India’s fielding coach R Sridhar talks in detail to Cricketnext about the tour of Australia, explaining the multiple dropped catches, Rishabh Pant’s wicketkeeping, Ravi Shastri’s inputs as coach and a lot more. Excerpts:
Was this your best tour ever?
Best tour ever, 100%. There’s no doubt. Big cricket pundits and connoisseurs too say this is one of India’s best series ever. This one is right up there. Brisbane is one of the better Tests I’ve been a part of. The best Test I had been a part of is against Australia in Bangalore in 2017. It was a terrific match. Outstanding match. Nottingham, Johannesburg were all great… but Melbourne and Brisbane were outstanding. Don’t discount Sydney. Sydney is what gave us the confidence that we could win in Brisbane.
How was the belief in the camp after 36 all out? You’ve spoken about how Shastri, Virat Kohli and Ajinkya Rahane made tactical moves by strengthening the bowling. But people outside were already talking about 4-0…
Definitely there was belief. Because, the 36 all out had happened. So, it won’t happen again and again. We all knew it won’t repeat. Ajinkya very rightly said, we’ll play it like a three match series from here. Forget the pink ball match.
The belief was there because the processes we’ve put in place over the last 24 months or so, that was correct. Whenever things don’t go for you, you have to trust your practice and the process. What you’re doing in the gym, the nets, the ground, what you’re eating… you have to trust that’s right. One good ball that takes your edge and goes to the wicketkeeper will not make you a bad player or doubt the process.
You’ve traveled with Ravi Shastri for quite a while now. He’s criticised and trolled after every major loss, like the 36 all out. Since your interaction with R Ashwin and Bharat Arun’s press conference, Shastri’s tactical inputs have come to the fore. Do you think this series will change the way people see Shastri?
First of all, Shastri doesn’t care about what people think. Ravi Shastri doesn’t care one bit what people write about him or think about him. With Ravi Shastri, what you see is what you get. This is not the first series where his inputs have been invaluable to the Indian team. He’s always been one of the best observers, it’s outstanding.
We are also very very blessed to have Bharat Arun with us, he is one of the best readers of a cricket pitch I’ve ever seen. He can read pitches to perfection. In Jamaica, he said the ball would turn. We were like ‘what are you saying paaji, turn in Jamaica?’. He said you wait and watch, the pitch will turn on the third and fourth days. Eventually in that match, Jadeja was unplayable.
His knowledge of soil, grass, the way pitches are prepared across the world is outstanding because he has himself made grounds and pitches in Chennai in those days. So he has extreme knowledge of soil, ground and grass. Combine that with Shastri’s cricket acumen, we have a potent force there in terms of tactical decisions.
Shastri’s inputs have always been invaluable for the team. It’s just that it has come to the fore in this series because the result is extraordinary and history has been achieved especially at the Gabba. He has been one guy who has always backed the players, made them feel good and given very very inputs. So many times he has given inputs about where to stand for batsmen, how to counter angles, which guard to take for which bowler… Virat has openly admitted once that Shastri asked him to stand a few steps in front of the crease. Vihari too said Shastri made subtle changes that helped him play well in West Indies. So many batters have benefited.
We all praise Pujara. In Birmingham, Pujara had technical issues. He was rested for one match. Everyday he took Pujara to the nets, worked on his stance and everything. Pujara played from the next Test and he went on to get a century in Southampton.
So, Shastri has done a lot for players. People just fail to see… all this is overshadowed by idiotic trolls that come.
I can go on and on and on about what Shastri has done just in his tenure as coach. Apart from that, it shouldn’t take a win of this magnitude to recognise Ravi Shastri’s contribution to Indian cricket. He has been at every step to develop Indian cricket.
India – and even Australia – dropped plenty of catches through the series. As a fielding coach, what was your assessment of the catching standards?
As a fielding coach… yes we dropped catches, but we also took some brilliant catches didn’t we? Virat caught Cameron Green in Adelaide, Wriddhiman Saha’s brilliant run out of Matthew Wade in Adelaide. In Melbourne, Pujara had Steve Smith caught at bakcward short leg. Ajinkya at slip… Jadeja’s catch initially to get Wade and his contribution on the field. So many good catches… and then you go to Sydney, Jadeja got a run out, Ajinkya caught Labuschagne, Saha got a good one down the leg side. When you come to Brisbane, Pant himself picked two very good catches. One down the leg off Wade, and one off a bouncer. Rohit Sharma took a record by taking five catches in an innings. Sticky fingers Rohit Sharma!
What I’m saying is, unfortunately yes, there were a couple of drop catches, but why is all the good work getting overshadowed? Yes, we did drop catches at crucial times. There is no excuse for it. But the right processes are going on.
Let’s talk about Jasprit Bumrah’s drop catch in Adelaide. Give that 10 out of 10 times in practice, he’ll catch. There is a difference between white ball and red ball. In white ball cricket, if there’s a catch in the boundary line, if it’s touch and go, you’re thinking about saving five runs and you want to palm it inside. Because five runs could be the difference between a win and a loss in white ball cricket. Cut. Labuschagne pulls Shami in Adelaide. Bumrah runs from the boundary line. He doesn’t exactly know where the line is, but he’s very close to the line. He catches the ball, he feels he’s going to run over the line, so he tries to palm it inside the ground and he ends up dropping the catch. He was trying to save runs and eventually the ball fell down.
In red ball cricket, catching is more important than saving those 3-4 runs, isn’t it? Even if he catches and goes over the line, it’s okay. But in white-ball cricket, those 3-4 runs are important. Runs saved is more important than catch taken in that scenario in white ball cricket, and vice versa in red ball cricket. So that’s a very momentary decision that Bumrah has to take. Unfortunately, the IPL hangover was still there. Not only IPL, he had played 17 matches in IPL and then played limited-overs matches in Australia too. His subconscious mind had palmed the ball inside the rope due to the white ball hangover.
Nobody understands the nuances. All they say is – the player dropped the catch, sack the fielding coach. What can I do? I can’t coach him at that moment. It’s a very intrinsic thing, the approach to red and white ball.
In red ball, your concentration has to go on and on and on… Ajinkya dropped a catch in Brisbane. If I go and say the sun was setting at that time, the chairs are orange and red and yellow… Ajinkya said ‘sir I couldn’t even see the ball. By the time I saw it, it was hitting my hand and I just had to react and had no time’. What can I go and tell him?
If I give hundreds of balls in practice, he will catch because he knows the catch is going to come to him. He has topped our fielding charts for the series; he has taken 6-8 catches, saved so many boundaries at gully, has done so much. It can happen to anyone.
You talk about Mayank Agarwal dropping Tim Paine at 111 for 7 in Adelaide. It was dusk time, it was pink ball. Paine played a hook shot off the fast Bumrah. It was just not a good sighting time – that particular time. Mayank is a terrific guy – he works hard, has great work ethics, is a sincere student of the game. He’s someone every coach would love to have. But he dropped a catch. You can’t fault his preparation, he works the hardest in the team. Mayank Agarwal is hard work in motion. So, it happens.
You don’t have to criticise people, you cut them some slack. You take 44 catches, you drop 8 catches, it’s okay. Some of the catches were impact catches, I agree. But what about the catches they took? How impactful were they?
Rishabh Pant’s wicketkeeping was criticised a lot. How do you see Pant the wicketkeeper?
I think Rishabh Pant is a great package as he is. As of now itself I’ll pick him in every team. He’s a great package from behind and in front of the stumps. He has an infectious and youthful energy, and a raw approach he brings is a great package. Yes his wicketkeeping is a work in progress. He keeps working hard. In Australia itself there have been many occasions where he has sacrificed his batting slots to work more on his keeping which itself is a great sign.
He’s very open to improving his keeping, he’s listening and working hard. Lot of things are going for him, he’s only young. You have to cut him some slack, as time progresses he’s going to become a better keeper once he starts getting fitter. You’ll definitely see progress as you saw in Brisbane.
