India missing a bowling coach - MS Dhoni
Indian captain MS Dhoni has admitted that the absence of a specialist bowling coach is hurting the team's performance. Dhoni said it was "tough" for the bowlers and especially head coach Gary Kirsten to perform at optimum levels, and that ideally he would like the vacancy to be filled soon.
"To some extent it does hurt not having a bowling coach. If you have a specialist coach he is always interacting with the bowlers and trying to get the best out of them," Dhoni said on the eve of the Indian team's departure to Bangladesh.
Though India ended 2009 at the top of the ICC's Test rankings, they have struggled to make a consistent progress in ODIs. After the early exit at the ICC World Twenty20, they were knocked out of the Champions Trophy in South Africa even before the tournament reached the second week. In a desperate move, the Indian board sacked Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh, the bowling and fielding coaches respectively. No explanation was given with the assumption being both coaches had been under the scanner after the World Twenty20 debacle.
Dhoni said that decision had only increased the burden on Kirsten, who he felt was submerged under extra duties. "He [Kirsten] has to look after everything: he has to sit and talk to the batsmen, bowlers, fielders, build strategies and look after team building," he said, adding that the BCCI could reduce the pressure simply by naming replacements who could closely work with the bowlers and fielders.
The inconsistency in the fast bowling department has remained a concern for India right from the World Twenty20. In England, Zaheer Khan had aggravated the shoulder injury he picked during the IPL in South Africa. His inability to go full throttle exposed the younger lot like Ishant Sharma and Praveen Kumar, and though Ashish Nehra was around he was just finding his own feet, having made a return after a long time. Things did not improve during the Champions Trophy, and India's problems were exacerbated during the home ODI series against Australia, which they lost 4-2. But things have started to improve after Zaheer's return.
Zaheer will lead the fast bowling department in Bangladesh which comprises Nehra, Sreesanth, and the rookie Sudeep Tyagi. During the recently concluded Sri Lanka series the Indian fast bowlers were lukewarm even if they improved on their death bowling. A good example could be the difference in their performances in Rajkot and Kolkata, for the second and fourth matches. In the first instance, after Tillakaratne Dilshan and Kumar Sangakkara's blistering innings, India recovered admirably to clamp down the batsmen in the final ten overs. But in Kolkata, abetted by some shoddy fielding, the bowlers got distracted and allowed Upul Tharanga and Sangakkara to build a solid platform.
Though Dhoni felt that a bowling coach would be able to discuss with the youngsters and build their confidence, he put faith in his squad. "It is a matter of time before they return to form. In Rajkot we bowled really well," he said, "but we haven't bowled consistently well in the death overs. It is a bit of a worry. But if we can do it in patches I don't see why we can't do it consistently."
A twin headache has been the fielding. Embarrassingly in the two Twenty20s and the first ODI of the Sri Lanka series, India dropped 12 catches. In the second ODI in Nagpur, when the match was still hanging in the balance, in the penultimate over Zaheer's misfield cost them the match. By the time they reached Kolkata their ground fielding improved a lot but they still dropped Tharanga and Sangakkara when the batsmen were yet to get off the blocks. The pair built a valuable partnership of 171 runs. In the abandoned final game another simple catch went down.
Dhoni was blunt in his appraisal once again. "We need to improve our fielding because in a close game avoiding the fielding errors can save us at least 15 runs," he said. "We have a mix of safe fielders with some brilliant ones like Suresh Raina, Ravindra Jadeja, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma."
He also praised Mike Young, the former Australian fielding coach, who spent time with the Indian team as a consultant during the limited-overs series. Though Young didn't rush in with some innovative stuff, Dhoni said it had been "interesting" to spend time in his company. "He didn't come with lots of ideas. He just wanted to see what was happening and where we are positioned. He worked really slow and came up with few basic techniques. It is important to take that forward."
Young will not travel with the squad to Bangladesh.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo