April 29, 2015

'States need to look after their bowlers better'

Joe Dawes, the former India bowling coach, on managing workloads, the Ishant conundrum, and his top five current Indian bowlers

Joe Dawes: "Ishant really hates it when people call him unlucky. He is unfairly judged against that one spell eight years ago, against Ricky Ponting" © AFP

Where are the India bowlers headed? Do you think, a year or two down the line they can have a proper set-up of four good fast bowlers?
I think they are on their way. We worked hard with Umesh Yadav, Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron. I was a big fan of Ishwar Pandey. Then we had big Pankaj Singh last year. Seems to have fallen off a little bit, but there is six or seven guys. And you have three or four of those who can bowl 140-plus. I think they can form the basis of a very good bowling attack for the years to come. They are all young, bar Pankaj. They just need to be managed and not play every game of cricket that is played. Young quicks in India are just asked to bowl too much.

They have the pace but what we have noticed again and again is that they don't bowl good balls for long enough. They might bowl one good over, but they inevitably slip one down leg, releasing the pressure.
They'll learn consistency, but they are still young. They might have been around a while, but they are all 25 or under. I think Ishant has only just turned 26. They'll learn consistency.

But it's not a new problem. They get out of Asia, where they don't have reverse swing to work with, and they just keep releasing the pressure.
That's their challenge - whether they want to be tough on themselves and become accountable. They have got the qualities to be good bowlers anywhere in the world. It's just whether they want to be tough and accountable.

Nobody bowls a bad ball on purpose. These bowlers know they shouldn't bowl down leg. Then why does this happen? Is it a lack of fitness, a lack of strength, awareness or concentration?
No one means to bowl a bad ball. I think concentration is probably the right term. It's about just - obviously you have to try and bowl fast, they shouldn't be trying to bowl slowly - it's about being honest with themselves about their consistency. Practise good habits. Don't just bowl for the sake of it. Bowl with a purpose every time you do.

As a coach what did that do to you every time you saw that happen?
Frustrating, but you believe in what they will become. They are still young. They are still learning their trade. Best fast bowlers in the world take time to develop. They have got pace, they are nice blokes, they work hard. Some of them are still learning. Shami got thrown into international cricket, played a lot of cricket in his first 12 to 18 months. He had to learn a lot about how to look after his body better and everything else. That was part of his learning curve. Ishant has done it well. Others will do too.

Tests such as Wanderers and Basin Reseve. What do they do to the bowling coach? When the bowlers just can't deliver that final push.
Second Test in New Zealand, we dropped [Brendon] McCullum on 9. He went on to score 300. We take that catch, we win that Test easy. Joburg - couldn't bowl them out on the last day. Whether we had the right attack at that point is probably a question to be asked.

"Shami got thrown into international cricket, played a lot of cricket in his first 12 to 18 months. He had to learn a lot about how to look after his body better and everything else"

In terms of fast bowlers?
Probably all-round, really.

You would question Zaheer [Khan], for instance. That intensity drops for him.
It was tough on Zak to come in at the age of 35-36. But what he probably lacked in penetration he offered in experience and advice to the youngsters. There is a bit of trade-off there.

But was it a challenge to work with, say, on the one hand Zak, with whom you knew allowances would be made, and then two or three absolutely raw guys?
I don't select the team, mate.

Everybody takes up a job with some expectations. How different did India turn out to be?
When I joined I expected it to be a tough job. It was a tough job. Especially away from India. But I was only talking to Sanjay Bangar today, the things we achieved, the friendships we made, the progress we made with that bowling group. Pretty happy with that. The improvement that Ishant made, came back into international cricket, stamped himself as a world-class bowler. More importantly, for me, he stamped himself at the leader of the attack, and started to look after that group and drive it. That is something I hope, I believe, I had a hand in.

