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Couch Talk

'You try to construct an over before you think of how to get a batsman out'

Former New Zealand fast bowler Shane Bond talks about making plans as a bowling coach, and how to counter batsmen like AB de Villiers

You were able to play only 18 Tests and 82 ODIs for New Zealand. Did you think of cutting back on your pace or shortening your run-up or changing your bowling action to reduce the stress on your body?
No. I had to remodel my action once I had surgery on my back. I spent a lot of time making adjustments. In terms of throttling back: no. In hindsight, perhaps I should have taken more time and dropped my pace a little bit. But I always felt that my success came from going 100% all the time. That was my role in the team. So I tried to prepare the best I could and fulfil that role. Unfortunately, a few injuries came along the way. But that's sport.
Did pride or ego get in the way?
No, I don't think so. My point of difference [from other bowlers] was my pace. If I dropped the pace to be more accurate, I would have fallen back into the pack and would have been competing with every other bowler. My ability to bowl 90mph added a different sort of variety to what was already a very good bowling attack. That's the role I wanted to do and I loved doing it.
Your career began towards the end of Dion Nash's, who also struggled with injuries. Was there any advice from him on how you should go about managing your body?
If you play international sports you're going to get injured at some time. We talked about different things that we were doing as bowlers and the strengths of each other.
You want to stay on the field as much as possible. But some people are more durable than others. The stresses we had on our bodies, we just didn't cope that well. I think that was a frustrating thing. It is always frustrating when you cop some stick that you are hurt all the time, but you are doing everything you can behind the scenes to stay on the park.
"You want to have a plan you can fall back on when the percentages are not in your favour. You need that start point, where you say, "If all else fails, we can go back to this"
You were the bowling coach for New Zealand for three years, from 2012 till the end of the 2015 World Cup. Now you are with Mumbai Indians. When you have younger fast bowlers under your tutelage, are there things that you pass on about how to protect their bodies a bit more?
Yeah, definitely. That's one side of the game that I actually quite enjoy. They call it "bowler loading": it's being aware of the amount of load that's going through a bowler - not just from the bowling point of view, but everything that goes along with the game, like weight training, running - and to make informed decisions around that.
I'm quite big on measuring those bowling loads. You can see what has transpired and make adjustments to their programme to lower the chances of the players missing any games. I think you are always having those discussions with the bowlers: how much they are bowling, the type of bowling they are doing, rest and how they take it. You try to build trust with the bowlers so that they are confident that even if they take the rest - a couple of days off - they can perform at their top level.
We now have young fast bowlers like James Pattinson and Pat Cummins, who have had injuries to their backs. Considering what you had to go through in your career, what would you tell them so that they can have productive careers?
When you return from injury, take a little bit longer than you think you need to. A week or two at the back end of a recovery could save you a lot of time and perhaps prevent a reoccurring of the injury. With players like Pattinson, Cummins and Corey Anderson, you want them playing for your country because they can win you matches, so there is a tendency to hurry these guys back into the starting teams.
They go from bowling in the nets straight into international cricket. Not only is the intensity high when you are bowling at that level, there's also intensity in the field, the promotions, the travel etc. That takes its toll. So sometimes you want to take a measured approach. Play some club cricket, first-class cricket, just to manage that intensity back up into the national team. And once you are there, you still need to give the guys an opportunity for breaks, because you just can't do fast bowling 12 months of the year. You can't sustain your fitness, your performance or pace.
When the ball is delivered in excess of 150kph, the batsmen facing you realistically have no time to see the ball delivered and then plan a shot. So there is premeditation. Listener Kartikeya asks: does that premeditation have an effect on how you plan to get that batsman out?
I think premeditation is more prevalent in the shorter forms of the game. The batsmen guess to manipulate where the bowler is going to bowl. They will charge down the wicket and predict that the bowler is going to pitch it short [next ball]. Given the fields and the patterns that the bowlers bowl to, the quality batsmen will have the best guess. That's why you see them paddle or walk across the stumps. But when you bowl at 150k's, you wonder sometimes how they do that?
From my experience, just working with Tim Southee and working through some variations in the nets up against Kane Williamson, his ability to see what was going on in the hand was staggering. Even I [watching, as the coach] couldn't see the seam, but Williamson could see the different finger positions and what Tim was trying to do. He could see whether the ball was wobbling, he could tell which way [Southee] was trying to swing it. Maybe that is a mark of a genius. I was staggered by his ability to pick that up so early. Maybe that's what separates the great players from the not-so-great.
Let's say you are bowling at 150kph in a Test match. A top-level batsman is picking it from your hand, and he can sense what is coming from your angle and the field. When you see that the batsman is already prepared for what you are going to deliver, how do you adjust?
