`Indian players have a lot of creative potential'

S. RAM MAHESH

V.V. KRISHNAN

AFTER an unimpressive first-class career for Victoria as a left-handed batsman, Ian Frazer worked in sports science, business administration, information technology and integrative medicine before helping Greg Chappell with `The Chappell Way', a cricketing philosophy and training programme. Frazer's expertise in biomechanics caused Chappell to draft him as part of his support staff, when the Australian batting great became India's coach. Frazer, 39, spoke to The Sportstar on his work and on where he thinks the Indian team is headed.

Question: How has it been working with the team?

Answer: It's been fantastic. They are a very intelligent group. We've been trying to get the creativity out. The Indians do have a lot of creative potential but the society is such that it might not be seen all the time. It's to bring that out and actually help them explore some of their potential. That is one of the positives from my perspective.

One school of thought is that a player's technique can't be changed so late in the career while another school says an international player should have the intelligence to deal with his problems. How do you look at it?

What is technique? It's just an expression. Is it appropriate for that situation? That's the question. I've seen many guys play technically correct one day and not do well and next day they're flourishing in the situation. What we're trying to do is to give players the ability to express themselves in the best way they can in many different situations. To do that, we change up the training so that the memory system gets a whole range of different awarenesses. Cricket is a very instinctive sport where you don't have time to think. So on match days, we want the nervous system to make the best choices. And after having studied some of the top coaches in different sports, the best way to do it is to try and make it instinctive. That's what we're trying to do. Guys are going to make mistakes. If you can cut down on the number of mistakes, that'll be better. Now, I've seen players in their 30s change their technique, some for the better, some for the worse. Some of the Indian players, the way they batted in their 20s, are batting differently today. Is it appropriate? It is if they make runs and take wickets. So, it's a matter of stimulating to get the right outcomes for the circumstances they're going to be up against and for the goals they expect from themselves.

You have been working a lot on the lower bodies of the players. Is there something wrong with what they might have learnt when they were younger?

Things have changed a lot in terms of upbringings and a lot of lower body work that may have happened in the past such as climbing a tree or fences or riding bikes or walking a lot is not going on now. The reality is that in anything we do we've got to use the ground to generate the forces to propel ourselves forward or up. So, one of the things we're doing is to make them more intimate in their understanding of movement. To do that, we're working on their ability to use ground reacting forces. If you don't use it efficiently, you struggle to use the upper part of your body efficiently as well. So, it's a combination of things. All the guys have obviously got into different ways of expressing themselves now. We're looking at their past, the injuries which hinder their expression, the different stages of training they have been through and trying to help each one individually to make them better. So, it's very individual what we're doing.

"Irfan Pathan is not super quick but is starting to develop a bagful of tricks. Harbhajan Singh needs to come around the wicket more often. He needs to work on his line and work on his field placements."-V.V. KRISHNAN

There is a school of thought in India, which says an Indian doesn't need the same emphasis on biomechanics as an Australian or an Englishman does because he is naturally supple.

I think Indians can get very tight as they grow old. It's one of the areas where yoga plays such an important part in the Indian culture. Talking of biomechanics, it should not be confused with mechanics. The bio here is about life, energy and those sorts of formats as well. So, whenever we see someone moving, that's a biomechanical expression. So, my major area is to help them improve their expression in different situations, in different pressures. You see, some players play well in certain situations. But if a fast bowler comes around, their footwork changes. So what we're trying is to get them to a stage where they'll approach each task as if it's a unique challenge, to a mindset where they think they can create a solution that is acceptable to cricket to every problem they face. If you do that more often, you become a better cricketer. It's as simple as that. That means it's not only the work on the field but also off it. Can't separate the two. Most successful cricketers have been good blokes in personal management. So we're working on those aspects too. It's an area which may seem irrelevant but which is very important.

Why have the Indian fast bowlers lost pace over the last two years?

Clearly, injuries have played a huge role. The confidence has gone down in many cases to extend themselves, to put in the effort. And that's just a natural consequence of some of the injuries. We know they have lost pace. If we can't stimulate them to do it again, then we've to generate other ways to help them get success. One good example is Pathan who is not super quick but who is starting to develop a bagful of tricks. It's an issue and we've to do something about it. Pace and bounce can help as the Englishmen have showed in the Ashes. We're waiting for Zaheer Khan to recapture the pace. Unfortunately, it becomes a mental thing as well when he starts to not believe that he can bowl fast. Now you've to break through that. And then you should have the willingness to work and bowl that stuff day in and day out. And your preparation has to be pretty specific. Hopefully, we can do that.

We saw Harbhajan Singh lose his rhythm during the one-day series in Zimbabwe. What does he need to do?

