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'It's about helping one another'

Javagal Srinath talks to Rahul Bhattacharya about the culture that sets India's current fast bowling attack apart from its predecessors

Rahul Bhattacharya

Javagal Srinath: seen a few changes

Javagal Srinath had straddled eras, captains, coaches, and countless bowling partners to emerge as India's finest fast bowler of the last decade. Among his greater contributions has been the relationship he has forged with the future of Indian fast bowling. Here he talked to Rahul Bhattacharya in the May 2003 issue of Wisden Asia Cricket about the different setups he's played under.
You have played under a variety of setups over the past 12 years. How do you rate the current one?
This is probably the best setup I have been a part of. It may have something to do with my acquaintance with the boys. It is a setup I have seen over a period of time and so there is a familiarity. A lot has to do also with the way the youngsters respond to me, and to the seniors. When I say `senior', I mean on the basis of cricketing experience, not age.
The understanding of fitness in this setup is very high. Everybody works hard; everybody knows their responsibility. These are things that make the team look more together. The team thinks more professionally about the game.
Professionalism is an important word, isn't it?
Very important. Professionalism is when people start taking responsibilities, start thinking more about the team, start focusing on the objective; when words like accountability mean something.
When do you think it really crept into the Indian team?
It has happened over a period of time. People have changed; we have learned from seeing the other sides. We have realised that every person has to take the lead. The realisation process, looking at someone successful and learning from them, that is what the team has gone through over a period of time.
Is this pace trio - yourself, Zaheer and Nehra - the best you've been a part of?
I think so, yes.
How much have the strides taken by Zaheer and Nehra impressed you?
It is amazing how they have graduated. Though Ashish took some time, I think his spell against England [in the World Cup] has really changed his mindset towards cricket. Such match-winning performances by Indian fast bowlers are a rarity. Indian conditions don't allow fast bowlers to taste enough success. Fast bowlers go for 60-70 runs in 10 overs all the time here. They don't feel that they are a real contributing factor in the side. When they find the right conditions, when they are able to play match-winning roles, they will become completely different bowlers.
What is your approach to working with the young guys? They talk often about the advice received from you.
These guys are fast learners. To be honest, I don't do anything special. The guys are learning on their own - they have the skills to listen and learn. They see other bowlers do well and they try and understand what's working and implement it. It's also a mutual exchange. It's not about me being the Master and them learning. Everybody learns together. Everybody shares the idea.
You said in an interview a while back that one of your main motivations to make a comeback was to give support to a guy like Zaheer ...
It was not the only reason. But yes, as I said, the attitude in the team is that you have to help one another. The culture needs to be strong in the sense that if A doesn't click, then B must. How do you develop this culture? It can only happen if youngsters who have strength and energy understand and implement what the people with experience think. If this exchange happens you can develop match-winners.
How strong was Sourav's persuasion in your comeback?
Well, it was not a persuasion as such. At some point, I was not on the same line of thinking as the selectors. They felt that I was done and over. And I respected that. Everyone has their own opinions and judgments. But it's really the people around you, your team-mates, who inspire confidence in you. That's probably the biggest motivating factor. The selectors may put you in the side but if the players don't need you, then what's the point? But my case was exactly the opposite.
The team huddle came to symbolise India during the World Cup. What kinds of things are said there?
We take stock of the situation. We look at how things are going, who is the next batsman coming in, what will be the field setting, where do we stand at this point of the game. We just focus ourselves once again and remind ourselves of the goals set at the beginning of the match: are we on track?
You also mentioned the level of fitness in the side. What's a typical day of training like?
Well, there are three different phases to this. One is off-season training. The question there is how to look after your body when you are not playing. It entails a lot of running, sprints, aerobic and anaerobic exercises, a lot of endurance training, a lot of weight training. All of these need to complement one another. Then you get into match training - gearing yourself for the match environment. The third type of training is when you are in the middle of a series - maintenance training. You need to work on the body parts that are feeling weak. Rehabilitation is a crucial and complex part of training.
How much has this entire process changed since Adrian Le Roux and Andrew Leipus joined the team?
It has become much more scientific and methodological. Why do we need to run today? There should be a reason behind it. Do you run because everybody else runs or do you run because it's an important ingredient of your training? We now ask the question why and also understand the answers. Why are we doing the sprint training today? These are the kinds of things that I think the players have understood very well.
It must be worlds away from the time you began in international cricket. Could things have been different if the support system had been around earlier?
Maybe. If we had this kind of support 10 years ago, it could have been a different story altogether. But you can't help it. It's the past. We thought at that point of time that it's the best cricket we could play.
The important point is that things are changing. We now have the best physiotherapist we have ever had, and a fitness trainer too. What we lack is somebody like Sandy Gordon. A psychologist can make a big difference.
Having these people in the set-up doesn't mean India will be unbeatable - but they change the attitude of the side; they change everybody's way of thinking. That's why we need them - cricket is not a matter of batting and bowling skills alone.
Would you agree there have been too many lost talents in Indian fast bowling in the past decade?
Yes, and I feel sorry for them because there is not much of a role for fast bowlers to play in India. Look at the wickets. You expect fast bowlers to just take the shine off the ball. That has been the attitude for the couple of decades that I have seen Indian cricket, and that is the reason you haven't seen too many things happening for fast bowlers. Nor do I see dramatic changes in the future unless the wickets improve.
The wickets haven't improved since the time you started?
Nothing has changed. The danger is that when things don't go well for a fast bowler, on a bad day, he will lose belief in himself, lose his motivation and his confidence altogether.
Was the entire pitch-relaying scheme last year an eyewash?
It has done nothing. In fact, it has really slowed the wickets. The Mumbai wicket has slowed. The Kolkata wicket, which was probably the best Test match strip in the country, has gone down considerably. The Bangalore wicket was relaid only a few years ago, but they dug it up again. That too has been a very, very disappointing track.
Any truth to the statement that these new wickets take some time to play at their best?
I don't think so. The wicket depends on the binding factor and consistency of the soil. If anything, they slow down with time.
Yet, despite the pitches, we are seeing more and more fast bowlers coming up.
The reason for that is we are playing more and more cricket outside India. If you keep fast bowlers on Indian pitches for too long, where they don't derive much success, they will start looking mediocre.
Does that also imply that most of the bowlers are really learning the craft after they make it to the international level?
Yes, that's the problem in India. The gulf between domestic and international cricket is too high. You can't really judge a bowler by his performances in the domestic tournaments on these wickets. The `A' tours probably give a better idea of his calibre.
Do you think there is a danger of bowling wickets making bowlers reliant on them, just as batting wickets tend to pamper our batsmen? It has, at times, been cited as a problem in England.
Adaptability is very important. In any case, wickets in India can never be as conducive to fast bowling as in England. In England, in the initial part of the season, there is a lot of help for the bowlers, but it flattens out towards the end of the season. So at the end of the day it's a plus-minus situation. In India, it's always a minus for the bowlers.
Do you think we could do with a specialist bowling coach?
It should help. It depends on the sort of relationship he has with the boys and how he articulates his knowledge. That's the key.
How vital is an institution like the MRF Pace Foundation for us?
It's a fantastic place. I would like to specially mention this point. MRF is the heart for fast bowling in this country. I have benefited enormously from them. It gives a shape to your body and your bowling. The advice from the coaches there has been invaluable for me. I've kept in touch with them right through, and during my shoulder injury they were of great help. These are the kind of things we need. It's a dream for the fast bowlers in this country.