June 19, 2014

'My confidence goes up when Dhoni throws me the ball in tough situations'

Mohit Sharma, whose impressive performances in the IPL earned him an India call-up, talks about earning his captain's trust, and bowling variations

You are the second fast bowler in the IPL to take 20 wickets in a season at least twice. Do you know who the first was?
No idea at all (laughs).

Lasith Malinga - he has done it three times.
It is a proud thing when your name is taken along with a big bowler like Malinga. This IPL, I learned a lot. During my debut season last year I had not bowled so much at the death. This year I was involved at all times during an innings: from taking the new ball, the Powerplay overs, the middle overs, and the final five. This season, more than from the good things, I have learned from the mistakes I have made.

Can you elaborate on that?
Despite the wickets, I did not have a consistent season: my economy rate in this IPL was higher than last year, so I have understood that there are quite a few things I need to get better at. In the recent past I have lost the ability to swing even when my seam is coming out nicely. I have given away a lot of runs. It is important to have good control and accuracy regardless of the format. There were pressure situations when I performed badly, including my worst performance - against Delhi Daredevils, where my figures were 4-0-51-1. After the match, I spoke to my coach, Vijay Yadav [former India wicketkeeper], the Haryana Cricket Association secretary, and the BCCI treasurer, Anirudh Chaudhury, who told me to stay composed, since a hammering obviously has an impact on you mentally.

What have you learnt from watching Malinga bowl?
His biggest strength is consistency. Despite having such an awkward action he manages to bowl a consistent line. That is something I would like to learn. I have also noticed he bowls according to the pitch - if there is pace on the wicket he will not go for the slower ball. He will not be defensive and bowl a bouncer to a new batsman. Bhuvi [Bhuvneshwar Kumar] and I have often discussed these things while watching Malinga.

What is the key to handling pressure in T20?
The most important person who helps you handle pressure is your captain. I am lucky MS Dhoni is my skipper at India and Chennai Super Kings. If I get hit for a six and two fours in the same over, Mahi bhai does not grumble. He will say that I bowled well but the batsman hit a good shot. Such support from your captain puts you at ease during pressure situations. It is important to stay calm and composed. The more you think, the more the pressure is compounded.

Can you give us an instance of receiving Dhoni's support?
In Dubai against Mumbai Indians, Kieron Pollard and Ambati Rayudu were at the crease during the final overs. My plan was to bowl back-of-the-hand slower deliveries pitched back of a length. Mahi bhai agreed [with that approach] since the pitch was very slow and the ball was gripping the surface, making it difficult for the batsmen to hit out. He treats you in the same manner if you perform or fail.

How has Stephen Fleming, the Super Kings coach, helped you?
The best part about Fleming is that he never makes you feel like you are talking to a coach. He behaves like a team-mate. He grasps various things about you, considering he has been a successful player and captain at the international level. He understands how I can handle pressure and when I should bowl during a match. During the playoff game, Mumbai threatened to raise a 200-plus target at one stage. During the second time-out Fleming pointed out that my final two overs could turn the game back in our favour. That put me on the alert and I complemented Aashu bhai [Ashish Nehra] well. We restricted Mumbai to a target that was achievable. Such prompt advice from your coach can only build your confidence and inspire you.

"I take two sheets of paper: I write positive feelings on one and the negative ones on the second. Then I bin the sheet of negative feelings. So if things are not going in my favour I can recollect those positive thoughts and pump myself up"

From being a first-timer last year you have now swiftly grown into the lead Indian bowler for CSK. How big a responsibility is it?
When you perform, the expectations increase. But at the same time you have to work harder. I am not a finished product or a lead bowler. I am just trying to gather good things from here and there to make sure I come close to being the leading bowler everyone in the Indian team wants me to be.

Your Haryana team-mates say that you have become smarter and more confident now.
It is the game's demand: you have to be smart. It is necessary to be street-smart. The performances might ebb and flow, but when your captain and team are confident in you, you automatically switch on. Mahi bhai throws the ball to me during tough situations and that responsibility has increased my confidence.

What is your stock delivery?
The outswinger. I continue to work on it. My aim this year has been not to experiment. Like, during the slog overs I stuck to the slower ball and the yorker - deliveries that worked nicely for me. I realised I was not getting enough swing, so I have gone back to work on my basics.

Other than bowling at the death and increasing your pace, what aspects of your bowling have you worked on recently?
During the ODI series in South Africa last year, Duncan Fletcher [the India coach] pointed out that my body was falling backwards during my loading. That was preventing me from staying stable and was affecting my overall bowling. Duncan told me that when you are tired, the body automatically falls back, especially when you try to put in more effort. So Joe Dawes [the India bowling coach] worked with me and now my speed has increased 5 to 7 kph.

Have you become better at variations and mixing up deliveries now?
It is all about confidence in the ball you are going to deliver. But as soon as any doubt creeps into your mind - like I might pitch a half-volley or a full toss while attempting a yorker - things go wrong. During the slog overs variations remain the key since the pitches are usually batsmen-friendly, and because the ball gets old and does not swing. Yes, I might go for runs, but it is also the best phase to take wickets. I learned that watching Dwayne Bravo, who was the highest wicket-taker in the 2013 IPL.

Tell us how you developed the back-of-the-hand slower ball.
I have been hit for quite a few sixes from that delivery!

I started bowling that ball after watching Ian Harvey bowl it. I did it first with the tennis ball before I moved to higher grades of cricket. It is now in my muscle memory, but I agree it is an important delivery towards the end in limited-overs matches.

