Leading from behind the scenes

S. DINAKAR

A SHREWD cricketer seldom stops learning, and the battle-scarred Robin Singh, at 38, says he picked up quite a few things in England as India's under-19 coach.

"For me it was a learning experience. When you are playing cricket, you don't realise you are doing some things wrong. When you are playing, even though you know about it, you are not able to put it into practise one hundred per cent. When you are coaching, you tend to look at a lot more aspects," said Robin Singh, speaking to The Sportstar in Chennai, after returning from a satisfying tour of England.

Robin Singh... drawing on his rich experience.-N. SRIDHARAN

What does Robin, who continues to remain a first class cricketer, have to say about his new role: "It keeps you more focussed. It's almost like playing the game, but sitting inside. You are leading from behind the scenes. The only thing is that you got to make them understand, why they are doing what. The sooner they can do that, the faster they can grow. You try to draw on you own experience and make them realise where they can be better."

Pitted against a more experienced England side, with almost all its members having had a feel of county cricket, India fought hard before going down 0-1 in the Test series, however, swept the one-day series 3-0.

As Robin reveals, the fact that he was able to get along well with the boys was a big help. "I first met the boys in Pune during a one-week camp before the tour. That is where I learn't about their personalities, their background, what they had achieved in the past. You have to win their trust. That is very important. Then I started observing them without saying too much. They have to play according to the needs of the team, realise what is good, and analyse things a little better. That will come with experience. I was there to guide them."

Ambati Rayudu made a majestic unbeaten 177 in the third one-dayer.-N. SRIDHARAN

It was a relationship that grew as the tour progressed. "As the tour went on, they got used to me. They started asking questions. You have to be very accessible. I would joke around, but I would give them a shelling when I had to, when the situation demanded it."

Before the team left for England, Robin ensured that the boys got the right type of pitches to practise on in Pune - "They got practise wickets that were suitable to the English conditions in Pune itself."

So what technical adjustments did the youngsters have to bring about in England. Over to Robin: "You cannot play early, and away from the ball in England. You got to wait. If you are willing to wait, you will get runs. And you cannot play across the line. You cannot play too far ahead of your body. You got to meet the ball close to the body."

He goes on: "You cannot be flicking all the time. A lot of guys got out because they tried to flick, a stroke they are used to in the Indian conditions. Here, the wickets are slower and the ball does not move. In England, the ball moves late. So the straighter you play, the more you can adjust. The moment you play across you have little chance. I tried to correct this tendency among the boys. Most of them, tended to go on to the front foot early, and their back-foot game was rather weak. I tried to drive home the point that to succeed in international cricket, they had to be strong off the back-foot also. That was what was going to help their cricket at a higher level. Because not many international bowlers are going to pitch the ball up. So you have to rock back and shorten the length."

The Indian team which won the one-day series.-N. SRIDHARAN

He worked on the bowlers as well. "Similarly with the bowlers, I made them understand the importance of a good line and length, and consistency. The pacemen had to move the ball. Not bang it in, but release it, and hit the seam more often than not. The fact that I could participate actively at the nets, whether in bowling or in batting, was well received by the boys. I could demonstrate what I was telling them to do."

In the Test series, Deepak Chowgule and Suresh Raina batted well, making 181 and 179 runs in the three-match series at 45.25 and 44.75 respectively, and Robin is pleased with the displays of these two middle-order batsmen. "Chowgule, who is short, is more of a back-foot player, while Raina is better off his front. They have to develop their temperament a little more, but they have the requirement needed to survive in the longer duration of the game. They are quite patient. Bisla has a lot of ability, but he will have to be a little more patient as an opener. He has a lot of shots, bowls his seamers well and can develop into a good all-rounder." And, Shubhojit Paul, the wicket-keeper batsman, came up with an invaluable hundred in the first Test.

Among the bowlers in Tests, left-arm paceman Irfan Pathan was easily the pick with 15 wickets in three Tests, at 25.93. According to Robin, both Pathan and his opening partner Atram operated well: "Irfan hits the ball, is a little quicker, Atram is more of a seam and swing bowler. Both are left-armers, are both quite fit, and they are both willing to learn. Atram, who displayed the kind of temperament that is required in pressure situations, ended up winning two one-day games with the bat for us. Irfan too came up with a crucial knock."

Robin has a word of appreciation for the spinners as well, though they were not among the wickets in a big way - "Among the spinners, Udit Patel bowled very well in the series. He is an off-spinner and he actually progressed as the tour went along, which is a good sign. Most people didn't give him much of a chance, but I thought he bowled extremely well throughout the series. He impressed as the matches went on, and did what was required of him. He was able to grasp things very fast. And Timil Patel, a leg-spinner, bowled exceptionally well in the last two one-dayers".

Kuldip Rawat had a major hand to play in the one-dayers, when things got close and Robin remembers his contributions. "He was the mainstay in the lower order, at No 7. He was there till the end, and saw the side through. He showed character."

Irfan Pathan with 15 wickets from three Tests was easily the pick of the Indian bowlers.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The setback in the third Test was disappointing, but Robin is delighted in how quickly the side could bounce back to sweep the one-day series."In the one-dayers, we tried all types of combinations, but we won convincingly. The three one-dayers we won, we came from behind each time, which was fantastic. Their fielding was superb, and their running between the wickets was exceptional." Here, Robin acknowledges physio Rana's assistance.

In the first one-dayer at Bristol, India, chasing 266 was 200 for seven when Kuldeep Rawat and Irfan Pathan added an unbeaten 68 runs for the eighth wicket in a match-winning partnership. Then at Taunton, India required eight runs off the last two deliveries of the final over with just one wicket remaining, when Atram struck paceman Kyle Hogg for a four and a six off successive balls! It was Ambatti Rayudu's majestic 177 not out (114b, 16x4, 1x6) and his 40-run last wicket partnership with Atram, that enabled India to make it three out of three.

Robin is lavish in his praise for Rayudu, but tells us that he had to remind the young opener of his ability when he was throwing it all away after doing the good work. "He played exceptionally well in that innings in the final one-dayer. In the Tests, he batted well for 20, 30 runs and then he would give his wicket away. I told him, 'you are getting a start, but getting out.' I left him out of the third Test, and I told him why he has been left out."

Rayudu got the message and Robin says it was a different Rayudu at Taunton. "He played in the 'V', batted a lot straighter early on, and once he settled down, played his full range of shots. He controlled the game, even when he had only the last man with him. He batted with authority, he batted with a lot of ability, and you cannot see a better knock from a youngster."

Are there any future India cricketers in this bunch? Robin feels it is too early to name someone and put extra pressure on him to perform. "Let them all continue to play cricket, let them do it in the right way, and I am sure, from this lot, some four or five will go on to play for India. These are the guys you got to keep looking at. They are the future."

The scores: Tests First Test: Cardiff, July 27 to 30

England 511 for nine decl. (Kadeer Ali 67, G.J. Muchall 254, B.M. Shafayat 57, K.W. Hogg 25, S.P. Pope 51, Irfan Pathan three for 122) & 147 for eight decl. (Kadeer Ali 49, K.W. Hogg 37, Atram three for 28) drew with India 325 (P.C. Valthathy 52, S. Raina 72, S. Paul 115, A. Sharma 26, Hogg four for 68) & 87 for two in 25 overs (P.C. Valthathy 43).

Second Test: Southampton: August 7 to 10

England 323 (B.M. Shafayat 51, Kadeer Ali 38, K.W. Hogg 50, L.E. Plunlett 35, G. Wagg 60, Pathan four for 83) drew with India 237 (M.S. Bisla 78, D. Chowgule 89).

Third Test: Northants: August 13 to 16

England 341 (B.M. Shafayat 118, Kadeer Ali 97, G.J. Muchall 67. Pathan three for 83, T. Patel four for 40) and 402 for five decl. (B.M. Shafayat 201, Kadeer Ali 111, Pathan three for 77) bt India 310 (D. Chowgule 62, S. Raina 63, T. Patel 44 not out, N. Malik three for 75, P. McMahon four for 47) & 248 (M. Bisla 27, Y. Gnaneswara Rao 27, V. Yadav 49 not out, U. Patel 46, T. Bresnan three for 40, P. McMahon four for 58).

One-dayers Bristol, Aug. 27

England 265 for eight in 50 overs (P. Mustard 45, Kadeer Ali 62, J.G.E. Benning 60) lost to India 268 for seven in 49.1 overs (M. Bisla 35, A.T. Rayudu 34, S. Paul 28, K. Rawat 53 not out, Pathan 42 not out).

Taunton, Aug. 29

England 269 in 50 overs (Kadeer Ali 25, K.W. Hogg 103, M.L. Pettini 31) lost to India 262 for nine in 47 overs (M.S. Bisla 59, A. T. Rayudu 80, Hogg three for 51). India was set a revised target of 260 in 47 overs.

Taunton, Aug. 30

England 303 for seven in 50 overs (A.W. Gale 77, Kadeer Ali 125, K.W. Hogg 35 not out, Mustard 34, T.K. Patel four for 36) lost to India 306 for nine in 48.1 overs (A.T. Rayudu 177 not out, K. Rawat 37, S. Patel three for 45).