Meet Bharat Arun, man behind India’s recent fast bowling riches

From his days as NCA coach to what made the Indian attack tick in all conditions, he spoke on a variety of topics.

Published: 18th November 2021 10:54 PM  |   Last Updated: 18th November 2021 10:54 PM   |  A+A-

Team India's bowling coach Bharat Arun

Team India's former bowling coach Bharat Arun (Photo | PTI)

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Bharat Arun, India's bowling coach until recently, sat down with this daily for a chat. From his days as NCA coach to what made the Indian attack tick in all conditions, he spoke on a variety of topics. Excerpts from an interview...

How is it to be finally out of the bubble?

Life in the bubble is very tough. Being confined to a room and to restricted places in the hotel for an extended period of time is not easy. In fact, the players have been through a lot of hardships. For me, the bubble is over for the time being. So it is time to enjoy and relax for a bit.

The T20 World Cup didn't go well. But seven years with the team, how satisfying was the journey?

It would have been the icing on the cake if we had won the trophy. However, it was not to be and it was certainly a disappointment for us. But overall, it has been an outstanding one with ups and downs. We have achieved a lot from where we began in 2014. The biggest satisfaction is the team has ended up definitely much better than when it was. That is something we are going to feel proud about.

Let's go back to 2014. You had just come back from the Under-19 World Cup and a couple of months later, you get a call from Ravi Shastri…

I was working with the Under-19 team then and had won the World Cup in 2012. In 2014, we lost in the semifinals. Then I was with the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association as their director of cricket. Six months into the job, I was driving when I got a call from Ravi asking if I could be the bowling coach of the Indian team. That was my dream and that is what I started of to be... to be the bowling coach of the Indian team one day. And it fell into my lap. Who would refuse such an offer?

You had done a fair bit of work in the National Cricket Academy. Tell us how Dav Whatmore brought you there?

Actually, I was with Bengal as their Ranji Trophy coach. NCA had invited me to take a Level II class while I was with the team. I was doing it in my spare time and one day, Whatmore, who was the director of cricket at the NCA, sat in one of my classes. Once the session was over, he asked if I would be interested in being the chief bowling coach at the NCA. That was an exciting offer for me and also in terms of coaching the players and coaches, you were going to be with the cream of the country and get to work with the future bowlers of the country. That was exciting for me and once my term with Bengal was over, I instantly took it up.

You are a very hands-on coach. Were you into bio-mechanics at that point in time too?

I know a very small part of bio-mechanics which is helpful for a coach. Bio-mechanics is a huge subject and what they teach at Level III is the basics of it for a coach to understand from a sport point of view. That triggered my intuition to learn more about bio-mechanics. I bought a few books which were there for the coaches. It had illustrations to help me understand the underlying principles of the subject better. Bio-mechanics is nothing but internal and external factors acting on a human body. So how do these forces either enhance a player or they do not allow the player to get the best out of him. So once we understand this, it becomes easy to coach a player.


You entered the Indian dressing room in 2014. Did your project to build a core of fast bowlers start then or was it much later?

When you get into the Indian team, you would like to make a difference. Bring something new to the table. But at the same time, you don't want to be shooting too soon because the first thing you need to do is understand a player. It takes time. I always believed coaching is all about coaching the player and not coaching the sport. So I wanted to have a firm understanding of each bowler because each one is different. That understanding would go a long way in our communication. Any relationship is built on trust. I needed to get the trust of the players before they listened to me. So I thought first let me just sit back, observe what is going on, and see where are the changes and what are the things I can bring on to help the team. So the first year went in observing and unfortunately before I could take any further my stint ended when Anil Kumble took over. For about 9-10 months I was out. Then again Ravi brought me back to the Indian team.

Did the 10-months you spent away from the Indian team a blessing in disguise, as you were able to see the next rung of fast bowlers?

To be honest, I initially felt disappointed. But after that I realized that whatever you do, you can't stop me from coaching and it is my forte. Where ever I coach, I want to make a difference. So when I went to Hyderabad, I saw Mohammed Siraj and others who did well too. Seeing them was a big challenge and it was the first time in Hyderabad history that their fast bowlers took more than 100 wickets in a Ranji season. That gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Before joining the team, had you observed the Indian team as an outsider?