That's a good question. I've played against a number of great players who, even when you are bowling quick, seem to have all the time in the world (laughs). That's a real challenge. You do your work before you take the field, so you have ideas of the zones that you need to be bowling, and you just try to hang in there. With great players it takes a little bit longer. If it doesn't work, you have a word with your captain and away you go. You pick a different line or length of attack, or set different fields. If you can create doubt, they will make mistakes and you will get the wicket. The challenge against top batsmen is that they know the game so well it can be very difficult to do that. Sometimes it turns into a patience game. At other times, you bowl balls that are too good for them - it's nice when that happens.
"In T20, every ball is an event. Every ball is vital. You have to have the ability to think clearly under pressure"
What sort of visual cues do you take from the batsman to say, "All right, he's picking me really well right from the hand. Even before I'm delivering the ball, he's already made up his mind." What sort of things do you look for to recalibrate your bowling strategy?
When you go into a game, you already have an understanding of the zones that the batsmen like to score in. Obviously you want to stay away from those. Sometimes you think there is an area you want to attack and play to a batsman's strengths. Also, you know the areas they don't score in, and try to target those, make them go out of their zones to score. You look at their technique, see how deep they are batting in their crease, what sort of shots they are looking to play, what tempo they have brought to their game. Some players, like AB de Villiers, will bring different stuff on different days. So you've got to be adaptable.
Was there any premeditation to your bowling, or was it just a product of what happened the previous delivery?
It's a combination of both. You have an idea of where you want to bowl and how you want to set the batsman up based on an over. You might feel the best way to get a batsman out is to bowl the wider delivery and get him to drive. Maybe you feel like it is going to take you two to three overs to get him to do that, so you bowl a tight line, bowl the bouncer, and after two or three overs, you prepare to throw the wider ball out there as the sucker ball. That may not necessarily be the ball that gets him out, but in your mind, you try to construct an over before you start thinking: how am I going to get this player out?
The whole process gets shorter in the shorter formats of the game. In T20 every ball is an event. Every ball is vital. You have to have the ability to think clearly under pressure. Weigh up what happened the ball before and execute what you think is the very best ball you can bowl given the situation.
As the bowling coach of New Zealand, how did you construct a bowling plan going into a Test series?
We had two world-class bowlers in Southee and Trent Boult, who are swing bowlers, who want to bowl fuller. We talked about how they would bowl at the back end of the innings. We wanted to be aggressive and hostile at the back end, to the tail, make things as uncomfortable as we could to the lower order. You sift through all the information, you work out where the batsmen scored, the zones they are weak at - the line and length you want to attack. Then you sit down and discuss that as a group.
You come up with plans A, B and C. You also dig out all the information on the bowlers themselves, about the certain times in a Test match where they have had the most success, the length that they bowled with most success, and where the ball got hit when they had success. You can break down Trent Boult and tell that when the ball swings in the initial few overs, you might leave mid-on open and allow the batsman to push the ball when it moves across; and you might get a couple at midwicket because the ball swings and goes quickly through that area and brings in a catching chance.
Not only is it working out stuff on the opposition but also working out where and when is the most effective time to use your bowlers. If they did miss, where did they miss, so you can prepare a cover. Also, perhaps, areas you might open up for fielders so that it can be difficult to score there because of the balls discussed in the talks. You can manipulate your bowlers to the times when they bowled at their very best and hope they perform that role. Obviously, you crosscheck it with the captain.
"With players like Pattinson, Cummins and Corey Anderson, there is a tendency to hurry these guys back into the starting teams. Play some club cricket, first-class cricket, just to manage that intensity back up into the national team"
There will be days when the balls are not coming out right, or the plans that they have in place don't work out. How swift is your feedback then? Are you continuously looking at what is happening on the field and then trying to pass on a message for any correction, or reaffirming faith in the plan?
That is the art of coaching, isn't it? There are times when it is important for the players to speak their mind, and you don't mind if they have a tough season or a tough match. It is important that they work out how they do certain things in a game. Other times, when it might be a critical part of the game, you might just walk around the boundary and offer a little bit of an advice: "Hey, if you thought about this as a plan, would you consider doing something like this?" I think that is all part of the trust process. It takes a little bit of time to build that up.
You start to understand the body language of the players. You can wander on the boundary sometimes and you may not even have to talk about cricket - just distract them if they are a little bit down on themselves. The longer you coach, the better you know your players. You start to understand when the player is feeling good and when they want to be spoken to. Some days you are not going to get it right, but the players have to understand that you are going to help them as best you can.
