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Discussions on Technique Overrated, Rohit Has Attitude to Succeed in Tests: Kumble

After a convincing win in the first Test against South Africa at Vizag, India head into the second at Pune with very few concerns. Former Indian Captain and coach Anil Kumble reflects on the big talking points to emerge from the first Test.

Gaurav Kalra |October 9, 2019, 8:54 AM IST
Discussions on Technique Overrated, Rohit Has Attitude to Succeed in Tests: Kumble

After a convincing win in the first Test against South Africa at Vizag, India head into the second at Pune with very few concerns. Former Indian Captain and coach Anil Kumble reflects on the big talking points to emerge from the first Test.

GK) India has a very good record at home, they have only lost 4 Test matches since 2010, and only one since 2013. But do these wins get undermined a bit because they come at home?

AK) Yeah, that was the challenge when I was playing as well. I mean, whenever India plays at home, you tend to take those victories for granted, and when you lose abroad, everyone jumps up and says that those are the matches that you need to win. In any other sport, take Tennis for example, nobody bothers about where you win.

Yes, some people are clay court champions, some are grass champions but they’re champions. So, you don’t look at their record and say “no, no, this individual did not win do he’s not a complete champion, nobody gets to that.

They’re all great players. So, yes, you need to give equal importance and I’m glad that since the advent of ICC’s Test Championship, nobody looks at a home victory as lesser than an away victory. So, India has started exceptionally well in the Test Championship with 3 wins out of 3.

GK) Just one more thought on this theme, from a players’ point of view, is it disturbing at some times to have these performances undermined?

AK) You need to win overseas as well. If you want to be a complete team, you need to have consistent performances across formats and countries. In difficult situations, you want the team to respond. I think if you look at an overall 5-year period, and if you performed consistently well in all these counties and are winning series, then you’re looked at as a very good team.

Yes, you’re judged by performances not just at home but you also how you’ve performed outside of India, especially outside the Asian sub-continent. So, yes, those performances certainly count a lot more when people assess a team’s or an individual’s performance. But for me, as a player, you need to look at a Test match as a Test match, irrespective of where you’re playing, you still have to win consistently those situations and those moments in a Test match. You have to identify the key moment and winning those moments will matter in a Test match.

Although you have time to come back and those are little moments where India has done really well. Yes, you’ll be judged by your performances, India was certainly judged by winning in Australia. People talk about the losses in South Africa and England, so those losses with certainly rankle as India keeps consistently winning at home. So, it’s only fair that there’s a debate. But having said that, I don’t think anyone should take Test matches at home for granted.

GK) Before this series started, I asked you about Rohit Sharma as opener, and you were not quite sure about whether that's the right move. Well in this case, it seems to have paid off, with hundreds in each innings. Do you see him who is equipped for this role in the long run?

AK) Yeah, I think so. When you asked me this prior to the series, I said until and unless you give him an opportunity, you won’t know. Now, he’s grabbed this opportunity with both hands. So, you have to give credit to Rohit. The way he’s batted, he’s matured since the time he made his Test debut. Let’s not forget that his Test career so far has been interrupted with a lot of injuries, freak injuries and some injuries which have come at the wrong time.

I remember when I was the coach, he did exceptionally well in the Test series and then against New Zealand, he picked up that injury on his thigh, and he was out for almost 5-6 months. That was big enough for Rohit to lose his place in the team, and when he eventually made his comeback, he was always in and out. But this opportunity he’s grabbed with both hands and I’m really happy for Rohit because once he gets going, it’s really hard to keep him under check.

We saw that, he’s someone who likes to go after the spin bowlers and hits those massive sixes. To go through centuries in both the innings, he can take the game away from the opposition, and that’s exactly what he’s done.

Rohit Sharma in action (AFP) Rohit Sharma in action (AFP)

GK) Just wear your coach's hat for a minute, Anil. Just looking at him as a pure batsman, do you see him being able to transfer this kind of success as opener to overseas conditions as well? Where, obviously, the challenge will be different, with the moving ball, the bouncing ball, etc.

AK) Yeah, I think we’ll only know once we get there. There’s no need to worry too much about those conditions at this point in time. He has the experience to adjust. In my view, a lot of the technique and discussions about technique are overrated. You want in Test cricket, people with character, people who take up the challenge, who stand up to the occasion and not get flustered with what’s coming at them from the other end. So, if you have that kind of an attitude, invariably you’ll succeed, irrespective of whether you have the technique or not.