Actually, even then I used to watch the Indian team play on the perception of a coach and not as a fan. India could always boast of having good fast bowlers, but at that time I felt they were not consistent at the international level to create that impact you need. So maybe if I got an opportunity, I would work on the very areas and make it right.

You played in an era where everyone looked up to Kapil Dev. How was the fast-bowling culture then when compared to now?

There were a lot of myths in those days handed down by generations where they said weight-training is not recommended for fast bowlers and it is going to make you stiff and not good and a pacer should do running all the time. See, fast-bowling is an explosive activity. Actually, any activity in cricket is explosive. Be it batting, where you need to hit big shots, run between the wickets... In fielding, you are chasing the ball all of a sudden. And then there is a period of inactivity. So when only explosive activity is going on, all we were doing was slow marathon running and stretching exercises... which may help, but these are not directly helpful to what you are doing on the field. Now, lot of learning and studies have helped. Though it is not my field of expertise, I have picked the brain of trainers and physics who I have come to contact with. In the Indian team we had Shankar Basu, Nitin Patel and Patrick Farhart before...who all brought into the idea that we need to have a potent fast bowling force, create a structure where they are extremely strong. Their training methodology had to be different from what they are doing now. And after all this, we had to manage their workload. So all of it had to be in place which helps immensely.

You spoke about building a culture. In the 90s you had fast-bowling academies, but why did it take so long to create one?

When I was with the NCA, the MRF Pace Foundation was also there and actually, if you look at it India always had good fast bowlers – Kapil Dev, Javagal Srinath, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel. All these were quick and were clocking excess of 140 and 145kmph. But over a period of time, they all slowed down. And this led to us doing some sort of research at the NCA and then we had submitted a paper to then BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale saying what are the factors and why pacers bring down their speed and what we can do to arrest it. He was very impressed by it, but unfortunately, he couldn't take it forward. Later on, the same thing came up when I was with the Indian team. And now we had these fast bowlers and also guys who brought into this project. Ravi and Virat Kohli helped instantly too. Because Virat wanted to build a culture around fitness and Ravi was like, 'if you think it is going to do good, then go ahead, you have my full backing'. So those things helped in putting a culture in place.

For a culture to fall in place it takes time and starting from the captain, coach, BCCI, NCA, you need everyone on the same page. Did it take a lot of effort to bring in?

Not really. When we spoke to Virat and Ravi, they were up for it. Even if it is not possible everywhere, let us at least do it at the Indian team. So that was a big step for us. And then we spoke to the NCA, and they too were ready to be on board because we needed a strong support system and luckily Rahul Dravid became the NCA coach and there was considerable support from the academy for us to carry on with the project. As far as the rest, the fast bowlers were taken into confidence and they were told about the plan and once they agreed, they instantly started seeing the results. And they all brought into the theory in quick time.

In India, you are always judged on results and these sorts of projects need time. During the phase how was it to handle the pressure?

Coaching India is about handling the pressure. No matter what you do the previous game. Every match you take the field, you have to win. And Ravi Shastri was very, very clear in that sense. In order to create a winning culture, you have to be prepared to lose. So don't worry about losing. Even when we went to Australia for the first time in 2014, he said I don't mind losing even 4-0, but the brand of cricket that we are going to play should make a difference. And we went on to do that. Even now, as recently as 36 all out, he told us we can't go lower than this and the only way was up. To sum up, I can use the same phrase that Ravi used in his final press conference: It is not about what you achieve, but what you overcome.

You have said in the past how playing on pitches back home helps Indian pacers learn about reverse-swing. A few seasons back the BCCI tried having 4mm grass in Ranji Trophy. Did that also contribute in increasing the fast-bowling pool?

When you start bowling on helpful tracks it is a big fillip to a young bowler coming up. He is willing to bend his back and when he sees a pitch that is not responsive, he holds back and it is not good for them. So every time they see a wicket where they can go all out, they bring the best out of them. But, yes, once they achieve the objective, then they have to adjust to different conditions and that is a skill.

