How Joshi changed the mindsets of Bangladesh's spinners

Chandika Hathurusingha has a chat with Sunil Joshi Raton Gomes/BCB

November 13, 2000, Dhaka. Sunil Joshi walks in with India's middle order wobbling after Bangladesh have made 400 in the first innings of their inaugural Test. India are still 164 behind and have only four wickets left. Joshi is greeted by a chirping Akram Khan at first slip. That it's coming from a debutant amuses him, but he keeps his composure and makes a career-best 92 to give India a 29-run lead. Joshi then picks up three wickets in the second innings to go with his five-for in the first and is named Man of the Match. India win by nine wickets.

Seventeen years later, Bangladesh arrive in Hyderabad to play another historic Test match. The BCB are searching for a spin consultant and ask Anil Kumble, then the India coach, for options. Joshi's name figures in their shortlist, and Akram Khan, one of his victims in that inaugural Test, eventually facilitates the signing of a formal contract.

On Friday, at the Asia Cup final, both Akram and Joshi will be in the same camp, plotting against not just India's batsmen, but also helping Bangladesh tackle Kuldeep Yadav, Yuzvendra Chahal and Ravindra Jadeja.

It will be an emotional moment for Joshi - his one-year contract is up for renewal, so there is a possibility that this could be his final game with the boys he's developed a rapport with. The BCB has given him "positive feedback", and while talks have been ongoing, a decision is still awaited.

As Joshi looks back at his one year in charge of Bangladesh, he picks out the marked improvement in the mindset of the spinners as the biggest gain. There's special praise for Mehidy Hasan, an offspinner who is among the "more complete bowlers of his kind" along with India's R Ashwin.

Joshi saw the 20-year old Mehidy on the first day of his job, prior to the Australia series at home, and told him: 'you will win us the series.' Bangladesh didn't quite do that, but still managed to record their first-ever Test win against Australia, with Mehidy picking up five wickets in Mirpur.

Mehidy had nervously watched David Warner and Steven Smith whack balls at training. Two days ahead of the first Test, Joshi indulged in a bit of mind games with Australia by announcing openly: 'We're focusing on the one ball that troubled Australia in India.' Mehidy, Shakib Al Hasan and Taijul Islam, the spin trio for the first Test, wouldn't reveal much. This seemed to irk Australia, who only few months ago, had tumbled against Ashwin and Jadeja in India. Whether the tactic played a part or not, we wouldn't know, but Australia lost 19 wickets to the Bangladesh trio.

Ahead of the series, Joshi sat his boys down and spent hours analysing their strengths and weaknesses. "It helped me understand their mindset," he says. "I could see while there was natural ability, there was also some apprehension. You could see Mehidy had all the tools to succeed. Natural drift is his biggest strength. But what I only did as coach was give him options: 'for this batsman, we can do this. These are his weak areas, this is what you can look to try and do.'

"Once I engaged him with various ideas, it got him thinking, and he would work on these at training. This built confidence, and over the past year, Mehidy has matured beyond his years. Yes, he still has a lot of work to do. He is working on a carom ball, for example. So understanding his own game is what I have tried to facilitate by engaging him and working with him, rather than change much with his basics.

"His mindset presently is 'I'm not worried if I'm hit. I want to attack and get wickets.' It's taken a while to get him to think this way, and because they're all exposed to so much T20 early, they subconsciously think, 'oh, let me try and restrict.' Mehidy is different now, he knows whether it's a 60-metre six or a 90-metre six, he has to come back and try and get him to do that again next ball."

Then there's Taijul, the left-arm spinner, who isn't part of the Asia Cup, but Joshi makes sure to keep in touch through the High Performance coaches back in Dhaka. Ensuring constant and open dialogue with players appears to be an important part of his coaching method.

"One of the things I try and stress on is the need to have different templates for different batsmen," Joshi says. "The way you bowl to a top order bat and the way you bowl to a tailender can't be the same. For starters, we ensure they bowl a certain number of deliveries at the nets, some of it is allotted towards trying our variations. So I'm in touch with the coaches there and see if these routines are adhered to, and then devise bowling plans.

"Taijul, for example, worked on his lengths in West Indies. His action is such that he doesn't generate bounce, so then you need to make the batsman play forward. He was pretty successful during our ODI series win in West Indies. They need cushioning because of the exposure to T20. Being hit shouldn't get them thinking if they've bowled badly and if they'll be dropped as a result. It's these chats I've had with them, sharing my own experiences of success and failure that I look back on fondly over the last year. They've all warmed up to it and have acknowledged it."

"The biggest acknowledgment of your work is when the players take the liberty to not just agree with what you say but also question you and challenge you at times." Sunil Joshi

One of Joshi's biggest challenges has been to look for a wristspinner, given how much they are in focus these days. The nature of his commitment - he's in Dhaka five days prior to the start of the series - hasn't allowed him the opportunity to handpick too many players, but he's genuinely excited by Mohammad Rishad, who is part of the High Performance set-up, and is in line to play for Bangladesh at the Under-19 Asia Cup later this month. "He and Mehidy will rule spin here for years to come," Joshi says. "They have to be handled well. But from whatever I've seen of him, he looks really promising."

For the moment, Joshi is satisfied at having fulfilled a commitment with all honestly. While the BCB still decides on a contract extension, he isn't anxious about what his immediate future holds. Coaching is where his passion lies; he's been with Jammu & Kashmir, Hyderabad and Assam in India's domestic circuit, apart from stints with Oman during the 2016 Asia Cup and World T20. Before the Bangladesh job, he was the spin coach for the Under-19s at the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru, and was also in the running for the head coach of the India women's team.

"Coaching was always a natural transition, and being part of a national set-up has also broadened my vision. The biggest acknowledgment of your work is when the players take the liberty to not just agree with what you say but also question you and challenge you at times. This I've had in plenty with all our bowlers - whether it's Shakib, Taijul or Mehidy."