where he bowled 20 overs for around 28 runs and got no wickets, but played a huge role in India eventually going on to win that game. I have tried to tell the guys it's not always about the wickets column.
In South Africa we got Ishant to do a few drills, and when I was catching the ball from him, I saw the seam in different positions and I saw his confidence grow. Wickets may not be coming, but I am seeing good things stacking up.
I got really excited with what I saw from him during the IPL. He still wasn't getting wickets, but the channels he was bowling [were good]. I always thought he needed to bowl a little wider outside off stump. He did that during the IPL and he is doing it consistently now. Then his natural ball comes in, hits the off stump and the batsmen don't know where to go.
One of the things I tried to enforce with him was to never lose your belief in his ability, and everyone who saw him had to keep telling him that and keep him positive in his thinking in terms of how he sees his ability. In Ishant you're now seeing confidence and technique come together. There are a lot of things you can do [to help a player regain confidence], but it's seldom technical. It's more about getting your mind in a calm space. It's crucial to just get [the bowler] to a place where he is confident, calm and believing in himself.
If he bowls with the control he has got now, Ishant can be a real handful in England. He has obviously got the height. His ability to get bounce out of a wicket from a fuller length is crucial. He is getting more confident now that his control is back. The no-balls are disappearing. He's going to start finding the pace that he has. To try and bowl quicker when you haven't got confidence is not going to work. I think now he'll start bowling consistently at 140kph, 141, 142, and that's just going to add to his strength. The only thing is he can drift down leg now and then, but it is a minor issue.
A lot of it is to do with angles. If you run up in a particular way and use a particular action, you must try and use that action all the time. If you are bowling over the wicket and bowl with a certain action, and then if you bowl around the wicket and you are landing differently, it makes no sense - you bowl across yourself. Ishant used to run from behind the umpire, but now he runs in from wider. So his action is the same around the wicket as it is from over the wicket. His delivery is coming at the batsman's off stump but his action's the same, and because he naturally has a tendency to move the ball away, it makes it doubly difficult for the batsman. That's the technical change we have made, so he is bowling down the line of his feet rather than across his body.
My mantra for this bowling unit has been: the perfect plan you can execute for the batsman is not as good as the perfect plan you can execute for yourself. If Ishant bowls back of a length, we'll pack the square field [in England] instead of making him bowl fuller.
Sreesanth is an incredibly talented bowler. We try to make him understand his game plan and when he is most effective. You are not the most effective when you are bowling six different deliveries just because you can. His spell against Australia in Bangalore was one of the best in fast bowling I had seen. He was reversing the ball in and away. There are few in the world who can do that.
That's been one of the successes of Praveen Kumar: the patience he has shown in Test cricket. In one-dayers he has got so many variations, but in Tests he has put them away and bowled the way you need to in Test cricket, and reaped some success. That's what Sree needs to do too - to stay focused and be patient.
It's been a little frustrating for him with injuries. He's understood the importance of patience. But you also don't want to take [his personality] out of him. That's what makes the man special. He's an artist in so many ways. So it's just trying to keep all those things in place and keep him motivated and focused on the job he can do. He's a very special talent to cricket. He's a flamboyant personality and people love him. And I think the game needs him.
Sreesanth can do really well and be effective in English conditions. I think back to the delivery he bowled to Jacques Kallis in Durban. There are few who can do that. And the spell in Mohali. He is a swing bowler, and I would like him to bowl a fuller length and see him make them drive.
Six months ago we wouldn't have thought Praveen would be going to England. And now, not only is he going to England but going there on the back of what he's already done in Test cricket. He's going to be a massive asset for us.
We have stressed to him the importance of patience in Test cricket; the importance of bowling to your field; how a batsman is thinking. If Praveen's going to be nibbling outside the off stump, who's going lose his patience first? I don't think England like that kind of pace or balls that swing both ways. Just nibble away around off, they lose their off stump.
In Jamaica he was prepared to bowl only outswing for a full over, for two overs. I think sometimes, what the batsman doesn't want is the right tactic. You need to think like him.
In the past Praveen has tried too many things. In Test cricket just having the variation is a strength in itself, because while you keep pitching it and nipping it away, the batsman knows you can also swing it back. How long before you bowl the inswinger? You can bowl one in three overs, and it's all you have to do.