Most players tend to ask where they are going wrong more than what they are doing right. In that sense, how did you deal with different bowlers?

At the international level, you get a chance to correct little things. It may seem trivial, but it becomes extremely important for the bowler to get better. Sometimes, over a period of time, you can pick up a bad habit without even you realising it. So as a coach, we need to constantly interact with the bowlers and see if the basics are right. If that is right, the big picture will automatically fall in place. It is a constant dialogue between the bowlers and me. I watch them closely to see whether they are doing the right thing and I also tend to see their old videos to see if anything is off place. I only step in when I see something is needed to be addressed.

You also tend to watch a lot of videos even at the hotel when there are no matches...

I actually do that on a constant basis because I like to compare them with what they were doing when they were bowling at their best. Is the action the same, have they made any changes are things I observe. It gives them an understanding of where they stand today and if there is anything alarming, I tend to give suggestions and bring the bowler on board, show the video and ask him why he is doing this or is he trying something different. These dialogues helps. If he says no, then I tell him this is an area which could become a problem later and address it now. So when I do that, they are constantly doing the right thing at the nets.

And you drop these videos in the in-house app?

It is how you interact with the bowlers. I know when a bowler has had a bad day, he would feel let down. Sport is about failures. You tend to fail more than you succeed. Failures are also important to be successful. So understanding what we have done wrong when we failed is more important than sulking. I would generally like to boost their mood up and look at where they can get better.

Fast-bowling is injury-prone. Even if a little thing is not right it could go wrong. So how did you prepare Bumrah for Tests?

Much before he played Test cricket, he told me his dream was to play Test cricket and 'people see me as a white-ball bowler, but I can do it in Tests too’. Then I told Ravi this guy said this to me and he wants to play Test cricket. Then Ravi asked what I thought about it. I told 'it is worth giving it a try'. So Ravi went and spoke to Virat, who then managed to convince the selectors to get Bumrah picked for the Test series. Plus, in the net sessions prior to the Tests in South Africa, Virat was very impressed from what he faced at the nets.

And how did Bumrah add out-swing to his armory? Because with his action, it seemed a different process altogether...

Bumrah always asks you questions that are pertinent. Some work for him and some won't. If we feel it doesn't work, we ask him to drop it. But he wanted to develop the outswinger and he worked really hard on his wrist position. So for that, a bowler has to be willing to come out of his comfort zone. It is extremely important for any bowler to constantly come out of his comfort zone in order to go up. And Bumrah is one such player, who is not satisfied with what he has. He is always looking for more armoury to be added and he is a dream professional to work with.

You spoke about players dropping pace in the previous era. But there was a period where the likes of Bhuvneshwar and others gained a few yards of pace too. How did that happen?

It depends on each bowler. Bhuvi definitely increased his pace, but his forte was swing. So without compromising on the swing, if you can pick up pace that is the best thing that can happen. To increase pace, it all depends on his fitness levels and the rhythm you gain from the run-up and how strong his action is. As a coach, I would be looking at the run-up, the lead up to the run-up, the balance of the crease. And the trainer prepares, the physio repairs (laughs). Inputs from them and the combination of few drills is what we do to increase pace.

The five-bowler strategy has become a constant theme. But there are matches where you had to rotate them depending on conditions and it has happened when they had a good performance in the previous match. What were your conversations with them?

See this team revolves around being fearless and honest. When a player is dropped, it is my responsibility to tell him why he is dropped. No beating around the bush. It is being brutal,  honest and telling him either your bowling doesn't suit these conditions or you need to work more on your consistency or whatever it may be. But an honest message goes to the bowler. They may be angry with us and it has happened. And it is good because it needs to hurt them. It will make them work harder on the aspects they lack. Now they have the confidence that when we drop them for some reason… if they can correct it, they can get back to the team. The job of giving the confidence is on us once that initial drama is over.

And you don't sugarcoat at all?

It is better that way because if I sugarcoat, momentarily it may be good. But he will go back and say the coach is bull-shitting. So I think it is best to give specific reasons. He may disagree, but it is what the management has decided. He may still disagree, but when I take a call, it is purely based on data, statistics, how is he bowling now and how good he was earlier. So I sit with him and tell him all this and say I'm here to work with you. And the minute it is fixed, he comes back. They may get angry but they resign to the fact they need to change to get back.