Lord's would have been a real high point.
Yes, to win a first Test overseas in three-four years or whatever it was, to be part of that was good. The only Tests overseas until then, in my time, had been in South Africa and New Zealand. To have gone close in South Africa and New Zealand, and to have knocked it over the line at the home of cricket was pretty special.

What happened after that with the bowlers?
I think they got tired. Bhuvneshwar hurt his ankle, lost a bit of his sting. Ishant got injured. We lost him for the next two Test matches. Then we had that third Test and we dropped Alastair Cook on the first morning. Jaddu [Ravindra Jadeja] dropped him, I think. We were on top at that point. If you speak to the England guys and their dressing room, they say they could physically feel the change in their room when he got dropped. Because he was under pressure, his team was under pressure. If you have the captain under pressure, you are in a good position, and we let him off.

So many catches going down in the slips. As a bowling coach…
That would have been Pankaj's first Test wicket. He ended up waiting a Test and a bit for his first Test wicket. We were on top, we were creating opportunities. Stuart Binny played at Lord's, and he should have had a catch. MS missed it, I think.

"To have gone close in South Africa and New Zealand, and to have knocked it over the line at the home of cricket was pretty special" © Getty Images

He didn't go for it.
He didn't go for it. That would have been his first Test wicket. Only Test wicket. That was disappointing. No one means to drop 'em, but we let ourselves down in that area.

You mean to not go for a catch, though.
Yeah. You know it is a communication thing between the keeper and the first slip. He takes a lot of catches. I think he was starting to get really tired at that stage.

You came to this job with certain plans and framework in mind. Were you able to execute them?
I think we made some good progress. We started building a really good relationship with the NCA guys, but then some changes were made there, which I don't actually know a lot about. We were starting to develop a good bond between the national team and the NCA, but then they moved on to other jobs. States here need to look after their bowlers better. They need to look after their fast bowlers better.

It's interesting because Dhoni said something similar recently. Ishant Sharma has hardly bowled for Delhi in the last eight years. Bhuvneshwar Kumar has not bowled at all for his state in the last four years…
When was the last time India produced and kept a bowler who could bowl 140-plus and stayed in international cricket for a long time?

Never.
And that is down in big part to how the states run. How they - and some states do it better than the others from what I saw - look after their fast bowlers. They have to learn to manage the workloads of their bowlers.

"When was the last time India produced and kept a bowler who could bowl 140-plus and stayed in international cricket for a long time?"

Could you let me know which bowler has been overworked? Which bowler has not been looked after well?
Because of the amount of cricket we were involved in in international cricket, we didn't see a lot of it. We see it when they come to international cricket. I mean, I have watched [Parwinder] Awana here. In the four years that I have worked with him, he has gone from 140 - early 140s - in his first IPL to this year when he is so tired from a big year of bowling where he is down to 130 at best. He has lost his zip. That's about being managed, about being rested at the right time, about him taking ownership and doing the work that is needed, and not bowling in between matches.

That's how the first-class schedule in India. Every match is back to back, only three-day gap between them.
Maybe they have got to rest guys. We just see the end result. The actual bits and pieces that go on, it is interesting to see a little bit more of, but you just speak of them… we have got a couple of youngsters that say when they ask [state associations] not to bowl at training, they are told they have got bad attitude and that they are lazy when they are actually trying to manage their bodies. They may well be isolated incidents but this is what the young guys are telling us.

So there is no coordination between you and a state coach, whereas in, say, Australia, a Pat Howard would tell the state associations…
Well, Mitch [Johnson, who plays for Kings XI Punjab] comes here with a bowling plan. Every day that he is here there is a plan for how many balls is he to bowl.

They [Australia set-up] have obviously fit him into our schedule but he is planning to go from here into the Test series in the West Indies and then the Ashes. Today, for example, he started upping his bowling load to gradually go up over the next month to get ready for that. So it's controlled pretty… I won't say well, but they are attempting to get it right. They have got some work to do on managing workloads here.

