You were virtually India’s spin-bowling coach during your stint as selector.
Passion ought to be a coach’s fundamental quality. He must experience the joy of sharing. Players know when a coach talks sense. You can’t fool them. And they have known me for a while now. People use laptops to analyse a bowler’s action. But I don’t need a computer, for that feed is already in my head. I scan my bowlers thoroughly, right from their feet position to their arms.
So, all the Indian spinners have to do is refresh their memories. Just remember what you taught them in order to do a Monty Panesar...
It would be unfair to say that. Let’s talk about Panesar. Have you heard of the Hindi saying ‘Agar jeb bhari ho, dimag maat lagao (if your wallet is full, don’t use your imagination)’? If the wicket has spin, why do you need to use your head? Just land it on one spot like he (Panesar) did. If Panesar doesn’t get assistance from the pitch, he struggles. He sticks to one area, that’s why he was so successful in the second Test. If you use your imagination on surfaces like the one at Wankhede, you are bound to get thrashed. Yes, if there’s nothing on the wicket, you bring variations into play. As the strip gets slower, your length changes too. Length varies on the first, second and last day. For instance, when the wicket is fresh, you pull the length back. When it’s slowing, you got to pitch it further up.
Did the spinners’ pace (England were quicker in the air) make that big a difference in Mumbai? Or there were other factors too?
Look, you have to vary your pace. Not much, just that subtle change. I agree if there’s spin and bounce on the deck, you bowl slightly quicker to deny batsmen time. But here too there’s a trick involved. Around 75 to 80 per cent of your deliveries are bowled quicker in the air. But you have to vary the remaining 25 per cent to keep batsmen guessing. When you are quick, he (the batter) is programmed to bring his bat down at a certain speed. Remember, today’s batters face quickish spinners at nets for hours together. When you slow it down, they might end up playing way ahead of their pads. And that will fetch you a wicket!
Your comment on Harbhajan. Was he getting the bite he’s known for?
He was getting everything. Don’t forget he was under pressure and also overeager to do well. Where Harbhajan’s bowling at Wankhede was concerned, I’d elaborate with an example. It was similar to riding a bicycle. As you increase the speed, your body quivers a bit. Ditto while bowling. You are not accustomed to bowling quicker. Naturally, in a match situation, everything changes because you haven’t practised anything like that. So, your rhythm, balance and body alignment are not always at sync.
You stress on a bowler’s head position. You said in the past that the head is like a camera.
Right. You always follow the head as a bowler. You move your head first in order to change your body position. As coaches, we believe instead of stressing on each body mechanism, focus on the most important part and the rest will fall into place.
Do Indian spinners lack the art of taking wickets — that is setting the batsmen up?
Patience holds true for both batsmen and bowlers. Isn’t it supposed to be a 90-over affair in a day? If you could get a wicket every ball, only two overs would have sufficed. Look, there will be instances when you outfox batsmen, beat them numerous times, but just don’t find the edge. You lose patience and try harder. That’s when you lose the plot. Also, on surfaces like Wankhede, greed takes over. You do too much and mess up. Panesar was like an auto machine activated by a key. He was bowling the same way all day long.
Do you foresee anything different for Indian spinners in Kolkata? And how much of a threat will Panesar be?
If it’s a turner, it’s natural to up the pace. But if you bowl too quick, you might, as I said earlier, lose the body balance. Variations should not be more than 20 per cent, and Indian spinners must be careful not to overdo them.
As far as Panesar goes, should he get a deck anywhere close to the one at Wankhede, he’ll be dangerous. Left-arm spinners get their deliveries to dip into right-handers. Invariably, they end up playing more balls than they otherwise would.
Is there a substantial difference between the Panesar of now and the one you had seen earlier?
Not much. As you play more, you grow in confidence. Your true mettle is gauged when the strip offers you nothing. We’ll have to see how he goes. My only advice to the Indian team is — let bygones be bygones. Don’t do an excessive postmortem of the Mumbai defeat. That’s part of the game. Play your normal cricket. India will bounce back, you bet.