Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo
India's depleted pace bowling cupboard can be explained by a lack of discipline and drive among some of those in the attack, Venkatesh Prasad, the former India bowling coach, has said. The last decade has seen more than a few bowlers fading after a good series or two but that, he said, was because of their attitude and not merely failings in their bowling.
"It's about their attitude, it's about their commitment", Prasad told ESPNcricinfo. "Bowlers need discipline to get up every single day in the morning, hit the gym and bowl long spells. I have not seen many bowlers bowling one-two hours. You can't bowl 20 minutes in the nets and then bowl 20 overs in matches."
Prasad coached the Indian bowlers from May 2007 to October 2009 and is now bowling coach for the Chennai Super Kings. During his India stint, he said, he found the bowlers' work load in the nets to be inadequate. "I was very disappointed with the amount of bowling that was going in nets. And with the amount of training: they weren't training hard, the bowlers weren't pushing themselves."
Bowlers - he did not name any - could not be pushed to put in more than 20 minutes in the India nets, and he said that, as a member of the support staff, he could not be after them every day. "I can't keep saying, 'Come on XYZ, whoever they may be, bowl for one hour." He said he did so on many occasions but it wasn't always appreciated. "It's a thin line. There were lots of players who, when you told them something, didn't like it. The player needs to be honest.
"Things can't change until and unless the players are honest to their team, the coach and, most importantly, to themselves."
Prasad singled out Ishant Sharma, though, for having a "fantastic" work ethic, which complements his talent. "He's somebody who works extremely hard at the nets. He bowls in the nets at the same intensity with which he would bowl in a match. He has a great work ethic." He's currently going through a lean spell which, Prasad said, related to his wrist not being behind the ball. "The fingers aren't on the seam. He is rolling his wrists instead. The fingers don't run down the seam to give back spin which enables the ball to land on seam."
He spoke about Ishant's "bad phase" during IPL 2 in South Africa. "I remember watching on TV and seeing him falling away at the release and pushing the ball down the leg side. And to get the ball on the right line he was trying to bowl it from outside off stump but it wasn't coming in." The coach saw that Ishant's bowling arm was not as high and straight as it needed to be. The collapse of the front shoulder that followed meant the bowling arm couldn't get into a good position. Watching it on TV, Prasad says he felt "helpless" then. "He was spraying the ball everywhere. I think that's where it all started. Then he was dropped from his franchise. That was pretty sad." The bad habits had returned.
Prasad remembers Ishant's second Test match versus Pakistan in Bangalore and how things began to go wrong after a few overs. "In the first innings on the previous day he was all over. He was trying to bowl inswingers but was pitching it on the middle and it would go down the leg side." Ishant would try to correct the line by bowling outside off, but all that happened is that the ball would sit up outside off and asked to be hit.
"He was confused. I could see it", says Prasad. "You must realise the pressure there for a player at that level is unbelievable." He spotted Ishant's problem, sat him down and made him go through the video. Then the two then went down the ground and Prasad had him practice the release. "I made him just stand and release the ball."
The wrist was straight behind. The fingers were on the seam. The wrist snapped into release position. Again and again. Prasad says, "There was an article next morning which said Ishant wasn't ready to play Test cricket yet." It appeared on the day he took five wickets.
The treacherous wrist position can either be Ishant's biggest asset or his bogey when the bad habits return. Prasad explains that, in trying to make the ball move in or out, bowlers tend to 'roll' rather than snap their wrists. "The right mechanism is to keep the wrists straight and fingers on the seam and give it a back spin."
It is what he tried with Ishant. "The wrist will take care of itself depending on the action; if somebody is side-on the ball will go away, if front on, the ball will come in. Of late he (Ishant) is rolling his wrists again, which is not needed. Something these bad habits creep in."
Amongst Ishant's other peers, Prasad also talked about how Praveen Kumar's talent should be utilised, "I would play him in Tests in New Zealand and England. He has a great wrist position, control and can move the ball around at will." With Praveen, Prasad said, "it was just a matter of telling him not to try too many things. Work on the basic stock ball, keep doing it again and again before you try the variation. Set-up the batsmen better."
Prasad hoped Sreesanth would take the opportunity given to him again with his return to the team to play versus Australia in the Tests. He said, "What a talent. He should be able to play at least 50 Tests. He has everything; good run-up, fantastic release. He just needs to run in, hit the length around off stump time and again. He just needs that discipline."