One-day cricket is tough on bowlers. They become so preoccupied with stopping runs that they can lose the things that've made them successful. Harbhajan was beginning to push them quicker and quicker on the leg stump, which is not what he does when on song. The batsmen are also getting smarter, they keep working him to the leg. And since he is not coming close to the stumps, his doosra is not as effective when they get across. Everyone is watching them (the players) they've to become smarter with what they do. One of the things Harbhajan needs to do is to come around the wicket more often. He needs to work on his line and work on his field placements. He has probably become a bit defensive mentally. We need to get him back to becoming the main strike bowler and that'll happen only if he starts to see that there is a better way for him. One of the main things we did with him in the first Test (at Bulawayo) was to show him the differences in terms of angles by changing up. One of the important parts of bowling is to keep changing positions on the crease to allow you to get variations.

"Mohammed Kaif has been looking to increase his range of strokes. He likes to cut and pull."-V.V. KRISHNAN

Kaif, particularly, has been working very hard in the nets. What areas is he looking to improve?

He has been looking to increase his range of strokes. In one-dayers, you would've seen him go down the ground a lot more. A player like Kaif needs to do that. He likes to cut and pull. So, he needs to push them back to be able to play those strokes. He was very impressive in doing that in the one-dayers.

Is there a danger that if Kaif and Yuvraj do not get the opportunities at the right time, they would be lost to Indian cricket?

Absolutely. In any walk of life, unless you're pushed appropriately, you tend to become that level. You see many first class players in India who become that level but showed talent as young people. That's a critical thing. In Australia, we're seeing it now. We saw it happen in West Indies, and in England. It involves understanding the players and how to expose them at the right time and place.

So are we talking as much about phasing in as phasing out?

Obviously, there are only so many places in the team and you've got to do that. Whether people like it or not, that's the reality of life, it goes in cycles. You only have to look at West Indies to know what happens if you don't take some tough decisions. Taking those decisions does not mean to say to anyone that he has not been a great player or that his record shouldn't stand as a huge contribution to their country. The thing is that you've got to do it for the team, and the nation ultimately. That's what Australia have been so good at and West Indies were not so good at. The Indians are good individually but not so collectively. You just have to look at the fact that the Indian team has got itself into winning positions and we didn't seize on them and that's a reflection of the group's confidence within each other. It's a reflection of the inability as a group to quickly create pressure at the right time and that's the issue we need to manage, by working on both the group and the individual. One of the things Greg is doing outstandingly well is to get them to start talking about cricket. And they're starting to talk about cricket, the way to look at and approach situations, about strategies and tactics, about past players and how they used to go about doing it. One of the problems with modern cricket is that it doesn't discuss cricket as much as it used to. They get into the bus and off they go.

India has an abysmal record in finals. How hard is it to turn it around?

It's interesting that it becomes self-fulfilling in the mindset. Against New Zealand in the final at Harare, we lost the process after a great start and started looking at 330 instead of thinking about how to do it in the middle overs. And at the moment, we give away a lot of boundaries. So, we've to work on those processes. We need to be able to work the ball around to be good in one-dayers. In bowling, we tend to bowl the same sort of stuff. So, we've to change things around there too. But there were lots of positives from the one-dayers too. Dhoni, I think, he is a player of exceptional talent. His rate of improvement since we started our work has been enormous. He is very quick, very athletic and has lost a lot of weight. Then, Kaif, Yuvraj, Pathan, a couple of other young kids, they did very well. Now, the confidence will come only from winning one-day games. It's a bit of the chicken and egg scene.

Does the standard of fielding concern you?

The problem with the team is that a lot of players didn't do much fielding when they were young. It's important to get them to start reading the cues and make them work at different positions. Some of them are not going to be super quick but we've to see what best can be done. Fielding, we definitely have to improve. We're close to the worst fielding side in the world. It's the fielding which made Australia such a good team, and West Indies, when they were the best in the 80s. So, fielding can have such a huge effect on the rest of your cricket. There is so much pressure on Indian cricketers. Yes, it can be a turn-off for some. We're trying to get them to focus on what will assist them in performing well. And it's an area where Greg is so good at, not only preparing them for cricket but for life beyond. We want them to be believing what they are saying and actually acting out what they are saying. Not everyone can do that, but given the right environment, we allow them a chance to believe they can do it. And that's what a coaching group can do.

"Greg (Chappell) and Virender (Sehwag) share a relationship that's exceptional."-V.V. KRISHNAN

What do you say to Virender Sehwag without cluttering him up?

Indians have got a gem in their hands. He does amazing things for the team, and not just on the ground. Any guy who gets out and five minutes later can actually forget he played that innings is a huge godsend within Indian culture where it tends to reflect on things over and over again. And Greg and Virender share a relationship that's exceptional. It's the best thing, which could've happened to him in terms of someone great coming in who understands what makes him so good. What Greg is trying to tell him is to become situationally more aware sometimes; sometimes he just doesn't give the bowlers enough respect. That's the area where Greg will have a major influence.