Can you share examples of your work with Bangladesh’s spinners?
In the Mirpur Test against Australia, Pat Cummins was on 40-odd runs and building a crucial partnership for ninth wicket. Shakib was bowling close the stumps. He was beating the batsman. I was watching for a while and I passed on the message during the drinks break. I said with same trajectory, he can bowl wide of the crease. When you bowl close to stumps, you beat batsman but you don’t get anything. But same angle you bowl from wide of the crease it will be different angle and batsman will be not sure whether ball is coming in or going out. After the message, Shakib got Cummins bowled, that’s what I want. Shakib waved at me after that.
Similarly, Miraz is a good off-spinner in Test cricket but finds difficult to control his excitement. He gets too excited. I told him once when you are playing against the best of the teams, you need to control your aggression. He is getting better at it.
More examples of setting up batsmen, or some such plan that your bowlers pulled off?
Steve Smith always struggled against the off-spinner. We showed the video of how R Ashwin got Smith out in India series. For first two overs, we came from over the stumps and in third went round the stumps and bowled the same angle. The press later asked me how we got the Australian out. I said we are focusing on one ball that will trouble the Australian batsman. It’s a mind game, if they can play mind game we can also do that. Nathan Lyon came and asked me which ball we guys were focusing. I told him, ‘you tell me, you are a smart cookie’. Even after the series, at the airport, Lyon asked me, “C’mon, tell me the ball as the series is now over.’ I told him to guess it.
You said about the mind game, can you elaborate?
I told all my players and spinners that when you go to press briefing talk in Bengali and don’t tell them the ball/delivery they are using. Let’s show the Australians that we too can play mind games. Luckily, the press also backed the players and no one wrote about it. Even now, I will not reveal that ball. I have told them to talk in press how we will trouble them, and not get into specifics. Let the batsman decide which ball troubles them the most!
How difficult was the initial phase? Did the players and system take a while to adjust to you?
I had once played couple of seasons in Dhaka Premier League; so the former Bangladesh players knew my capability. And since I know Hindi the boys gelled really well. In any form of coaching your language becomes the most important barrier. Your route to the language which they understand, that’s where the chemistry starts. I took my time to understand what it requires, maybe a couple of weeks. With international teams they have base, the set-up and everything. They need to be stronger, mentally. Now, they need to understand how consistent they need to be and that’s where my role starts. My only thing is an individual player should know their game, the skills are secondary. You know the game, be self-aware, and everything will be fine.
How did you get this job?
I had already done first-class coaching in India and I was looking to coach international teams. Then this spin coach job came along. Anil Kumble, who knows me and my skills well as we were team-mates for long, probably a good reference to the Bangladesh CEO. I had applied, and then I spoke to Anil because Anil was in ICC , his reference somewhere helped me. The BCB also called my home association Karnataka and they also took reference of my coaching in Assam as well.
Did the players ever talk about the unpleasantness with India players, fans or administrators?
They have a good relationship. They keep asking me how Virat Kohli prepares, how Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid prepared. They knew that I have played with all these legends. The communication is happening.
How were you treated by fans, and even by players?
They are very emotional people. After Australia series, a person came and told me at the airport how you won the Test for India (all those years ago!). We were all angry at you that day because you denied us the victory. Among the players, the seniors like Tamim, Shakib, Rahim and Riyad Mahmudullah are good. These senior pros keep the boys together. I always tell them do not search outside for heroes, there are heroes in our team. I say that because, you may have an idol but idol is not everything. I told youngsters that if you want to follow someone in Bangladesh you have Tamim, Rahim and others. Just look at the way they prepare, how their preparation is.
Do these boys get carried away?
They do. They need to be mentally stronger.
Technically, many left-arm Bangladesh spinners are round-armish. Have you made any technical changes to bowlers?
I have shown videos of mine. Small variations, here and there. May be because of the pitches they play, where loop will not give you enough bite off the pitch, and so the spinners go round-armish with pace to get wickets.
What are you looking, in terms of improvement?
My area of improvement could be in long time horizon, to improve the wicket-taking abilities away from home. They have the skill, they have to train hard. You are always comfortable when you are at home and once you go out of home, you know what are the difficulties and how to cope up with it.