I think Praveen can bowl quicker, but we are not talking about it now. I would love every bowler to have that 5kph more pace, but it shouldn't be cause and effect in terms of gaining pace and losing something else. He has got something unique and one needs to respect that. You need to work on his pace slowly. You can't try immediately to make it 145kph. You don't want him to be falling over [at the point of release] because he wants to bowl quicker. Who did Sachin Tendulkar hate facing the most? Hansie Cronje! That's a weapon. If you can nag at that pace, some people hate that. Sometimes it is the variation that keeps you going.
I would have loved to see Munaf bowl more [in the West Indies series]. He is just beginning to feel his way back. He has natural bounce and he is actually a natural athlete. He can be a casual-looking guy, but when he runs in at pace and does something, he is quicker than what most people think.
In many ways he was one of the leaders of the attack in West Indies. He is in control of his emotions. He is a mature guy. He says little things to me at times that make me go, "Wow, I hadn't seen that." It could be about a batsman or about one of our bowlers. I have hopefully influenced some guys, and I have learnt a lot from Munaf as well. The way he embarks on a game, the way he thinks about it.
I do believe he has a few more yards of pace in him, which we will see. He has the ability to bowl different lengths. He can be effective, keep a fuller length and do little things with the ball. He is going to be a handful if the conditions suit him. I am quite excited to see where he goes from here. The injuries were unfortunate. Hopefully he is over it now and can stake a good Test claim for England.
Munaf comes across as a guy who is very grateful with what he has got, with what he has achieved. He is humble to everyone around him. The little things he does tell me he doesn't see himself as a superstar . He doesn't see himself as a World Cup winner and therefore as a bit special. He comes across as a guy who is very grateful with what he has got, with what he has achieved. He works hard, has a great attitude, and it rubs off on the people around him.
Zaheer is a guy who knows his action very well. His ability to bowl at the same pace from a short run tells you he knows his action, because not many guys can do it. He is a different bowler because of his wrists. He can swing the ball just with his wrists.
He also understands his body really well. He picks up on niggles very early. At times something could have grown more serious, but he picked it up early and pulled himself off. He has the ability to fix things. Now even Ishant has started to do that. I used to tell Ishant that his front arm was going over, that he was falling over. Now he is fixing things himself. Zaheer has the ability to fix things in the middle, and not wait for tea or lunch break.
His break has been a blessing in disguise. He has played a lot of cricket. He went into the IPL from the World Cup. That must have been difficult.
My contribution with Zaheer is that I might look at something differently and give a few suggestions. I have spoken to him about bowling round the stumps to right-handers. It's not really worked for him in terms of the angle he comes in at.
He has the ability to knock over Andrew Strauss during a crucial moment in the game against England at the World Cup, and to take crucial wickets in a Test when the ball starts reversing and the match is going nowhere.
Also, because of who he is - to go to a young bowler and calm him down when he's under pressure. To say, "I have been there before and this is maybe an idea and a thought." We have tried to build a family unit. It's great for me to see the bowlers build this spirit together. They have to hunt together as a group, and to have someone like Zaheer is crucial to lead that group. Again he's got incredible ability technically, and you learn from people like that.
Harbhajan needs to see what the right bowling line is for him. He has the ability to read the situation and decide whether it's important to attack or to hold. Particularly with a four-man attack, it's hard work for seamers. Someone should hold down one end - a seamer or spinner. Sometimes Harbhajan has to do it. I would like him to have the freedom to make that decision. If it means a line outside off will be more attacking, or if it means bowling a straighter line because holding down is important so Zaheer can pick up a wicket from the other end , we trust Harbhajan with making that decision.
I think Harbhajan is bowling a better line. He is hitting the line outside off. It's all about encouragement and giving them a sense of belief in the system - the process.
I have checklists with Harbhajan. You can see what people do when they are successful and what they are not doing when they are not. When I'm standing and taking balls when Harbhajan or Amit Mishra bowl, and I can sense the seam is in a good position, I stop them and ask, "What did you do there? What was different this time? The ball came out really well this time, we need to do more of this."
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo