Jasprit Bumrah’s Role ‘Huge’ in Cape Town Test: Bharat Arun

Bharat Arun, former Indian bowling coach (Image: Debasis Sen)

A RevSportz Exclusive

Subhayan Chakraborty at Newlands in Cape Town

India’s humiliating innings-and-32-run defeat to South Africa in the Boxing Day Test in Centurion came as a reality check for the Rohit Sharma-led outfit, with the Proteas taking an unassailable 1-0 lead in the series. With India seeking redemption at Newlands, the fortress that they have never breached, Bharat Arun, former India bowling coach, shared his insights in an exclusive interview with RevSportz. Arun delved into the shock defeat, the bowling revolution during his tenure, the impact of Kagiso Rabada, the significance of Jasprit Bumrah, and various other aspects shaping India’s Test campaign.

Here are the excerpts:

Subhayan Chakraborty: What was your reaction after witnessing that innings-and-32-run defeat in Centurion?

Bharat Arun: Well, to see India come back and [KL] Rahul get that century was quite happening. And there was quite a lot of help in the wicket for the bowlers. So we had a very, very positive feeling about the whole thing. And we thought that we could clearly make a Test match out of this. I think winning or losing a Test match is okay. But I think the way we lost the last Test – we surrendered meekly in the second innings – is not a good feeling.

Subhayan: Allan Donald, in one of our interviews, had emphasised on the word ‘control’. Yes, pace and bounce are important but how crucial is control, especially when bowling in countries like South Africa, England, Australia and New Zealand?

Arun: No matter where you bowl, control is of paramount importance. So it’s about the two ways you could create pressure on a batsman. Either get wickets or stem the flow of runs. When you don’t allow the batters free scoring shots, you know they definitely get under pressure. If you recall the last Test match, there were far too many boundaries scored. Adapting your bowling to different conditions is crucial. If you are in good form, just awareness of the conditions is more than sufficient for you to adapt. I think bowlers at international level should be able to adapt a lot more easily than bowlers who are just starting. With the experience that the Indian team has, I think we should have adapted. Bumrah bowled exceptionally well but the rest of them, I don’t think they supported him much the way they should have.

At least don’t give away so many runs at that pace. The pace at which they get the runs becomes very important for them to set up Test matches. If you ask me in one word, it is the bowling discipline that counts – understanding and more awareness of the conditions and what are the likely lengths to be bowling in these conditions is the key to any success for a bowling unit.

Subhayan: Is the Indian team strong enough to put the emotional baggage of the Centurion Test away and focus on winning the New Year’s Test in Cape Town?

Arun: Indians are strong enough. They are resilient enough to be able to come back after this Test match. We did come back after being 36 all out in Australia. So losing a Test match is, I don’t think it’s a very, very big deal. But I think how you come back from there is even more important because that shows the character, their resilience, and things like that.

So, if you really look at the discipline that the South Africans showed, if you look at the pitch map of Rabada in the first innings, it was impeccable. Yes, the four-to-six-metre marks are the best, because that gives you a chance for the ball to move as well, or even seam off the wicket. You’re bowling that much quicker because of the trajectory. So not only that, if you look at the line which Rabada bowled, I thought that was exceptional. And the only comparison I can say is I was pretty impressed with Bumrah’s bowling. But the rest of them, if you look at their lines, there was much to be desired. Far too much width and also, on certain occasions, far too short. So that that doesn’t suit, you know, when you’re bowling in South Africa. Like I remember the conversation Ravi Shastri had after the Cape Town Test first innings – he said I want you guys to leave the driving licence at home. Unless you have something specific, attack them all the time.

So, that was the key. That’s when the entire bowling revolution started. So I think discipline is of most importance.


Subhayan: You mentioned the words ‘bowling revolution’. Can you talk to us about those days when you were selecting your next line of pacers? What should be the aim going forward for the India team management here?

Arun: Recollecting what happened those days, what Virat [Kohli] and Ravi wanted – their dream was to have Team India become the No. 1 team in the world. So in order to do that, you do realise that your bowling attack should be really good on any surface. And you embrace the conditions, you embrace the surfaces and the need to create a bowling bench strength, which matches up and compliments the conditions that we encounter. India always had fast bowlers. If you notice, even much before these fast bowlers came, there was Zaheer Khan, there was Irfan Pathan, Munaf Patel, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh. Before that, Javagal Srinath, Venkatesh Prasad. India always had these fast bowlers. But if you notice, most of these fast bowlers started off in the 140s. And towards the latter half of the career, they all came down to late 120s.

We realised over a period of time, I think managing workloads becomes extremely important for a fast bowler to remain fresh throughout. Especially at international level, when you want to be the No. 1 team in the world. You want fast bowlers to be bowling 135-km/hr plus, then it becomes all the more difficult at that pace. It’s extremely important for you to have a pool of bowlers to select from, who are ready at any given point of time. So anyone you pick should be able to do the job. And one thing which I can recall is the Test match in Brisbane. Collectively, all the five bowlers that we played had less than 10 Test matches to their credit. But still we ended up winning that series. The bowlers who play for the country have enough first-class experience.

I’m saying yes, when they do come for Test matches, they are old enough in first-class to understand where they need to be bowling. It is their ability to accept what the team plan is, what the bowling plan is, and stick to that plan, which would give us a lot of a lot more success than what we see.

Subhayan: If a Bharat Arun was sitting in that dressing room right now, building up to the Cape Town Test, what would his message be to all the players? How would you be executing your training drills?

Arun: I would sit down with each and every bowler and go through the lines and lengths they bowled in the first Test. And I would also like to find out what goes on in his mind while he was doing that. And whether what goes in his mind, what he wants to execute and what is executed have matched up. If not, I have to really look at execution, or is it about mindset? It’s your thought process aligning with what you want to do.

Either you can go wrong in your execution, or your thought process. I think if you sit down with each and every bowler and discuss whether it’s a question of execution or a question of thought process, you get the right answers. Also show them areas that they have bowled well in the match, the areas that they have troubled the batters. It is about empowering, you believe in empowering the bowlers so that they understand what is it that they have and what is it that they are lacking. Once you make up, I think that transformation in Cape Town from first innings to second innings [in 2018] was magnificent. It was just the awareness of the bowlers as to what they should be doing better. If they understand this, all the bowlers that we have are capable of coming back and bowling those very lines to do well. They have done it in the past. I don’t see any reason why they can’t do it again. But it’s about sitting them down and finding out where exactly we are. We’ve got to be hard. I think constructive criticism is the way forward. Once you get those things right, I’m sure this bowling attack that we have has enough in them to win Test match overseas.

Bharat Arun with the coaching staff (Image: Debasis Sen)

Subhayan: Is India missing [Mohammed] Shami?

Arun: Of course. A bowler of the quality of Shami – if he’s not available, we will definitely miss him. But then, these are part and parcel of playing Test cricket. Bowlers are down with injuries and sometimes they are not available. But it’s an opportunity for another bowler to step up. So I would look at it as another opportunity for other bowlers to step up and say yes, I have got it in me to come back and do my job for the country.

Subhayan: How crucial is the captain in making the bowling unit more lethal?

Arun: Captain in cricket, I think, is one of the most important things – how he motivates his bowlers, what he feels about his bowlers and how he makes them feel. Tactically, what are the inputs that he gives on the field to bowlers? All these play a very, very vital role. The confidence that he portrays to a bowler, all these things go a long way in the bowlers doing well, because it’s about 90 per cent mental. What is the mental side? Mental side is about confidence and absolute faith in your abilities. Once you have that, even people with limited abilities can bring out their talent to the fullest.

Subhayan: Is it a valid debate when people say one has not played enough first-class cricket? Do you think a bowler should grind out a lot more in domestic cricket before being brought into Test cricket?

Arun: If a bowler has abilities, and if you feel he is good enough. I’m sure they all must have some amount of first-class cricket to be playing for the country. So yes, they must have done well, that must have caught the eye of the selectors. And then, they would have selected them to the international team. I think it’s a question of how you mentor them, where you put up challenging situations to them right from practice. So that the match is just an extension of your nets. So, if they can, they can look at even practice sessions as challenging matches and work on different accuracies and discipline, I think the same thing would come out when they go on to play international level as well. The preparation, the preparatory phase, to me, is of utmost importance. What a bowler feels and what he thinks about his game, and how the bowling coach or the captain and the coach make the bowler realise his potential and his role in the team. Once they realise what their role in the team is, execution becomes that much better.

Subhayan: How crucial will be Bumrah’s role in the Cape Town Test? Not only as a bowler, but as a leader of the bowling pack too?

Arun: Huge, huge! It is not only about his bowling, but also how he marshals the other bowlers becomes extremely important. Knowing Bumrah, he’s very very keen, he is extremely sharp. He’s a very, very thinking bowler too. And I’m sure the bowlers must have sat together, they would have reworked their strategies and Bumrah will have a major role to play in the bowlers coming back for the next Test match.

Subhayan: Do you think India can come back into the series and level it 1-1?

Arun: The ability is fabulous. Their resilience, and the way they come back is outstanding. They have done it many times in the past. And I would say we have all the resources to come back. It’s the question of your mindset. If we strongly believe that we can come back, I think we have everything in us to come back in this second Test match.

Subhayan: You are in Cape Town with the team and are giving that final pep talk to your bowling unit. What would you say to them?

Arun: I don’t think it’s about pep talk. It’s about realising the discipline and awareness of the conditions. If we can get on the same page with the bowlers about the awareness of the conditions, and keep repeating the basic fundamentals and the discipline that we are expecting out of them, yhen I think you have the job done. There is no magic in it. It’s a lot of hard work. But constant reminders of what we need to do is the key thing here.

Performing under pressure is the key, and you need to be totally focused on the process. So once you focus on the process, nothing else matters. Your entire energy is spent on execution of what you need to do. So the pressures don’t matter to you at all. So the key would be to be able to focus on the job in hand. I wish the Indian team the very best and I’d be happy this new year to see them level the series. That would be the perfect New Year.

Also Read: A woman coaching India’s men’s cricket team? Why not?

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