From the publishers of THE HINDU
VOL.32 :: NO.39 :: Sep. 26, 2009
“Talking, talking, talking… it makes you tired,” said Javagal Srinath at the lunch break of the BCCI Match Referees’ Seminar at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai recently. The former India fast bowler was all candour while speaking to ‘Sportstar’ on a variety of subjects, including the BCCI’s mandate to umpires to penalise bowlers with suspect action from the 2009-10 season. Srinath is on a special review panel to deal with bowlers with suspect action. An ICC Match Referee, Srinath is on the panel for the Champions Trophy.
Excerpts from the interview:
Question: It’s been three years since you were appointed as an ICC Match Referee. There are certain aspects of cricket of which you must have a better insight now, including player behaviour?
Answer: More than the players, I am intrigued with the formats of the game. I was so sceptical about Twenty20, but the way it’s taken over the world, it has truly changed the dimensions of cricket. The more you grow into the match referee’s job, the more you try to understand the rules, the way it should be interpreted. It gives you more clarity on the process of interpretation of the rules.
It also gives one an insight into the psyche of the players, their thought process, their cultural background, what makes them do certain things, their habits, particularly their ground habits. In the last three years, the deeper I have gone into cricket, I have found out many things that were new to me. You try to understand the rules of the game very practically. I always played the game within the rules, never went on the fringe to give a chance for people to fault me. Everything has to align with the spirit of the game and it gives ample opportunities to interpret the laws accordingly.
The implementation of the rules is not necessarily by the book, but by taking into account the situations and the other intangibles we see with respect to a particular case. It’s quite challenging. More or less all the captains and players are aware of the rules and regulations.
Now, Indian cricket. India is starting another season without the leader of the pace pack, Zaheer Khan. He did not take part in the Sri Lanka Tri-series and is also going to miss the Champions Trophy and the seven-match series against Australia. How does the captain look at the situation ?
For Mahendra Singh Dhoni, it’s important to forge a fast bowling combination. Unfortunately, Zaheer is missing out. Ashish Nehra, a reasonably good guy, has chipped in. If he stays fit and delivers it will be good. For Dhoni to say that these are the three guys who will be there for the next couple of years and to work on them would be very crucial. Unfortunately, there is a new combination in Ishant Sharma, R. P. Singh and Nehra and the constant is only Ishant. Nehra is in and out, R. P. Singh is up and down in form. I hope these three form a string and start working as a team.
It’s taken nearly 10 years (65 Tests/210 wickets and 162 one-day internationals/225 wickets) for Zaheer to come to grips with his bowling…
I think he made a mistake by not going to play County cricket in England in the early part of his career. If he had done that, it would have been a different story altogether. He made it too late (playing County cricket). Nevertheless, he has understood what it is. As you grow older the body starts falling apart; but you have a wealth of experience. Now the question is will the body be able to carry out your commands. Zaheer would have struck a balance when he was strong, had the zest and when he would have gained that experience playing County cricket. And his cricket at the age of 26/27 would have been very smooth and on the fast track. He has already missed out a year and he knows what to do, but his body would not allow him to do that.
Two years ago it was his ankle and now it’s his shoulder. He has already cut down on pace…
It’s quite natural. I don’t think he should compromise on pace; it will always come back. He’s in the right hands of Mark Ferguson in South Africa. He would find it quite challenging to come back, but his consistency will be important. The more he plays, the more effective will he be. He should be physically fit to be picked again. He should not have major problems with his knees and shoulders. When he comes back we should never see Zaheer erring in line or length or changing his thought process with respect to international cricket. These are the areas he can manage.
The return of Nehra has reflected his patience and also told the world that he’s worthy of a place in the Indian team. John Wright felt that he had genuine wicket- taking deliveries in international cricket?
Ashish Nehra has always looked good to be in the team and in the XI. But to pick him in the XI has always been a problem. I think in the last two years he understood that there’s not much time left for him and that he has to really work hard to get into the side. A good thing I have seen in Nehra in the last two years is his affinity to play the longer version of the game, something which he did not show in the initial part of his career. That’s where the growth and consistency are. He has avoided all the short cuts and if he’s fit, he’s going to bowl well for India.
Nehra can be a deadly bowler if he is fit, and can promise to play for four years with consistency. Zaheer has been the best so far among the lefties. RP, I think, has an uncanny ability to take wickets. He is a sharp bowler. He looks innocuous, but he can bowl some wicket-taking deliveries, too.
What’s the template for a seamer to keep fit and also maintain good form? Commitment is also of primary importance?
Zaheer Khan is missing out because of injury, but Ishant Sharma has managed the first two years of his career really well.
No one can bring you fitness. Fitness translates into commitment, to attitude and long term vision of your career. One cannot say he is fit only for one-day matches. Then your mind is not fit. You have to play for 10 years and in all forms of the game and take a break when you are tired. This is how one should start thinking. For that to happen, play the four- and five-day games, get your body pumped up to last the longer version of the game. Then the performance in one-day and Twenty20 would come naturally.