In that sense, Ashwin's omission was a big talking point during the England tour. What were you telling him?

A lot of people ask Ashwin asks too many questions, does it get irritating. On the contrary, I have had some great conversations with him because he brings the best out of me as a coach. The questions he asks are extremely intelligent and I have to deep dive into my coaching knowledge to convince him with my answers. So talking to him, I learn a lot. I need to evolve and they need to evolve. That was the relationship me and Ashwin shared and he knew why we couldn't play him. He is one bowler who is not afraid to come out of his comfort zone and he is always exploring for areas he can get better. The manual says spinners should discover themselves and if you don't come out of the comfort zone, how will you be able to understand what you are capable of? It is exactly what Ashwin does.

How do you see the spin-bowling resources in India.

To be honest, I haven't seen much of domestic cricket. But with Ashwin being the fittest since I've known him, Ravindra Jadeja, Axar Patel, Kuldeep, Chahal and Kuldeep around… it augurs well. But every time you believe something is going haywire, some good talent comes up in the country. Kuldeep has tremendous potential and is going to be the future of spin in India. He needs to work on few things and once he does that, he will back in the team

Was the past year the best you have seen Indian pacers perform?

Yes. In my coaching career, those were the real highs -- Australia and England. The back-to-back wins in Australia were special. The first time we won, they said David Warner and Steve Smith were not there, and the second time around, it was the opposite. Australia played with a full-strength side and we played without our top bowlers and batters. We played with a young side and the kind of mettle they showed in Australia was really worth being part off. The performance of the team in England was also commendable.

During the Australia tour, even before the Tests began, you had decided about giving opportunities to youngsters. Did bubble life prompt that?

The Indian players were indoors for about seven months. Not having access to ground and training can have an impact on any player if you don't follow a routine for seven months. And then the IPL happened and it is a short format. Because the body was not conditioned to the usual routine, it led to injuries. Each time the physio walked towards us, we felt threatened because we knew he was coming up with another injury update. That's when we decided.. we had spoken about giving opportunities to youngsters. We thought no matter what, give them the confidence so that they go out and excel. They are talented. And the way they came to the party was really, really commendable.

Ravi Shastri looks at Washington Sundar almost like his own son. Where did it come from?

I think Ravi sees a lot of himself in Washington Sundar. And he feels he is more than a capable bat and a decent bowler. Which is what made him to give the opportunity. The other guy, who is really under-rated in Test matches is Shardul Thakur. What he has done in two opportunities -- at Brisbane and Leeds -- shows he is also a good batter. He can pick up valuable wickets and he has all-round material suited for Test cricket and if he can build around it, we will still be a potent attack in years to come.

You tend to give key to players by even riling up. Mohammed Shami with Vizag Test being a case in point..

For example, with Bumrah, I remember an incident in Sydney (2019). We had won more or less won the series and Sydney Test was heading towards a draw and he told me, 'I have bowled a lot in this series and I'm a little tired.' So I challenged him to go win the Test and think the series depends on this match. Because if a batter faces Bumrah who is slow, he will get the confidence that he can play him better next time. And Bumrah is very sensitive to such things. And Bumrah went on to bowl the fastest spell of the tour on that day. With Shami, you bad-mouth him, make him angry without even him realising it, he will do the best for you. I know when he is angry and will tell him, you just go do this job for us, don't give any excuses. So handling each bowler is different and as a coach, I should understand what triggers a player.

The other bowler who has changed a lot is Ishant Sharma. How did the turnaround happen?

Ishant was always an economical bowler. But whenever the batters faced him, they left a lot of balls. If he bowled 50, he will make them play 20. That was not the control level we wanted. We said, with his action, a small tweak could bring the ball back in a long way. So we told him the challenge is to make the batsman play and be economical. So he took it up. He was going too close to the stumps and we changed it a bit and made him go wider from the middle of the box. That made the natural angle to come in and he was lot more consistent in making batters play and that resulted in wickets.


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