Let's say you have a plan where bowlers A, B and C were supposed to bowl three different lengths to a batsman, but then you realise they haven't done what they were supposed to do. So you get to them at the interval and tell them to stick to certain areas. How ready are they to take criticism and accountability for their actions?
It is important that all roles have a level of accountability. What the planning does is that it gives you a starting point. You want to have a plan you can fall back on when the percentages are not in your favour. Obviously, when you get into a match, sometimes the pitch is playing differently than what you expected and you have to have the ability to adjust and not just be stuck your ways. You need that start point, where you say, "If all else fails, we can go back to this. What history has told us is that this is a pretty good area to bowl as a group." And as the game goes on, as the ball gets older and the conditions change a touch, you need that ability and flexibility to say, "Hey, this hasn't quite worked. What are we going to go to now?" I was lucky that I had the expertise and the brains in the team to come up with plans to do this and that.
You want the bowlers to own it. Some bowlers enjoy the preparation side more than others. You really need to know clearly at the back end of an ODI or T20 innings what you are going to do. That is when the real pressure is on and things can get away from a bowler. You have to be very careful about not making things too complicated for the bowler. When you are under pressure, you only want to know one or two key things about what you need to do. That is the big thing for me, to say, "Look, as long as you have a plan, back your plan under pressure." If it doesn't work, sometimes a batsman is going to play well and that is the way the game unfolds. I try to encourage players every day and get their confidence in doing their thing. If they have confidence, a lot of the times they succeed.
It seems like AB de Villiers has had a purple patch going for a few years now. How do you prepare for someone like that? Is the plan essentially defensive?
There is an understanding that when you are playing the best of the best - AB is one of the finest players in the world, if not the finest - that if he has his day, sometimes there is very little you could do to stop that. What happens, though, in my opinion, is that too often you get on the defensive too quickly. Once you are on the defensive and get the team to bowl full to players like AB, he knows where the ball is going to be. Then you are probably in more trouble.
The information is all out there about where these batsmen's lower-percentage options are. The challenge for the bowler is to stay there for as long as he can. That is why players like de Villiers are so hard to bowl to. They work you off your plan. The next thing you know is that they are on 60 or 70 and you are in trouble. They score so fast that they take the game away from you. I can bowl a good ball at these blokes and get whacked, but I just have to hang in there a bit longer. If I can hang in there, they can make a mistake.
"The challenge against top batsmen is that they know the game so well, it can be very difficult to do that. Sometimes it turns into a patience game"
You played under Stephen Fleming, who is considered a tactician, a strategist. When you were coach, your captain was Brendon McCullum, who came across as very aggressive, positive, going for wickets all the time. As a strike bowler, how do a captain's tendencies - hanging back and defending versus attacking all the time - affect you?
The biggest thing, from my point of view, is that you want to have faith in the captain and know that the captain has faith in you. It is a huge confidence boost. You can be the best captain in the world and have very ordinary bowlers. Then you certainly cannot go on the attack with four slips and a gully.
In the World Cup, when the likes of Southee and Boult were bowling and were on top of their game, you can captain in a manner like that because those guys can keep the line and length required. Sometimes, when those guys aren't quite in their form, it makes it a little bit more difficult. At the end of the day, a captain can only use the resources he has got. That is why preparation is important. Even though you may have the resources, sometimes the wickets are flat and you have to know how to stop the run flow and still have a plan to get somebody out. It is a combination of both.
The captain should have the right mindset, should sum up the conditions well, and have good preparation to know the zones for each player. It is a big responsibility to have, particularly in T20 cricket. If the captain is not on top of his stuff, you can run into a little trouble.
Are there any Test match and ODI spells that come to your mind when you look back at your career?
When you got bags of wickets, when you have spells with three or four wickets that turned a Test match, they are the most memorable ones. The six wickets against Australia was like a dream unfolding. That it was in a World Cup was unbelievable. Just sad that we lost the game, really. I was lucky enough to have some great spells. You still relive those moments and never forget the feeling that you had, particularly when you did something and the team had success. As you said, there have been a few in both ODIs and Tests. I will always enjoy the wickets that led to a Test win - they were the most special.
Any regrets about your body not allowing you to continue?
Ah, no. People still say that my career was cut short by injury. I was a late starter anyway, at 26, and I finished at 34. Mitchell Johnson has hung up his boots at the same age as I did. Having watched that last Test match [in Perth], what he was going through, I was going through the same. I wasn't bowling as fast as I used to in training before. I found it hard to stay motivated.
I think Ian Chappell made a comment about retirement - when you start to think about it, it is the time to go. I agree with him. I had a couple of years, but with back injuries, I never thought I would play for New Zealand again. All the games that I did were a real bonus. I am really lucky that the game has been good to me, that I am still involved in it and making a living out of it. It has been brilliant.