Commitment comes from the longer version of the game. It all depends on how well you bowl on the second day, third spell. That’s where the commitment shows for a bowler and the team. I would never consider an individual as a good bowler if he keeps on playing one-day matches and performs only now and then. That’s the reason why I have never appreciated somebody bowling well in one-day matches in a few games, and then saying he had an off-day and then a few off-days, if he has had a bad series. If one plays Test cricket, there will be lot of consistency in one-day matches. That’s where Ishant has managed the first two years of his international career very well because he was playing a lot of four- and five-day games and also a good number of one-day internationals. That’s where the balance is. Show me a player who has played only one-day internationals for a long time. He will always be in trouble, he would not have played for more than eight to nine months.
Zaheer, R. P. Singh, Nehra, Praveen Kumar, L. Balaji, Munaf Patel, Sudeep Tyagi, Pradeep Sangwan, Bhuvanesh Kumar, Dhaval Kulkarni and of course S. Sreesanth and Irfan Pathan are the established and promising bowlers on the scene. How should the BCCI go about in maintaining them all in good physical health?
Fast bowling conditioning is very important. I would definitely see it as a great idea to run a camp, at least twice a year, for the fast bowlers of India playing in the Ranji Trophy. I think Bharat Arun is doing that at the NCA. That has to happen quite consistently. Once that happens, one will see a lot of improvement. There is this tall fast bowler Abhishek Singh from Delhi. I was very impressed with him at the MRF camp. I even told Bharat Arun to take him to the NCA. These are all raw talent that needs a bit of honing.
The retirement of Kumble has left a big vacuum, but nonetheless he has left space for someone like Harbhajan Singh to attempt and fill it. They are two bowlers of different temperament; one an out and out student of the game and riveted to his work and the other whose temperament can be questioned?
Of course, Harbhajan is capable of doing that. Harbhajan’s 330 wickets in 77 Tests is no joke. He’s almost on a par with Kumble, who at that stage (77 Tests) had 355 wickets. So many people question his temperament, but still he is able to take wickets. He’s still off and on in the news, but I think he has really evolved as a player and I am pleased with his performance. He still has that kid stuff in him and the boiling blood. That’s okay. From a cricketing point he is definitely ready to get into the shoes of Anil Kumble.
Do you think Amit Mishra has the potential to make it big? He has massive experience in first-class cricket and wickets too and he has shown perseverance?
He is very promising and he really came off well taking five wickets against Australia. He’s to be persisted with. Harbhajan and Mishra together could be a great combination on Indian wickets. Only time will tell how this pair can really synergise their efforts. For me Test match performance is the key. Harbhajan and Mishra have done that in Test matches. One requires different skill sets to play international cricket; first-class cricket only conditions a player. There’s a huge difference between first-class and Test cricket.
After Venkatapathy Raju, Pragyan Ojha has emerged?
It’s unfair to judge anybody on one-day performance. I want Ojha to play a lot of four- and five-day games and take wickets. That will be crucial for me.
It’s important for the Indian attack to work as a group now with new faces?
It’s very true. But more than the spinners, it’s the fast bowlers who need to work together. Too much of chopping and changing, players going in and out and injuries will never provide the balance in your bowling department. The fast bowlers attack from the front, so they have to be really good.
What has been the impact of Twenty20 on bowlers ?
I think we are coming to terms with Twenty20 and how it affects the other two formats. I strongly feel that the mindset of each player playing Twenty20 should be very strong. Whatever happens in the shortest version should be set aside and one should wear a different hat when playing Test and one-day cricket.
Harbhajan Singh has the ability to fill the vacuum created by Anil Kumble’s retirement.
Your pick of international seamers?
Dale Steyn, Stuart Broad, in the form now, and Ishant Sharma.
The pitch plays its part in cricket, but taking the pitch out of the equation how should budding fast bowlers work to be successful?
Forget the pitches in India. In India you will never get a good wicket to bowl. If you are pitch-dependent, you will never be a good bowler in India. Probably you will play first-class cricket. My advice to young fast bowlers is, “be independent of the wicket and sustain yourself.” That will build skills. First of all I would look at the number of overs a bowler bowls in first-class cricket. If he is bowling a whole lot of overs that’s the guy you need to look at. If someone bowls four or five overs in the morning session and another four or five in the evening, there’s no point in him playing cricket. He’s just filling a space.
Michael Atherton says serious practice on the morning of a match should be reviewed by teams in order to avoid injuries. Probably because of what happened to Matt Prior (Leeds Test) and Joe Denly?
That’s because of the freak incidents I guess. We have played a lot of football and other games. One can be injured riding a cycle, or while getting down the stairs. One has to be careful. One has to play a different sport to break the boredom. One can also walk and slip.
The BCCI has asked the umpires to call bowlers who infringe the law (throwing). It’s going to be tough on the umpires?
In the last two years there have been many cases of bowlers breaching the law. The umpires have been inefficient. They are not doing their job. Everybody is scared to call someone for chucking. That’s unfair because you are not allowing a bowler with a clean action to come into the team. Bowling with an illegal action is not acceptable. The umpires have to call them now. Our committee has decided that the umpire should be pulled up straightaway if he does not do his job properly.
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