How have batsmen become smarter in scoring at death?
Batsmen have started using the crease a lot now. They try to force and change your plans by clearing the front leg. Usually the bowler will try to react accordingly. At times the batsman's stunt turns out to be just a bluff as he stays his ground and makes use of a loose delivery. It is a challenge, but as a bowler I also learn to not react and bowl to my plans. The tussle is good fun.

In the final over of the 2014 World T20 semi-final against South Africa, AB de Villiers was challenging me to change my lines. I know AB uses the crease very smartly. I had noticed him backing out towards the leg side, exposing all his stumps. So I thought I would bowl him wide yorkers on the off stump. But since I bowl from close to the stumps, it's difficult for me to be accurate with wide yorkers. So my execution that day was not correct and AB took advantage of it and the short boundary. I went for 14 runs. But such situations help me improve and improvise.

Is it true that you write down your thoughts on match days?
Yes, I do that. I take two sheets of paper: I write whatever positive feelings are running through my mind on one and negative ones on the second. Then I bin the sheet of negative feelings. So if things are not going in my favour, I can recollect those positive thoughts and pump myself up.

You have only played seven ODIs. How good are your chances for the World Cup?
A realistic goal is to take it one series at a time. There is no point thinking too far ahead because that would only add unnecessary pressure on me. Instead, I need to improve my batting, my fielding, improve my strike rate, and get the ball to move both ways. These are the areas I aim to get better at rather than thinking about the World Cup. I believe I am moving in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 13:29 GMT

    Mohit does bowl at good line and length. But he should be little more consistent. If he does that he could be the best bowler in our WC squad. Hope he improves little more.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 9:55 GMT

    Liked his maturity in answers

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 8:31 GMT

    IndianInnerEdge... I agree completely with you. I have argued the same a million times about the need for pace as a foundation. If you have raw pace then other things like line and length, variation, swing and other skills can be built on but not the other way around. Unfortunately we Indians dont believe that can we can produce a fast bowler, not only that flat tracks dont help in that. We need to build a fast bowling culture and support our fast bowlers.

  • Naresh on June 20, 2014, 8:04 GMT

    Praveen Kumar could be a better leader of the Indian pace attack. Since Zaks is down and out no one has come up and said I will shoulder our attack. And YES I agree the biggest problem with Indian attack is lack of accuracy. They do not work on this aspect. If only they could practise hitting a coin placed on a wicket.

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 6:41 GMT

    @IndianInnerEdge: The problem with the Indian lineup you have suggested is they lack consistency and ccuracy by a big margin from other good international bowlers. Pace does nothing except from the example of Ashes where it intimidated batsmen and they became submissive. But this can be tackled if the machines can serve you up a 150kph bouncer 50 times.

  • Vinod on June 20, 2014, 2:37 GMT

    @ rohit ramesh and others who are suggesting pace is not enough, fair point -PROVIDED you have the skills of a Vass/Glenn Mcg/pollock. Ricky ponting once said "If you are a better than good batsman, pace alone seldom gets you out, pace and bounce might, pace, bounce and swing most certainly will"...going by that my point is if Mohit S and the rest of the indian 'pacemen' get a wicket that is not conducive to swing, less bounce etc (like most wickets nowadays are) it will be super uphill for them to take 20 wickets in a test (Lords test Eng vs SL- for eg), Can any one of you honestly see Mohit, Ishant, Bhuvan, et all have the fire power to run through a side? i feel where the indian hierarcy is going wrong is we need a good specialist bowling coach -someone like Lillee, or Craig McDermott whose attitude is pace first and everything else will fall into place....else the careers of ishant, yadav will be over soon..That said Mohit appears to be a decent level headed bloke..all d best 2him

  • Dummy4 on June 20, 2014, 2:02 GMT

    I think we don't need pace much .A decent pace of around 135 would be ideal with accuracy. Imagine the lights of McGrath, Akram,Waqar, Bichel, even Ambrose, Walsh. They did not have pace, but their accuracy was immaculate. In Australia/NZ because the wickets are pacy with bounce, a decent pace is more than enuf. In Sub continent wickets which is slow, a higher pace means the ball comes on nicely. I think that's why good bowlers like Steyn and some instances Morkel, Johnson struggle.

  • Dummy4 on June 19, 2014, 18:20 GMT

    Mohit and Bhuvi bowl at the same pace...one dayers they would be okay but in a test...I am not so sure you can carry both

  • Luka on June 19, 2014, 17:12 GMT

    Good head on this guy. He always give his 110% while bowling. Hopefully he and Bhuvi can carry the Indian bowling for the next 5-7 years. In any case, this obsession with extreme pace has to stop. Other than Steyn, Morkel and Johnson, there is no genuine fast bowler in the world who is consistently at the top. It isnt all about pace - McGrath, Vaas, Pollock all have 400 wickets in test - never saw them striving for that extra yard. Also Indian bowlers just do not get those kind of pitches to play on to be spoken about in the same breath as the other greats - not really there fault when the pitches and rules of the game are against them. We can only ask them to try, and Mohit and Bhuvi seem to be ready to do that for their country.

  • Dummy4 on June 19, 2014, 15:56 GMT

    Mohit is very honest ,unlike other bowlers. He is a good bowler in ranji trophy for haryana ,over the last year he has improved his pace very much upto 135+ kmph and still continues to bowl wicket to wicket. India needs a bunch of fast bowlers fr wc and mohit is working on it,too early to say whether he will make the wc squad,but he is a hard worker and i hope he makes it to the wc..

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