By Azhikkakath Joseph Antony
To befriend the wicket-keeper first must be every budding spinner’s opening gambit on the road to success. “Speak to the slips also, to read a batsman better,” added S.L. Venkatapathy Raju.
The former Indian tweaker was addressing coaches of the Andhra Cricket Association (ACA) during a webinar hosted by Y. Venugopal Rao, ex-Indian ODI batsman and current Director of Cricket Operations. The online interaction was the first among many, planned at the behest of ACA President P. Sarath Chandra Reddy, with former Indian cricketers to upgrade the expertise of the coastal squad’s players, coaches and support staff, locked down by the Corona virus.
Not only did the southpaw dwell on his craft’s nuances but also on what makes a good mentor. Punctuating practical tips with anecdotes from the game’s highest levels, he recalled roommate Rahul Dravid’s intensity after a batting failure. “He refused food, choosing instead to brood. He pondered deep and long on what went wrong, well after the day’s play was over,” the left arm spinner remembered.
Former Indian captain and leg-spinner Anil Kumble was a phenomenal player. As India’s coach, his seriousness and schoolmaster approach didn’t go down well with the seniors. Coaching was/is mostly about man-management, if not in delegation of responsibilities.
“In our days we went to the coach. In these times, coaches go to the players,” he quipped. The success of John Wright and Gary Kirsten lay in assistance from support staff. “In my playing days, there were just a coach and a manager,” said the former International Cricket Council (ICC) Asia Development Officer.
When quizzed by Venu about the dearth of spinners from south India, as against so many in his time, Raju, nicknamed ‘Muscles,’ seized the moment for a dig at the present lot. “They are busy with weight training when they should be spending long hours in the nets or in practice,” Orissa’s former coach observed.
What would his mental ‘make-up’ be against aggressive batsmen ? Say against a Sehwag, one had to bowl not to his strengths but to his weak spots. This would not only restrict runs, but curtail the batsman’s flow too.
Against batsmen as destructive as Dean Jones, who stepped out often, he’d bowl well outside the off. “Such tips came from Kiran More, Chandrakanth Pandit and Nayan Mongia. Jones wanted to dominate the bowler right from the start. It was up to the latter to prevent that,” Raju reminisced.
His worst nightmares were in bowling to the 5’ 7” David Boon and then to the towering Tom Moody, who stood over 6-1/2 feet tall, hitting length for both calling for huge control. Against a cover drive specialist such as Amol Majumdar, a middle and leg line kept him in check.
“We were fortunate not to have power plays in our time,” noted the ICC Americas cricket combine lead coaches panel member. “The ability to adapt across formats, surfaces and playing conditions, will set a spinner apart,” he concluded.