Buddies, reverse-swing and getting back into Test mode

There isn’t a lot that people can gauge from afar on what the players are speaking about in practice sessions. More so, when it comes to fine-tuning techniques or tactics. With India having a new coach in Anil Kumble, the attention of media was naturally diverted to his presence. So when Kumble stepped on to bowl in the nets, it was seen with interest. It was the same when he was seen giving tips to fringe players like Shabaz Nadeem and Jayant Yadav.
The five-day camp in Bangalore acts as India’s precursor to the Test series in West Indies and like many of the players insist, they do not have too much time to get into that mode already. For a new coach, it probably will take a bit longer to settle down and understand the various moods of the team members, but Kumble has started in earnest and has tried to make his mark already.
Like the buddy system that has been reintroduced in the Indian camp. It’s a system where the players are split into pairs with each helping out the other’s weaker suit. So Amit Mishra is helping Cheteshwar Pujara with legspin while also learning batting from him. The same with Rohit Sharma and Stuart Binny and Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Virat Kohli.
“Communication is everything in this sport. It’s about senior guys communicating with junior guys. Actually, we tied up each guy with another,” says Binny. “Me and Rohit paired up together. Rohit has played a lot of one-day and Test cricket. For me, to share thoughts with him is the way forward. If I can help Rohit by two per cent, maybe he can help me with 30 per cent. That’s what we were looking to do today, helping each other in situations.”
“It’s about me and Rohit communicating about our net sessions, areas that I bowl. If I feel that I need to communicate something with him, (I would). In the past, many guys held back (their views) because they didn’t want to say something to upset another guy. But (now), we have been pushed in a direction to communicate what we want, specially with our games. There is a lot you can learn from someone else, even by telling him that I think this is the way forward,” he adds.
“Basically, we have been divided in such a way that the batsmen help bowlers and vice versa,” says leg-spinner Amit Mishra. “So, whenever the situation arises that we have to go with six or seven batsmen, the batsman can chip in and bowl 7-8 overs. My buddy is Pujara. Since he bowls leg spin, he has been teamed with me. So he helps me with batting and I help him with leg spin. That will help the team.”
And what if it comes down to a fight between the buddies for a lone spot in the playing eleven? “Noooo! Not yet,” chuckles Binny. “I hope it doesn’t come to that. Look, the team comes first. Whatever needs to be done on that day or before the Test match, we are there to do it.”
When it comes to the Tests in West Indies, the group of 17 contains only four members who have encountered the situation. Mishra had played just one game while the last time India went there, while Kohli, the current Test captain, made his Test debut. So while the preparations are going in earnest, for most of the team, the conditions are certainly something that will test them.
And they have been planning for the same. “We have already started preparing. The wickets outside (in practice) are not the ones with grass. They are hard wickets which have spin and bounce. That’s the type of wickets we saw when England went there (to West Indies). We saw Anderson pick five wickets on, I think, the third morning of a Test match. That’s what we are practicing on, at the moment. We have started already on wickets like those,” says Binny, who also laments the fact that he couldn’t pick his father’s brains for more inputs.
Bhuvneshwar Kumar adds that with the wickets in the Caribbean likely to be on the slower side, the team’s pacers have been concentrating on trying to get the ball to reverse.
“Reverse-swing becomes very crucial and it’s something we are really working on,” he says. “We know that there are bouncy wickets, but not much swing as there is in England, or even here in India. We know that reverse-swing can really help us and we are working on that. When it reverses, (the fast bowlers) don’t have to (play a holding role). Reverse-swing is something that fast bowlers want to bowl and they are really wicket-taking balls.”
For most in the team, the preparations aren’t just about the different conditions but also the switch between formats. For close to three months, with the 2016 ICC World Twenty20 followed by the Indian Premier League, they have been thinned on a diet of T20. The switch isn’t an easy one to turn on. “It’s more mental,” as Binny says. With that also comes the challenges for different players.
For someone like Shikhar Dhawan, the challenge is countered by a change in practice. “I prepare differently for different formats, yes,” he says. “Even in IPL, I was talking to Laxman bhai. What I’ve heard is that we might get slow wickets. So that’s how we are preparing for it. We are preparing to play reverse swing. “Of course, in Test matches, we cannot play as many shots as in T20s. That’s what the game demands. I can’t tell about others, but I prepare differently. I leave lots of balls in Test cricket. As an opener, the new ball does a bit and I have to play close to the body,” Dhawan adds. For Amit Mishra, having someone like Kumble around would be a boon, one would fathom. Mishra insists that they aren’t talking too much technique at this stage. “The finer details that he is discussing with me (are) like, on how to bowl on particular wickets, bowl a little in the front, or increase pace, or how to bowl to a particular batsman. We have been putting our plans in place for all their top batsmen on how to bowl and what pace we bowl to them and also fielding placements,” he says on his discussions with Kumble.
“There is more emphasis on planning than technique. Obviously, the small technical changes, there is very little time for us before the Tests. So we talk a lot more about planning,” adds Mishra.
As part of the practice, the Indian squad will also be playing a game between themselves in the ground at Alur on Sunday (June 3). It’s another step into getting into match groove. In addition to this, they will have just two practice games in West Indies before heading to the Tests. There’s no doubt that these two games, in St Kitts, are awaited in anticipation by a lot of these players to help acclimatise to the conditions and challenges. For now though, they are predicting that the wickets are bound to be slow in nature, more so with so much cricket being played there, including the ongoing Caribbean Premier League. Whether these plans come to fruition will only be answered in time but there are indications that they have started taking thoughtful and earnest steps towards their goals.

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