Tinu Yohannan, in December 2001, made his Test debut against England in Mohali, the first player from Kerala to do so. The lanky fast bowler, however, played only three Test matches and an equal number of ODIs. He continued to spearhead the Kerala attack, picking 145 first-class wickets before retiring in 2009.
Son of Olympian long jumper T. C. Yohannan, Tinu now has been appointed as the coach of the Kerala Ranji Trophy team, midway through the ongoing season.
A product of the first batch of the National Cricket Academy, he understands the importance of grooming youngsters and has set his sights on producing quality fast bowlers.
Question: How did the transition happen, from being a player to coaching a first-class side?
Answer: It was always my intention to give back to the game. I used to play for Chemplast in Chennai (in the TNCA league) where I was also grooming youngsters and then coached a team in the league. After retirement, I decided to move to Kochi to stay close to my family and the Kerala Cricket Association (KCA) was the best place for me to work. KCA offered me a job, and that’s when I started seriously working as a coach.
I am a Level I coach and have done my refresher course. I have also done training courses from Australian Strength and Conditioning Academy because fast bowling has a lot to do with training.
What do you like about your role as a coach?
The current coaching job is temporary. I don’t see myself continuing for long. I don’t think that’s my forte. I am looking to groom fast bowlers and want to continue doing that in the academy and in the Kerala structure.
What would you look for in a fast bowler when you see him first?
Initially it is the talent that he has and then the natural athletic ability. I am talking about fast bowlers and not swing bowlers and medium pacers. With fast bowlers it is about running in and bowling fast. We also look at the athletic ability he has.
How does attitude make a difference? Some players are docile and some are aggressive…
When you see them, you cannot expect them to have the right attitude. If they have it, then it is a big blessing. But most of what we see, they are either too sober or are too aggressive. Somewhere we have to strike a balance. That’s a part of the grooming process, making them play more matches, more sessions with them. It is just to make them play and teach them what the game demands. When they play more matches, they understand what the priorities are. If they are willing to learn, then they can get there faster.
Kerala has produced some good fast bowlers such as you, Sreesanth, Abey Kuruvilla and now Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi. How has this been possible?
It’s the way we were brought up from childhood. There are a lot of open areas — even in the house. Now you find a lot of flats, otherwise it is more of a rural setting where you can play and run around. Also our diet structure is one that suits athletes. It is more protein rich and has a lot of natural food. That’s one of the reasons, I guess, why you see a lot of athletic people coming from Kerala. Also, the terrain plays a role.
The workload has increased because of Twenty20. What do you suggest for workload management?
It is a debatable topic. All the science and technology guys say that you have to reduce the workload and we, cricketers, say that they have to bowl more. Still the correct formula has not been found. If you ask me, the more they bowl the more bowling fitness they gain, but you have to be aware of what their body requirement is, how much rest and recovery they need. That’s where science and technology comes in and you have to combine both.
But the rest period is reduced due to the IPL…
Recovery is very important. A smart cricketer will use whatever recovery time he has smartly, because you can’t choose your schedule. If an IPL game ends by 11 pm, they have to move to the next centre by 2 am. But whatever time you get, you have to use it for rest rather than wasting it by going somewhere else. You have to be smart and have that self-control.
Pitches in India have a lot of grass on them. Do you think the fast bowlers’ approach has changed these days?
It’s a great opportunity for them. As fast bowlers, they just have to learn how to get wickets. This year, we have seen a few responsive pitches. Every day, for at least two hours, there is life in the wicket. The earlier they learn, the more success they will have because hitting the right areas is the most important thing.
There is a flipside to it. Kapil Dev, Ashish Winston Zaidi and others in the past used to bowl for years on unresponsive pitches and learnt to make the most of it. That skill is fading away…
It’s a process. When they get flat wickets, they have to learn how to bowl on that too. You can’t give excuses. This season some of the pitches have become flat in the second innings and the bowlers have to find ways to penetrate. They have to bring variations or get the ball to reverse.
Do you think bowlers like Umesh Yadav and Mohammad Shami have handled such situations well?
They have stuck to their plans. They have been consistent in what they are doing. Virat (Kohli) plays a big role in it. He is controlling them well. The way he is using the bowlers and resting his spinners and getting the pacers back when the ball is reversing. The captain plays a big role in giving them enough confidence.
Who is a dream fast bowler for you?
Someone who can bowl at 140kmph and swing the ball both ways! Someone like Shami! Also, he needs to have the right temperament.
Do you think the loss of Sreesanth has impacted Kerala cricket?
Very much! A player has to be groomed. They are youngsters and see only cricket. They don’t see life as a whole. It is very important to guide them to keep cricket and life in their places. We miss Sreesanth. His life was not controlled. It is very important for the association to give life lessons to players. But we have not felt the vacuum left by Sreesanth as a lot of talented bowlers have come in. But his presence could have changed the situation and we would have filled the gap of a steady bowler.
How can an association support the players?
Each individual is different. I have been with the team for three years now, and I feel communication between the coach and a player is very important. So also is the communication between the coach and the management, the management and the association, and the association and the players.
As much as possible, everyone should be on the same page so that things are clear. If that happens, the player is more secure and doesn’t feel something is going behind him and something can hit him from behind. That security is very important as a player.