But you weren't allowed to communicate with… let's say if you liked Varun Aaron and you wanted him to not be over-bowled.
We couldn't pull - I wasn't a selector - any guys out of cricket. We could make suggestions but they would then run into issues with their state teams.

Whom would you make these suggestions to?
We would discuss this as a management group. And then communicate it to the player what he needed to do.

"Bhuvneshwar is not quick, and he can't afford to lose that zip. He bowled a lot of overs in England. It takes its toll at the end of the day" © Getty Images

Okay, so the channel isn't right? Because if the player goes and tells this to his state team, the state team says, you know, we gave you the platform and now you are not bowling for us. This is bad attitude.
We can only go with one incident. One of the youngsters where he is telling us he tells his folks he doesn't want to bowl, but…

Do you want to name the bowler?
No.

What were the challenges and problems as India's bowling coach?
We had a young group. A young group trying to learn their trade in pretty tough conditions. They were on their way. England, I guess, they bowled well, but they learnt they needed to work. They probably had to work a bit harder physically. In their preparation. But you look at their 12-month schedule, where do they actually get that time to do that preparation? That's where I would have loved to have seen plans set out for bowlers 12 months in advance where we could rest bowlers for tours and things like that. Where we give them time to get fit and strong. That's where you would ideally like the system to get to.

Would you advocate, say with Varun Aaron or Umesh Yadav or whoever you think is going to be your best Test bowler, pulling him out of the IPL, compensating him monetarily for that, and telling him, "Look you concentrate on Test cricket…"
You have to look at a 12-month scheme. If there is no cricket or a small tour after the IPL, let him play the IPL. And look at resting him for that small tour. That way you build a bigger pool of bowlers. But if you are going straight into an England tour, it would make sense to rest them somewhere along the line and give them a chance to get their body right to go on a big tour like that.

So last year we had Ishant injured, and Bhuvneshwar, who is not the same bowler after he was bowled into ground in England.
He is not quick, and he can't afford to lose that zip. He bowled a lot of overs in England. A lot of overs. You are trying to win games and doing things like that, but it takes its toll at the end of the day.

Whom did you answer to when you were the bowling coach?
[Duncan] Fletcher [the head coach]. I guess Fletcher and MS.

"A couple of youngsters say when they ask [state associations] not to bowl at training, they are told they have got bad attitude and that they are lazy"

And who interviewed you when you were appointed?
I spoke with Fletcher.

And who talked to you when you parted ways with the Indian cricket team?
No, I don't want to talk about that.

But one thing you have spoken about in the Courier Mail is that one of the reasons given to you…
I wasn't given any reasons. And I am not talking about that.

What run-up problems did Shami have?
He used to over-stride. Just the pace of his run-up. The momentum of his run-up. He has got a bit of a funny run-up action.

As it is he has long strides.
Yeah, so as he was getting more tired, or getting a bit stronger, being in the group, doing gym, his stride patterns and running partners changed. So we needed to work on that. The pace at which he bowled in the World Cup, he seemed to have got that right. He needed a bit of rest too. He came into international cricket and, bang, he played a lot of it. Every match. Had such a good start. Then you start to get tired as you approach the end of a season.

Did you feel the bowlers that came to you were as aware of their bodies as, say, Australian or New Zealand bowlers?
Again, bit of an individual thing. You have got Varun Aaron. If there is a hair out of place he knows it. Whereas there are other guys who don't have a clue. It's the same everywhere.

"We couldn't pull any guys out of cricket. We could make suggestions but they would then run into issues with their state teams" © AFP

Is the amount of cricket shortening careers of bowlers?
It comes down to management. If bowlers are to have a long career, they cannot play every game. You can probably pick the right games or tour or series and still have a long career. You need the management and selectors to tell them, "We are giving you a rest for this series but you will be back for the one after."

So you want them to lose all insecurities, but if you were to have a pecking order of what format, what kind of games you want to sacrifice first…
Different skill sets. If it is Ishant Sharma - a really, really good Test match bowler, but I am not convinced T20 is his ideal format. So you say you give it up. I am not saying you give up, but if you had to give one up, you'd probably drop T20. But if you are Mohit Sharma, he is going to be a better exponent of the shorter format.

