After training superstars such as Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer, Steffan Jones was keen to work with Indian fast bowlers. He had even applied for the bowling coach role in Team India last year, but Bharat Arun was retained due to the success of the bowling department in recent times.
The Somerset-based fast bowling coach — who is employed with Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League — is back in the spotlight after Jaydev Unadkat, one of his wards, finished as the top wicket-taker in the Ranji Trophy 2019-20.
In his interviews, Unadkat — who ended with 67 wickets — kept mentioning Jones and how he improved under his methods.
The 45-year-old was supposed to be in India now for the IPL but the coronavirus pandemic has kept him indoors in the United Kingdom. Sportstar rang him up for a chat on fast bowling, coach education and to understand if Unadkat and Varun can still return to international cricket.
Unadkat had a great Ranji season. He would bowl in short spells and remain effective throughout the course of an innings. What were your inputs to him?
JD came over and spent two weeks with me. We built a good relationship from the IPL last year. My methods are slightly different but they are very specific. I profiled him on 10 different tests. What I found was that he is a knee-dominant bowler; has a large knee flexion on back foot contact. It creates more time on back foot contact because of the flexion so the training had to be very specific to able to cope with that. Archer, for example, is hip-dominant.
The key to bowling quick is to go from back foot contact to front foot as quick as possible. It shouldn’t slow you down. You need to run in from 7 meters per sec and hit front foot contact keeping that momentum intact. JD was running in between at about 6 and by the time he had front foot contact, he was getting down to 5. He lost a bit of momentum because he was landing on back foot and slowing down because he is knee-dominant.
I reduced his run up based on sprint tests after measuring his running speed, power and force. He was bowling a-meter-and-a-half late than he should. We reduced the run up by a meter and he is able to get through to the crease quicker and hit front foot contact with more momentum. His training is now more isometric work on the back foot, the holding positions, more sprint work and more jumping.
How did Ishant Sharma get in touch with you?
It was two years ago when he came over for the Test tour. We communicated on social media direct messaging. He had got in touch with me because he saw my science-driven approach. I had designed some of his programs. I keep having workshops in Bengaluru at the Padukone-Dravid centre. We had met there too. He spent a week or so.
What was your assessment of Ishant?
He was spending too long on back foot and due to some weakness, he would spin around and the back foot would go towards the left, outside the centre of the mass, which means he would cross over the crease and if you cross over with your front leg and poor alignment, you will clap from front leg and it is down to the stumble reflex.
I did a lot of jumping exercises with him. He needed to learn to utilise his muscles and energy better. He embraced the new methods. He wants to get better which is a great example. He is one of the highest-capped seamers of all time [97 Tests].
India has a very good Strength and Conditioning Coach in Nick Webb. I know Nick very well and he is happy to embrace some of my methods with Ishant. I don’t want to take away his credit but he does use some of my methods. Ishant wants to come over this year. I work in a school and I have an eight week off during summer holidays.
When Varun Aaron appeared on the scene, he was one of the fastest around. Can he return to play for India?
Varun Aaron is a good friend of mine and he will play for India again, I am sure, so will JD. Varun needs to get healthy and fit. With the injuries he had in his career, a lot of people would have given up but he is made of strong stuff, mentally very strong and resilient. In actual fact, he was the fastest bowler we had in Rajasthan Royals last year. He can still bowl fast. I have changed his training a bit.
All these bowlers were overtly weight-training which is only good to a point. Fast bowling happens too quickly for strength to have an impact. It is more about tendons and not strength. It is more about being in control of the muscle slack. You need to contract before you land on the floor, which will allow the tendons to store energy. Varun will come again. He is the fastest bowler, top three in the world according to my speed gun.
Varun and Dhawal Kulkarni came over last year. Varun has spent the longest time with me. His numbers have improved. He can put 10 times of force than what he could.
You have always been very keen to coach India. How do you think you can make a difference if you happen to bag a job in Team India or perhaps, the National Cricket Academy (NCA)?
I work well with Indian bowlers because I deal with facts and sports science. To join the dots, I will tell you where you are are weak and where you can improve. Based on speed or strength, I will give you the exercises and I guarantee you will bowl faster. You are born with the ability to bowl genuinely fast. It is about the central nervous system efficiency but everyone has a pace ceiling. What people don't realise is not everyone can bowl 140k but everyone can bowl faster.
Why specifically India and the Indian pacers?
I feel I have an impact with Indian fast bowlers. I also worked with Shikha Pandey who did very well. Whether it is consulting or full-time, I want to have a structure and system in place, the coach education where you dont get bowlers to bowl non-stop for two hours at the nets. You can bowl fast or bowl for a long time, you can’t do both of them physically. It is like asking Usain Bolt do a marathon.
These bowlers are Ferraris and not tractors. They need to bowl short spells and rest. You bowl 20 bowls as fast as you can. Tomorrow, you bowl for an hour but it should be 70 per cent and not flatout. You can have intensity in one session and volume in the other but not both at the same time. India could become the hub of fast bowlers with the sheer number of bowlers in India. But it needs a lot of coach education and that starts at the NCA.
I run the whole physical side of it and the tactical side for the fast bowlers but overall, the physical side for all players. So I am the Strength and Conditioning and Fast Bowling tactical guy at the same time. And that’s what separates me from anyone else.
You had a camp with Rajasthan Royals in Nagpur before the Covid-19 outbreak. How was the experience?
When the virus started, we were in Nagpur and then in Guwahati as well. As of now, I don't know when I am supposed to be going to India [due to the complete lockdown to curb the pandemic]. It was a great camp with Akash Singh and Kartik Tyagi bowling close to 145. Great catching up with those two youngsters, potential India opening bowlers. They have the natural ability to bowl fast. I hope the system and structure in India looks after these two Ferraris, one is 17 and the other is 19.
It is a pleasure to work with Zubin [Barucha] in Royals, we think similarly and are data-driven. We have a robotic batter in our training sessions. We move it when the bowler comes in. It is incredible.