I think the most important aspect in Test cricket is your attitude, and that’s something that we’ve seen Rohit have in plenty. So, I don’t see him worrying too much about what’s going to happen when India travel to South Africa, Australia or England. I think he’ll be able to manage those at that point. Let’s enjoy what he’s done in this Test match, and I’m sure he’ll be looking forward to the next two Test matches against South Africa and piling up more runs.

GK) Let's also talk about the other success story with the bat in this Test match, Mayank Agarwal?

AK) When he first came into the scene, in the T20 format, we knew he had the potential, he had the class, he was flamboyant. He would take on the bowler, irrespective of the pace, and we knew the potential that Mayank had. Unfortunately, he faded off, and then he went through the hard grind in domestic cricket, scoring hundreds, double-hundreds, triple-hundreds. Massive scores in domestic cricket and that’s what you want.

He’s probably a breath of fresh air for some of the first-class batsmen who struggle day-in day-out, even after piling up those runs. There’s hope for them to make it to the Indian team because Mayank certainly the flag-bearer of those who get a lot of runs in domestic cricket. So, I’m really happy for Mayank that he’s come through the hard grind, he’s got his opportunity. He did extremely well on his debut at MCG, and now to score a double-century at the start of the season, is a great for him.

It’s a confidence booster, he can now play with freedom, not worry too much about the pressure that he has as an opener. So, he has learnt from the hard-yards, he knows that this is an opportunity that he doesn’t want to give up now. You can see that hunger and I’m glad that he was able to get his first Test ton but even converted that to a double.

Mayank Agarwal celebrates his double ton (AFP) Mayank Agarwal celebrates his double ton (AFP)

GK) Let's now talk about a subject you've touched on repeatedly over the last year. We've been having these conversations about R Ashwin and his position in this Indian setup. Before the series began, you said that he is India's number 1 spinner, and in that first innings there was clear evidence of why Ashwin is India's number 1 spinner. Yet the talk around the circuit almost seemed to be, is he even going to make the 11. Just this 7-wicket performance in that first innings, how do you assess it?

AK) You don’t want your premier spinner to be discussed before a Test series or a Test match, thinking about whether he’ll make it to the team. I think it’s sad but he’s showed his class. He’s the fastest to 350 Test wickets, it’s something amazing. You know, I think Ashwin, not just as a bowler but as an all-rounder, is an asset to the team. Him and Ravindra Jadeja will give you enough armoury with the spin and can also give you solid batting performances consistently, and they’ve done that in the lower-middle order for India.

So, I don’t see a reason why anyone needs to go beyond these two spinners unless there’s something else that you want to look for, or if one of them is not fully fit. I you’re considering a third spinner, then yes, Kuldeep Yadav is of course a genuine spinner, and you’d want a wrist spinner to be in your team. But having said that, Ashwin is your premier spinner and I’m certainly happy with what he’s done because you can’t stop people from discussing. But, now hopefully he would have shut them up. He’s a class act.

GK) Just talk to us about certain skills that we as common observers of the game would not understand. But you obviously, having done this for so many years and with so much success. Just when you see him bowl now, can you tell us what is it that makes him such a difficult bowler to face, especially in these conditions?

AK) I think it is the subtle variations that he comes up with and what was really satisfying was that it was a flat wicket and he knew he has to bowl consistently on one side of the pitch and on one side of the wicket. The line was consistent, the length was consistent, he kept varying his pace and trajectory and he wasn't experimenting too much and I think playing those four or five county matches leading up to this Test match certainly came in handy.

You need those overs under your belt before you come on because in the last few months he hasn't played any cricket for India internationally so he was low on confidence. So, it was important that Ashwin got those overs under his belt and those subtle variation coming over the stumps, going around the stumps, angles, he uses them to fantastic effect.

I mean you may not get too much from the pitch on Day 1, Day 2, this wicket was something like that. You need variation from the air, variation in the angle and variation in some of the deliveries that he bowls, and he did that. Those variations you don't need to show to anybody else but show only to the batsman and I am sure the batsman were finding it difficult because he was able to maneuver the batsmen to making mistakes and that is exactly what he did. Some of the wickets that he got were the classical off-spin deliveries. The one that he got Markram out with was a classical off spinner.