But what happens if Ishant says, "I feel left out of this IPL party and the money I make for bowling four overs a game"?
Then don't give it up. If you feel like that, don't give it up.

There has to be proper communication. People explain what you are trying to achieve. I am using Ishant only as an example. Don't play the IPL. Get ready for the England series last year. But it has to be communicated properly. Make the player comfortable about it, and, as you said earlier, [arrange] some sort of financial compensation.

"Ishant Sharma is a really, really good Test match bowler, but I am not convinced T20 is his ideal format. So if you had to give one up, you'd probably drop T20"

A go-between in the system, between the national and rest of the set-up, like Pat Howard, would be a great help, won't it?
There was talk at various times where we would have loved as a group to have a Rahul Dravid, maybe, in that role. There was plenty of times when we had really good communication. None of my business what has gone on in the last 18 months, but that has obviously thrown the whole shebang into chaos. Didn't really know what was going on. Prior to that we had pretty good information flow because of the relationship between Mr Srinivasan and the team management.

Ishant has forever been the paradox. Forever learning, forever the hardest worker, but he has the worsts stats for anyone who has played 50 Tests. Is he really unlucky? Is it possible to be that unlucky for that long?
I know he hates it. He really hates it when people call him unlucky. I watched him bowl in New Zealand and South Africa. He was comfortably our best bowler. Honestly, he is unfairly judged against that one spell eight years ago, against Ricky Ponting. He did have a great day out. Everyone is like: why is he not bowling 140? There is no consistency in the radar guns. What might have been 140 that day might be 135 here and 145 somewhere else. To judge him by one spell, he has always been haunted by that. I think he has probably repeated that, but probably not on a Channel Nine radar.

Where are the wickets?
That's a good question. He has probably been the most consistent bowler last 18 months. He has learnt a lot over the last 18 months. They will come. You have an asset of a guy, who has played 64 Tests by the time he is 25. Sure, his record may not be great, but he is still one of the top fast bowlers in the country. He is a good man. He looks after the other fast bowlers. You have found a leader of the attack for the next few years.

"I was a big fan of Ishwar Pandey. Thought he could have been a really good line-and-length bowler" © AFP

Has he fallen into a trap where he sees his other two bowlers go at five an over and then sees his job as to just pull the other team back and stops bowling that wicket-taking length and get into containment mode?
What is a wicket-taking length?

Slightly fuller than he bowls?
He just tries to hit the top of off wherever he bowls. Or he bowls the bouncer. Doesn't always manage it, but no bowler does.

One of the things bowling coaches before you have said is that Dhoni doesn't attend bowlers' meetings - or any meetings, which gave him the advantage of having a blank and uncluttered mind. But the flip side of it was that he wouldn't be aware of the bowling group's plans and sometimes would throw them out of the window. Did that happen with you and how did you deal with it?
If there was something specific we wanted done, I would sit MS down and communicate it to him. Or the bowlers would speak to him about it individually. He is not a big fan of meetings, but you could get your message across. He was always open.

Did you watch them in Australia?
Bits and pieces. Not a great deal. Send messages to the boys, say g'day. Caught up with a few of them. That's one of the great things I take out of the experience. Made some good friendships. That's the beauty of the IPL. I will go around and catch up with everyone. Young group. Made some good strides. They are learning. I think they will be a really good bowling group in a couple of years' time.

Specifically in Tests, name five in the core group you want.
Ishant. A fit Bhuvneshwar. Varun Aaron. Umesh. On his form in Australia, you will have to go with Shami, I suppose. He might have lost his pace, but I was a big fan of Ishwar Pandey. Thought he could have been a really good line-and-length bowler. Managed properly, given the opportunity to be fit and strong, he might not go 140-145, but he can get the job done in helpful conditions.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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