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Prasad keen to learn from Chennai's foreign stars

Venkatesh Prasad believes that this IPL will throw up an interesting situation when top cricketers share dressing rooms and gameplans but will be wary of revealing too much ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in June

Ajay S Shankar
Ajay S Shankar
Makhaya Ntini and Andrew Flintoff are Venkatesh Prasad's targets during the second edition of the IPL in South Africa  •  Getty Images

Makhaya Ntini and Andrew Flintoff are Venkatesh Prasad's targets during the second edition of the IPL in South Africa  •  Getty Images

Venkatesh Prasad believes that this IPL will throw up an interesting situation when top cricketers share dressing rooms and gameplans but will be wary of revealing too much ahead of the ICC World Twenty20 in June. Prasad, India's bowling coach, admitted that he is keen to pick the brains of his IPL team's foreign players like Andrew Flintoff, Makhaya Ntini and Albie Morkel to strengthen India's chances in England.
Prasad is bowling coach of the IPL's Chennai Super Kings and, barely ten days after the IPL ends in South Africa on May 24, will join the Indian thinktank for the ICC tournament that starts on June 5 in England. India will be defending their world title and England's Flintoff and the South Africans Ntini and Morkel are key players for their national teams.
"Most of the international players will look to use the IPL as a launchpad for the World Twenty20 and you have to be smart here," Prasad told Cricinfo. "It's all about how much of information you want to share and how much information you can gain from others. I am sure there will be a lot of people who would like to know a lot about the Indian team. So I need to be very clear about how much of information I would like to share with others, even if they are from your own IPL team.
"At the same time, I would like to pick the brains of players like Freddie Flintoff, Ntini, Morkel or even Stephen Fleming (Chennai's head coach) in terms of how the New Zealand guys go about their business in a Twenty20 situation."
The former India bowler, who is back in India after the series win in New Zealand, said he would also be watching closely how the IPL's foreign coaches help their domestic Indian players make key adjustments in technique and approach in a foreign venue. Communication would be crucial, Prasad said, and added that he was not quite sure how the foreign coaches would cope.
"I really don't know if the domestic players would be able to understand what the foreign coaches are saying," he said. "I am not very sure about that. I am not criticising anybody here. But the fact is the way we play our cricket is completely different. So I don't know how coaches who don't know how we play our cricket are going to manage.
"In India, the whole approach is slightly different; for instance, we use much more of our wrists than anybody else, we play more by instinct. We take most of our decisions out there (on the field). You might have a plan, but you also need to go out there and use your mind in terms of assessing the situation and dealing with it."
All the eight IPL teams have foreign coaches at the helm: apart from Chennai's Fleming, the franchises have recruited John Buchanan for Kolkata, Tom Moody for Punjab, Ray Jennings for Bangalore, Shane Warne for Rajasthan, the IPL champions, Greg Shipperd for Delhi, Darren Lehmann for Hyderabad, and Shaun Pollock, who has been designated as Mumbai's mentor. "From what I have known of foreign teams, once they make a plan, no matter what they just go with that plan," Prasad said. "Sometimes it may be good, sometimes it may be bad. I don't know how the foreign coaches are going to handle this situation; that's something to look at."
Some of the franchises already have former India players playing key roles in their team managements, like VB Chandrasekhar for Chennai, Praveen Amre for Mumbai and TA Sekhar for Delhi.
Prasad said that his IPL stint will be crucial for India in the long-term because he would use the 36-day tournament to identify a bowling talent pool for the country and work closely with MS Dhoni, India's captain who also leads Chennai, to finalise plans for the hectic international season coming up.
Asked about the adjustments that India's domestic players, who form a chunk of the IPL squads, will have to make in South Africa, Prasad said bowlers would have to work hard on their lengths.
"You need to pull the length slightly more back in South Africa because hitting through the line is much easier," he said. "If you bowl the same fuller lengths that you bowl in India, it comes on to the bat quite well. So, to get that extra bit of bounce and to get batsmen to make more mistakes, you need to just pull the length back slightly. You can't just pitch the ball fully up like we do in India to get the swing. Because of the slowness of the wickets in India, the ball grips the pitch and comes slightly more slower than expected. In South African conditions, the ball comes slightly quicker."
But in the end, he said, there are some golden rules that the bowlers will have to stick to. "Twenty20 is all about sticking to the basics. It's about backing your strengths, bowling wicket-to-wicket so that if a batsman misses, you hit the wicket; using your variations intelligently; and importantly, assessing what the batsman is looking to do in a particular situation and be a step ahead."
Incidentally, Prasad was outstanding on his only international tour of South Africa in 1996-97. He shared the new ball with Javagal Srinath in the Test series and took 17 wickets at 25 including a ten-wicket haul in the first Test in Durban.
However, his previous IPL stint with Bangalore Royal Challengers ended in disappointment after the team finished seventh amidst a cloud of controversy - reports emerged midway through the tournament over a difference of opinion between Vijay Mallya, the franchise owner, and the team's thinktank that also included Martin Crowe and Rahul Dravid, the captain.
Prasad moved to the Chennai team last month after an "interaction on the matter" with Dhoni and is now back in Bangalore, where he is based, from New Zealand. Prasad described the New Zealand tour as an "exciting experience" with India winning a Test series there after 41 years.
"Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh did an exceptional job and were ably supported by Ishant [Sharma] and Munaf [Patel]," he said. But what really caught his eye, Prasad said, was Dhoni's captaincy. "He was in complete control, assessed the various situations perfectly, and made some amazing calls by sheer instinct which paid off."
Prasad said he will now fly to Durban early next week to join Chennai's training camp before moving to Cape Town for the opening game against Mumbai on April 18. "I know the Chennai bowlers well since we played against them last time," he said. "I know what their strengths are, but a week will help me get to know them up-close and personal before the battle begins."

Ajay Shankar is deputy editor of Cricinfo