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TA Sekar on the science of fast bowling

DD Mentor discusses the approach and finer points of pace bowling

Fast bowlers are a precious commodity in the world of cricket and their performances are often vital to a team’s fortune. Hence, understanding their trade and nurturing them is essential for any team. The Delhi Daredevils are one such side that has carefully and diligently worked towards building their pace attack. While speaking to clt20.com, team mentor TA Sekar who has been working with fast bowlers for over 25 years discussed the approach and the method that has gone into shaping the likes of Morne Morkel, Irfan Pathan, Umesh Yadav, Ajit Agarkar and Varun Aaron. 

While deconstructing the art of fast bowling he elaborately spoke about how bowling action is assessed and what are the things to look out for while coaching a fast bowler. In the first part of the interview we gave you an insight into the Daredevils’ pace attack. Here we bring you the approach that has helped them build it.

Excerpts from the interview with TA Sekar:

Key factors for a fast-bowler:

The delivery stride: Most of the coaches watch the delivery stride only. I watch the delivery stride, which is only an effect and go backwards. Whatever is happening in the delivery stride is manifested in your bowling run-up. So I do reverse engineering to see where exactly the bowler is going wrong to correct him. So, if you correct them there, then automatically the delivery stride gets corrected.

The lower body: Most coaches see only the top half of the body. But I see the bottom half first, and then in connection with that I see the top half. The bottom half is your foot placing, and is the most difficult thing to change. And foot placing only determines what set-up you are going to be in; whether you are front-on, side-on or semi-open bowler. So, accordingly you can change your top half easily.

My way of working with the bowlers is, I find out how a body mechanic works and how each individual is different and how a particular body movement will suit a particular bowler.

As a coach you should give options to bowlers. The bowler should know what is it that they are doing wrong exactly and you should know what is the solution to correct that wrong.

Techniques and action: The bowler has to find the [right] length on different wickets. The length changes from wicket to wicket and batsman to batsman. You cannot say that four feet from the crease is a length. As a bowler you should be able to assess the length according to batsmen and condition.

Bowling in T20 is totally different because you have to bowl at three lengths. One is back of length and then a good short ball, than you are allowed to bowl one bouncer and then a yorker and variations like slower ones, slow bouncer, fast bouncer and then yorkers outside the off stump. So depending on the batsman, the wicket and the opponents you should be able to plan your delivery.

Now we have the videos of all the foreign batsmen, Indian batsmen and opponents playing in Indian conditions and playing in South African conditions. So you can definitely watch them and then see what exactly what the batsmen is going for. Whether you bowl to him 3-4 dot balls or what is his release shot? The batsman’s strength, weakness, comfort, discomfort level, etc is determined. And we tell them that in the bowlers’ meeting, batsmen’s meeting and team meeting. And in nets I tell them some finer points and how they can get better.

While practicing you may keep a mat in the particular place but you want the bowler to hit the top of the off stump. But maybe the wicket is such that it will not hit the top of the off stump. May be if you are six inches in front, you will hit the top of the off stump. In India you will hit the top of the off stump when you push back in South Africa it should be closer in my view. Each coach is different. The bowler should be able to find out what exactly is the length.

I don’t try to change the basic action that they have got. If a bowler has a major injury concern only then we have to completely change his body posture, otherwise whatever is comfortable [for the bowler he should do that]. If a movement is not natural to the bowling, then I can pick it and tell the bowler and tell him what to do instead. And then they have to practice.

I tell them not to think about the technique while playing a match. The time to think about technique is only during practice. In the match you should be thinking about what line to bowl, what length to bowl, what the batsman is doing, what the wicket is doing, what field you should have. During a match you should forget about a technique. If the bowler practices a technique for at least 20 minutes it goes into his muscle memory and the body automatically does that.

The two important things for a fast bowler are - the run-up and the load-up:

Depending on the technique of the bowler the run-up changes.

If the bowler is a side-on bowler, the run-up is like a steam engine, it starts slowly and gradually builds up and then maintain the last four-five steps.

If the bowler has a semi-open [action] then, start slowly, gradually build it and keep building and then go through the crease.

If the bowler is front-on, start slowly, gradually build up and then try to achieve an optimum speed which is much faster than a side-on bowler and then go through the crease faster. Because, for a front-on bowler and a semi-open [bowler] the speed comes from their run-up. For a side-on bowler the speed comes from using their body.

So run-up is contributing to 70 percent of the bowling efficiency; so if they are able to achieve even 65 percent of efficiency in that, then the remaining the remaining is the bowling skill coming on the delivery stride, using your front arm, using your bowling ar,m etc. Even in that if you can achieve around 20 percent then you are around 85 percent efficiency. 85 to 100 you can achieve very quickly.

If you see any international level bowler, they have a very smooth run-up to the wicket so that enables a very smooth transition from the run-up to the delivery stride. This is what I work on. First it is the run-up and then the load-up. These are the two things that I work on, with Under-19 and Under-16 boys. Then they learn the subtleties of bowling. Then they become a complete fast bowler.

Training: A fast bowler needs to train to keep fit. Every time you run in and bowl and land on your back foot and transfer the weight on your front foot eight to 10 times of your body weight goes below your hip level, so imagine the impact. So the bowler needs to do gym and running and strength exercises to keep up with that.

Fast bowling has become a science. It was made a science by Dennis Lille because when he had a back injury he went back and worked on it and later had a smooth run-up; so there was less strain on the back. If your run-up is smooth, your bowling action will be smooth. Look at Ben Johnson and others, they are muscular. Muscles give you the power to run. Fast bowlers need explosive power. So they need sprint coaching for that. I am talking about those bowling 135-140 kph-plus. If you are bowling slow, you don’t need all this. If you are bowling fast, you should have strong legs, strong shoulders and a strong core.

Injury is part and parcel of any fast bowler who bowls at a speed of 135kph-plus. No fast bowler is without injury because the human body is not made for bowling fast, in spite of that people bowl so for that you have to do exercise. Part of the coaching is injury prevention is what I have learnt. If you have all these things, you can reduce injury.

When a bowler is getting injured we take a look [at his action etc] and tell him what is causing the injury so try to change certain movements and that will help to reduce injuries. And when they are rehabilitating we can put in more inputs and try to get him to a good posture.

When a bowler who goes through rough patches and going for runs: If you do homework and practice basics well there are no rough patches. In a Twenty20 match you get hit sometimes but that is part and parcel of it. Because of that you should not lose out. At the end of the day sit and analyse your bowling honestly, how many good balls and how many bad balls you bowled.

Keeping bowlers motivated during injury: One of the best things I learnt from Dennis Lille is, when a bowler is bowling even if he is doing 0.1 percent [right] you should always encourage him. You should never discourage him. That helps them get better and better. Without their knowledge they will give more than 100 percent. Basically if they are injured you should motivate them. Tell them only good things like you will come back and do even better than before. Give them confidence and talk positive things. We also help them with their technique and thinking process changes. So it helps.  

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