CHENNAI: To say India have the best bowling unit in the world won't be an exaggeration. In the recently concluded series against South Africa, unlike never before, the pacers put up a commanding show on Indian soil. India's bowling coach Bharathi Arun, in an exclusive chat with Express, spoke about what makes the attack the most versatile in the world. Excerpts:
Watching this Indian attack gives so much joy. How is it for you?
Extremely thrilling. India have had great bowlers in the past, but today we are hunting like a pack of wolves. Every single one is capable of winning matches. Pace or spin, we have a world-class attack. They take pride in each other's success and there is healthy competition. That's what teamwork is about. Best thing about them is they always work for the team's cause and when it happens, personal milestones take care of themselves.
When bowling in partnerships, who decides on the aggressor and enforcer?
Since they have been around for a while, they compliment each other. If somebody is on a roll and getting wickets, the bowler at the other end tries only to build pressure. There are two ways of doing that, by going for wickets and tying down the batsmen. We as a unit follow the latter because if both are going for wickets, the batting side might get away with it. When runs are dried up from one end and the bowler attacks, the pressure gets to the opposition.
What makes this attack lethal in all conditions?
Anyone who plays at this level has talent. Our conditions force them to learn many things, including reverse-swing. Their workload is well managed. Earlier also we had bowlers who bowled 140kmph in Javagal Srinath, Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. Unfortunately, they didn't have a bunch of fast bowlers working with them. All the pressure was on them. They are great bowlers, who did a magnificent job. But now, there are at least 3-4 fast bowlers ready to play for India. Everyone is bowling more or less 140kmph and that's a big advantage. Plus, we have a world-class spin attack in R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja. Kuldeep Yadav is evolving and Shahbaz Nadeem is in the wings with 400-plus first-class wickets.
Is pace non-negotiable for you?
There is a misconception that to be accurate, you have to reduce pace. No. If your action is clean and all the things are in place then you can bowl fast for long periods. To bowl fast you need an efficient action and physical preparation. You need to be strong to be explosive over and over again. If you have to bowl 20 overs a day, you need endurance and strength. The most important thing is recovery. For us, it is important to manage their workloads.
Can you elaborate on workload?
We have a GPS system, which monitors how much a bowler runs. On an average, he would be running 18-20km a day, which the world doesn't see. He is on the field for 90 overs. Their body has to recover. Ice-bath, rest and all of it comes into the picture. With help from GPS, we process the information with physio, trainer and decide. We can't decide how much someone bowls in a match because he might in the middle of a spell. But what we can control is how much he bowls in between matches. If there are only three days between Tests, we don't make him bowl for the next two days. He'll do weight training and enjoy a massage.
Indian pacers out-bowled South African pacers. How did it happen?
Conditions were not highly favourable but nor were they harsh. In the first innings Vizag, Shami was attacking off and fourth stump channel to get the nick. In the second, we sat down and figured that best is to attack the stumps. We pushed them on the back foot and if you are doing that on Indian pitches, then you always give a chance to the bowler when he pitches it up and there is slight movement. To be able to push them back, you need pace. What was heartening was the way Shami attacked the No 10 in Ranchi. He attacked him with short balls and it's a statement we want to make. We faced such chin music in the past. This started in Perth when Australian batsmen were struggling against bounce in their own conditions. When you have an attack like this, you might as well exploit.
Is Shami the most improved bowler?
I think Umesh Yadav has been very productive of late. He bowls wicket-taking balls and is consistent. Compared to the early part of his career, Ishant is making the batsman play and getting the rewards. Jasprit Bumrah is No 1 in the world. All of them learn from each other. As I said, they have a healthy relationship and discuss among themselves. It makes my job easier. My job is to give the right feedback so that they can harness their strength. I'm not teaching Shami how to bowl out-swingers. I'm there to sharpen their skills and help them understand better how to use their skills. So many talented bowlers don't reach their potential because they don't know how to use their skills.
Has anyone frustrated you?
If I don't have patience and tend to get frustrated, I shouldn't be doing the job. If someone is not following, I first ask myself have I told him in the right way or am I making a mistake. Frustration comes when you blame others. I explore what I can do better. You are looking for answers or solutions. When you are a little detached from what you are looking at, the best of ideas come up. When you hit a dead end, more avenues open up.
Bumrah seems to have developed an outswinger. How did it happen?
A thinking bowler, he's never satisfied and constantly wants to improve. Even though he has a good yorker, bouncer, and can move the ball, he wants to add the missing element. When he gets a break, he works on that and discusses what he has done. They explore a lot by watching others. He doesn't just rely on working on things that he knows. He goes outside the box and tries different angles, arm positions. Some will work and some might not. When you do such things, you discover something else. Then he tries to repeat it. For a predominantly in-swing bowler, if he tries out-swing, the ball might only straighten up. That in itself is good. Then he will think how to make it swing. It's a gradual process.
Bhuvneshwar doesn't find a place in Tests. The reason?
It's got to do with workload. You can't classify a bowler as meant for one format. Everyone wants to play all three formats. From our point of view, we need to understand his skills. Whether it works in limited-overs or in Tests or in both. Ashwin and Ishant are playing only Tests and it's not that they can't play ODIs. But at the moment, their skillset is supporting Tests. It's for the team's cause. The challenge is to prepare them for all formats and use them in one they are more useful at a given point.
How do you see the competition among spinners? There is talk regarding who is the first-choice.
It'll be wrong on my part to say Ashwin is first choice or Jadeja. If there's space for one, first-choice depends on the opposition and conditions. Whether an off-spinner will be suited or a left-armer or wrist spinner. We have an embarrassment of richest at the moment. Leaving out anyone is tough. On certain wickets, rough will be created more for Jadeja than Ashwin. If there's a left-arm bowler, Ashwin comes into play. All this is considered.