So, you would want your classical off spinner to be getting those kind of wickets. In the first innings, you can't get a better performance from Ashwin, yes you have to bowl a lot more overs and that is something he has understood as well in Test match cricket. On a flat wicket, you need to bowl 35-40 overs for you to pick up those fifers and that's exactly what he did.

(BCCI) (BCCI)

GK) Jadeja is the other one. I know you touched upon him but in the second innings, he had a lot of success. He picked up quick wickets. In the first innings though, South Africa did get over him a little bit. Do you sense that Jadeja is more reliant on conditions than say an Ashwin?

AK) I don't think you should isolate your two spinners. I think what is important is as a pair, how devastating they have been. I think that has been a critical aspect of cricket, I think both Ashwin and Jadeja have complemented each other and in the first innings it was crucial that both of them bowl in a tandem and put that pressure. At the end of it, you know, pressure gets batsmen out and these two spinners put a lot of pressure on the batting line up and some days Ashwin is successful, some days Jaddu is successful so in the second innings what I saw of Jaddu when he bowled he bowled from a lot close to the stumps because he knew the ball was keeping a bit low and he had to be closer.

I mean the classic delivery to left-hander the way he got Dean Elgar out, he was really close to the stumps and he knew he had to be in line if he had to get him out LBW and that is something that he has realized that on this surface if the ball is keeping up and down then you really need to be close to the stumps.

GK) A couple of other individuals that I wanted your thoughts on. India mostly win their Test matches at home with the spinners picking up the bulk of wickets. But that final innings performance from Shami, yet again, is something that is a recurring theme.

AK) Yeah going into the fifth day there was a lot of talk about Ashwin and Jadeja being the critical bowlers for Team India if they are to win this Test match but Shami put his hands up and it was perfect conditions for someone like Shami. Because he bowls wicket to wicket he understands the game, he reads the game really well.

When it comes to second innings of you look at the percentage of delivery that has been hitting the stumps vis-a-vis any other bowler Shami's percentage is really high and that because he realizes that in Indian conditions, in second innings and if that happens to be the fifth day of the match you tend to get a lot of wickets getting the batsman bowled or LBW and he was just bowling wicket to wicket, he changed the angle but most importantly he was consistent with his pace and we all know how good the seam position is when Shami is bowling with the new ball.

And that is what he did, he put the pressure on the South African batsman and just changed the angle and kept the length consistent. The line was always aimed at the three stumps. The top of off what he was trying, yes if the ball was kept low it was hitting the bottom of the off stump, it didn't really matter but he was consistently bowling the line to hit the stumps and that is exactly what we have seen. Shami reads the game well especially when it comes to the second innings.

(Twitter)

GK) Anil, a couple of months back, in a press-conference, MSK Prasad said: For the foreseeable future, Rishabh Pant is India's first choice wicket-keeper in all three formats. Now suddenly, we have this unique situation where Pant comes back home after a middling series in the West Indies and loses his spot to albeit a better wicket-keeper. How are you reading all of this?

AK) Saha, we all know the quality that he brings behind the stumps. There are no two ways that he is India's best keeper. And in-fact he is probably the best keeper in the world. He was absolutely brilliant behind the stumps, he did exceptionally well even in the front of the stumps.

In a couple of occasions when India were in trouble, he got them out of trouble. Got a hundred, I remember in Ranchi and St. Lucia, he got those brilliant hundreds when we were in trouble. So yes he missed out because of his shoulder injury and Rishabh Pant made use of this opportunity and batted well and he kept well as well but to me what is critical is if he is not playing in a Test match, ideally there are times when the 13, 14 and 15 go out and play first class cricket.

And in this case, obviously it is the start of the season and you have Vijay Hazare Trophy that is being played and it is a one day format and you don't want your players to go and play but going forward if there is a situation that is where Saha is keeping and you would want Rishabh Pant to go and play first-class game for Delhi and the selectors need to look at that.

Because the more he keeps, the better he will get. He is still young, let's not forget he is in the first season of international cricket and he has done exceedingly well and the expectations on Rishabh is far more because of what he has been able to achieve in the shorter format and in the IPL he has shown his destructive qualities and even in international cricket on a couple of occasions. So, his batting is always spoken about and only if he spends a lot of time keeping wickets in a four-day competition is when he is going to improve and that can only happen if he is either playing Test match cricket or if he is not then he must be playing first class cricket.

GK) So, you are in agreement to play Saha ahead of Pant in this Test match?