And mind you, keeping against Ash and other spinners in India is not going to easy. Forget Rishabh Pant, you bring any other keeper other than Wriddhiman Saha, I’d like to see how they keep against Ash and Jaddu. Of course Jaddu isn’t there initially, but even for that matter against Kuldeep, Washington and Axar Patel. Let me see any other keeper in the world keep against them.
How happy are you for two players you’re close to – Hanuma Vihari and Mohammed Siraj?
I don’t have words to express, I am really elated about Siraj. It’s all blessings of his father, the almighty, and his hardwork. Ending up as the leading wicket taker for India in a marquee series is a huge thing. Going forward, it’s very important for Siraj to stay grounded and keep working on his fitness and skills. Because he has the potential for a 100-Test career. At least 100 Tests. He’s an exceptional red ball bowler, we always believed that. Especially our bowling coach Arun, because he has coached him in Ranji Trophy as well and knows his skills. He has always said Siraj can be in the pool of 6-7 bowlers for red ball. Arun always talks about a pool of bowlers and kept on working on them, making sure they’re in the A teams and all that. Siraj is a wonderful kid, he goes on to prove that he’s mentally strong, can perform in adversity. He ticks all the boxes, his social adaptability is very good. His recovery from a mistake or setback is very good. So he’s ticking a lot of boxes.
And Vihari – we all know Vihari is in the mould of a Pujara. We always labelled him as Pujara’s apprentice. He’s always thought he’s someone who can do what Pujara does for Indian cricket. He has got the temperament, concentration and skill-set. He’s one of the better players of spin in the country. Unfortunately he played a poor shot to Lyon in Melbourne and got out. It was the right shot to play but the wrong ball to pick after getting set. Unfortunately, his injury was multi factorial. Fitness and fielding in forward short leg for three matches consecutively without a break and also getting hit there. I think it took a toll on his body and that’s why the hamstring snapped.
But pain always brings out the best in you. I was talking to (VVS) Laxman the other day, about how he played in Mohali (against Australia) and in Colombo (against Sri Lanka) in acute pain and won matches for India. He said pain always brings the best out of you, helps you concentrate more. That day, that pain for Vihari was probably a blessing in disguise in hindsight. He was able to concentrate against some extremely good quality fast bowling. He pulled it off for the team. He himself said he owed it for the team.
I’m telling you, the batters who played in this series… the quality of bowling they faced was unimaginable. When you invest in these players and they go out and play, whether they get runs or not, the experience they got and the confidence they’ll get is something unimaginable. Playing Australia in Australia… like I told Ashwin in Kutti Story (Ashwin’s YouTube series), Ajinkya’s century in Melbourne will go down as one of the most epic knocks because for the first three hours, it was English conditions on an Australian pitch. It was unbelievable. Cloudy, ball jagging around… bowlers at 145+. Ajinkya’s 100 is so so so special. 1033 wickets between the Australian bowlers. And I hear their record in Australia is better than McGrath, Gillespie, Warne and Brett Lee.
Given the number of injuries India had, were the support staff at any stage, especially ahead of Brisbane, worried that they might have to field?
No no. We were all doing timepass, a lot of memes were going around about whether Ravi Shastri would play, Vikram Rathour would bat or I would field. Luckily we didn’t have such a situation as we had enough players – Kuldeep Yadav, Kartik Tyagi, Wriddhiman Saha, Prithvi Shaw. Thank god such a situation didn’t come! But I did field briefly in the practice match because we had only 11 members, the T20 series was going on in parallel.
The epic series win is perhaps just about sinking in, and the team has to face England already…
We should have moved on already. Because, why did this series become epic? Because we moved on from 36 all out, right? In 48 hours, we moved on to Melbourne and mission Melbourne started less than 12 hours after the 36 all out. We put it behind us and moved on. Similarly, even victory should be put behind. Whether it’s good or bad, you should have the strength and courage to put it behind. We as a society, the sooner we put it behind, it’ll be helpful. As support staff of the Indian team, we are already discussing (about England series) and have moved forward. We are expecting a formidable opposition and a great contest. It’s almost a week now, so it’s time to move on.