Two days on, the euphoria of India’s famous Test series win in Australia is yet to die down. Bowling coach Bharat Arun, who was at the centre of it all, spoke extensively on the planning that went into the series and how they coped with injuries to key personnel.
Match after match you kept losing bowlers. You pretty much had a greenhorn attack. What did you tell them and how did you get them so equipped in only their second or third match they were playing?
Australia is one of the most challenging tours, especially during these COVID times. It was a great move by Ravi Shastri also to hold back all the bowlers who had come as net bowlers. After the one-day series, most of them were supposed to go back. But then we thought if something happens to a player, then it would not be possible for anyone to come because of the restrictions. So we said, we’ll manage with everyone here. Because they were with us for a long period of time, it was possible for them to understand what it demands to be successful in Australia and work on those very lines. Them being with us did help a great deal.
How do you insert belief in bowlers like Mohammed Siraj and Navdeep Saini that they could pick 20 wickets even without Jasprit Bumrah?
All that we were talking about was the need to be consistent. They all have ability to bowl well. They all have wickets under the belt. Test cricket is no different. The only thing is margin of error in Test cricket is very, very small and that is the thing which they need to eliminate. Every time they were in the nets, they had to decide lines they’re going to bowl and had to discuss with me.
My job was to give them right feedback and assess with them how far they are satisfied with what have done that particular day. Every net session, if you are looking to improve on what you want to execute the match just becomes an extension of the net (session). Of course, the pressures are different (in Test cricket), but the players have reacted under pressure, and they have looked upon the challenge as an opportunity to excel. That is what makes champions. That is what these players have done and that has contributed in us having done exceptionally well in Australia.
Do you think the Brisbane Test an indicator that as and when whenever Ishant Sharma and Mohammed Shami are not available the transition phase will be smooth with new bowlers coming in like Mohammed Siraj, Navdeep Saini and Shardul Thakur?
It is not done right now. We have been planning this over the last three years. We said we need an excellent bench strength because if you need India to sustain doing well at the international level, you need a pool of bowlers who would be rotated time and again so that time and again they stay fresh. And at any point of time, you will be fielding a fresh set of bowlers who will be rearing to go, who are very good at the international scene. So, now, we are blessed with a great bench strength. It’s very heartening to know when they were given the opportunity, they have come to the party and gone on and done great things for the country. This tour would give them the necessary confidence to do well for the country at any given point of time.
We have seven fast bowlers willing to play for the country, especially the number of Test matches we are going to play. Four against England now and five against England, that’s a lot of Test matches if we need to give in our best performance. I think it will be extremely handy. More than looking at how we are going to phase them out, I think they have enough cricket, their experience is outstanding and they are still good enough to perform for India. Yes, these boys will also be there. We spoke about the rotation policy, they all will be rotated and make sure we will put out the best team on the park.
When do you know that a particular bowler is ready to play in Test cricket?
Anyone who is selected to play for the country is ready and good enough. But the challenge at the highest level is consistency. All these boys, Saini and Shardul Thakur and Mohammad Siraj have been in and out of the Indian team in the last two-three years and they perfectly understand what it demands to be successful here.
When you analyse the Indian team’s success and you look at the track records of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah and Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav, the bottom line would be consistency. These boys that are there with us, they have been watching and learning. When given the opportunity, I thought they took it with both hands and came to the party.
You persisted with five bowlers despite the frontline fast bowlers being injured. Despite limited resources how confident were it would work against Australia?
We had formed this five-bowler theory three years ago and most of the times with stick with five bowlers abroad. To bowl out a team, in conditions abroad, it demands a lot out of four bowlers. It’s a huge, huge task for us to do that. In my opinion and the team’s opinion Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri have been extremely firm by saying that that we need to be playing five bowlers to be successful abroad. Yes, sometimes, you may lose matches, but the guiding principle of this team is in being fearless and honest. In the pursuit of excellence, we don’t fear losing games. We will lose a few games but then those few games will be teaching us a lot of lessons. Sport is about failures and how you bounce back from failures makes you much better sportsman and that is exactly principle that that we’re going with.
Even in the last Test match (in Brisbane), there were discussions about playing the extra batsman, but we thought that would be a negative move. All of us, the captain [Ajinkya Rahane] and the support staff, felt that the five-bowler theory has worked for us, let us back that. Also the fact that Washington Sundar, the way he was batting in the nets, that he is a capable bat. Also being a left-hander, let’s be positive and take the five-bowler theory.
Every since the victory in the Gabba Test there has been talk of fearlessness in this Indian team? Can you define it and how you gone about creating it?
You fear when you have certain goals and you’re only thinking of the outcome and you do not have the process in place. There is an element of fear. You do not want to lose game, you want to play it safe. We as a team, that’s exactly what Ravi Shastri and Virat Kohli have been insisting with this team, we don’t mind losing.
Even after the Adelaide Test match, yes we need to learn to get over it but what Ravi Shastri said to the team is “I don’t even mind losing us 4-0, but we are known for the brand of cricket that we play, that should never change and we should never play conservative and we should always look to be more positive. That is the message that has gone to this team. Had we even lost in Australian that was not going to deter the way we play the game, the way we play cricket. Again, that paid rich dividends.
The last Test they played is the testimony to the attitude of the boys. They were asked to go and express themselves and take it as it comes and see where we are tea and take a call. But the way Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar played at that point in time, not forgetting the bravado with which Cheteshwar Pujara showed that day, he was like a warrior taking a lot of blows but he was there undeterred. What these two boys on their own have done on the last day of the Test match, taking the fight to the Aussies and not being afraid. They were not thinking of drawing the match but how to win from here. That takes a lot of courage. That is what I call fearlessness. Sometimes you are bound to lose a game but those kind of games are going to teach you some invaluable lessons which is going to make you a much better cricketer in the future.