AK) Yeah, I think so. You know if the management feels Saha obviously for his keeping skills. Rishabh is keeping well but you know if you have two spinners and the situation is a bit up and down even in the first innings both the keepers struggled because of the lack of bounce and then because of the odd bounce that the spinners were getting but having said that Saha is your best keeper. There is no two ways about that.

Saha

GK) Let's just look-ahead a little bit to the next Test match in Pune. The last one there was an absolute mine-field where Steve Smith got runs and India ended up losing with Steven O'Keefe taking wickets. But would you Anil, given there's batting depth now and the fact that there were some pockets of resistance from South Africa, consider maybe a swap like Kuldeep Yadav coming in for a Hanuma Vihari?

AK) I think it all depends on how well the bowlers have recovered, you know when you play four bowlers and you have back-to-back to Test match in a series it all depends on how well your bowlers have recovered and although it is the start of the season and you still are in a hot and humid conditions and we saw that in Vizag where it was pretty warm and the humidity was high.

So it all depends on the four bowlers have recovered and especially the faster bowlers and the spinners as well like I said when you have someone like Jadeja and Ashwin in your team and with Rohit firing at the top, Mayank really doing well with a double hundred the openers have done well and you have two all-rounders who can bat, then maybe if they believe that they want to have that fifth bowler to add cushion. Because if the conditions are favourable then I think that is something India needs to consider as well.

GK) From a South African point of view, playing three spinners in that playing 11, that was a tactic they've surely got to re-visit?

AK) When some of the foreign teams that come to India they tend to match the Indian balance and their balance goes haywire and that is what the South African team has fallen into. I don't know what they saw in the first day pitch but they probably thought that this was going to be a minefield, they probably had the previous series in mind when they traveled here in 2015 and they probably had those demons still in the mind when they saw the pitch and that is probably why they chose three spinners. You just need to back your strengths and back your spinners and then go with that rather than reacting to what you see.

And unless or until you have three quality spinners who can win you a match, then I agree but otherwise you should go with the balance that you think can pick up 20 wickets. They probably read the pitch wrong and that's why they went with three spinners.

GK) Yes, but at least there's some resistance from South Africa. Tons from Elgar and De Kock in the first innings, would make them believe that this series will not just be one-way traffic, and that they can compete?

AK) South Africa are a quality side unfortunately in the second innings that first session at the start before lunch Shami just blew them away and the odd ball was keeping low and Shami got everything on the stumps. Early on when you get those kind of deliveries, if you are a bit circumspect, it can backfire and that is exactly what happened to South Africa. Maybe because the previous day had not gone well for them that is why they believed it was pretty easy still you know it can happen to you.

And that is something South Africa would have discussed and take the first innings when you had Quinton de Kock and Dean Elgar scoring hundreds, Faf Du Plessis looked really good in the first innings even in the second innings until he had that brain fade which he does sometimes he just leaves the ball and I think they have the capability of a big score against India, they have shown that in the first innings and that is the confidence they need to take into the second match. One thing that they need to fix very quickly is that their bowling line up.

You would want your bowlers to look threatening. In very few stages of the game did they threaten the Indian batsmen so that is something that the South Africans must be contemplating that which combination they need to pick to get those 20 Indian wickets.

GK) One final thought on two guys who are sitting on the outside, Hardik Pandya, who has just had that operation and Jasprit Bumrah, who is just getting assessed. Just again, this is something that people on the outside may not understand, but because you've been a player yourself and a coach and seen these things up close. What's your reading of these injuries and the time-lines that we can look at?

AK) You know, injuries are something that you need to carry along. You can't really do that much and you have to fix them and get back to the game. I was lucky that I never had the stress fracture but having said that the fast bowlers are prone to stress fractures. It is really at the early stages of their career, it depends from individual to individual. Both Hardik and Bumrah are very young so I am sure that their recovery will be faster. So ideally it can take anywhere between four to six months and then when you do make a comeback.

You need to gradually build up the number of overs that you can bowl and then get that bowling fitness. You may get your fitness very quickly, you may be able to do normal activities much quicker than I just spoke about but you know those 4 to 6 months is when again depending on I don't know the exact injury to Hardik and Bumrah so it all depends but when they do comeback they just need to go slowly build it up and then get into international cricket but these are injuries that you just need to take it into your stride and then get ready and make sure that you go through the rehab processes very diligently that is something that you need to do as a player.

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