The one word that fascinates Indian cricket team’s bowling coach Bharat Arun is consistency. He will talk pace, wrist and seam positions, control, mindset, attitude, aggression, but it’s consistency that is his underlying mantra. Consistency in lines and lengths and, most importantly, in execution.
The former India pacer is masterminding what is clearly the nascent stages of the golden era of Indian fast bowling. At his command as the bowling coach of the national side is a bunch of exciting and electric talent that has made the cricketing world sit up and take notice. From the unquestioned land of tantalizing spin, India has graduated into a nursery for quicks of all ilk; more by design than accident, the man who played two Test matches and four One-Day Internationals in the mid-1980s has been entrusted with the responsibility of carrying the stock of Indian fast bowling forward.
A job he is performing with aplomb.
India's main Test bowlers in 2018
Finding his calling as a mentor
At first glance, Arun doesn’t give the impression of being a guru to developing young quicks. Stocky of frame, he is far removed from the modern-day lithe, athletic backroom staff that drive international teams. But then again, it is not for the 56-year-old to bustle in and deliver the ball at ferocious pace. He is the guide and mentor, the teacher who makes subtle alterations while empowering his charges to make their own decisions, and take responsibility for those calls.
Arun’s was a first-class career less fulfilled – in 48 matches, he picked up only 110 wickets at 32.44. One of several young quicks tried out as a potential new-ball partner to Kapil Dev, he never played for the country after two home Tests against Sri Lanka, only to find his true calling as a coach.
At the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, then with the Tamil Nadu and Hyderabad teams, and now with the national side in his second stint as the bowling coach, Arun has been integral to the explosion of India’s pace riches. To suggest that the quick-bowling array is delivering only because of the bowling coach will be a disrespect to athletes’ skills and their other coaches, but there is no denying the fact that Arun has nudged them in the right direction, whispering the right words in the right ears at the right time, occasionally wielding the stick but generally happy to dangle the carrot and encourage the bowlers to think for themselves.
Arun joined the Indian set-up in England in August 2014 when Ravi Shastri came on board as the team director, and held that position until July 2016 when Anil Kumble assumed charge as head coach. Once Shastri returned, this time as the head coach, in June 2017, so did Arun, who shares a fabulous relationship with his one-time mate at the junior level.
Arun’s impact on Bumrah
Without a doubt, his greatest contribution is in resisting the temptation to tinker with Jasprit Bumrah’s unique and singularly unorthodox action. Unlike Sri Lanka where quirky (not to be confused with suspect) actions are dime a dozen, India have generally tended to place their faith in the conventional, though things are clearly changing with the arrival of Bumrah and Kuldeep Yadav, the first wrist-spinner to represent the country.
So remarkably ungainly is Bumrah’s action that the obvious thing to do would have been be revamp it in toto to get him to fall in line with the accepted norms of pace bowling, notably getting side-on at the time of delivery.
“The first time when I went to the NCA, he was there and he saw my action,” Bumrah said in Melbourne the other day of his first interaction with Arun. “I have been lucky in that he saw my action and he didn’t want to change that. He always believed in this action, but he said I had to become stronger. ‘We won’t change your action, instead we will work on the consistency and everything else will follow’, is what he told me.”
India's best bowling years
|Year||Matches||Wickets||5 W-innings / 10 W-match|
|2018||14||257||9 / 10|
|1979||17||237||7 / 0|
|2002||16||232||9 / 0|
|2008||15||219||5 / 1|
|2004||12||209||13 / 4|
Arun explained why he backed Bumrah, with his strange delivery style, to stick to what came to him naturally. “I felt that Bumrah was able to generate a lot of pace with his action, which is unique, but it puts a lot of strain on his body. It was a challenge and we had a discussions with the physios and trainers,” he pointed out.
“We came to the conclusion that we need to work on him to become extremely strong to be able to sustain his bowling. What makes him so special is that he is so unique. Maybe the batsmen pick his balls a little later than they normally do from a clean action, that makes him so much more potent. Most batsmen who played him even during the IPL have said that it was difficult to pick him. He was someone who did exceptionally well in the domestic championships as well.”
Treasure trove of knowledge
Bumrah has repaid the faith by establishing himself as the pace spearhead in red-ball cricket in exactly 12 months, picking up 48 wickets in nine Tests including five-fors in match-winning causes in Johannesburg, Nottingham and now Melbourne. Even though he is the youngest, he is the leader of a sniping pack that includes Mohammed Shami, Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Hardik Pandya. Waiting in the wings, or playing white-ball internationals, are Khaleel Ahmed, Shardul Thakur, Deepak Chahar and Mohammad Siraj, who burst through with 41 wickets in the 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season when Arun was the Hyderabad head coach and plotted their march to the quarter-finals.
“Every time I have something to sort out or to look for moral support, I speak to Arun sir, he has been a huge source of encouragement always,” Siraj has said. “I asked him what I should do as I transitioned directly into red-ball cricket. He told me to focus on the same things I’ve always done and not to try anything new. So I kept at it.”
To Arun, consistency gives bowlers the ability to take factors such as flatness or otherwise of the surface, and atmospheric conditions, out of the equation. “It’s not just about doing well - it’s the effort and consistency with which we are able to perform over a period of time that’s very encouraging,” he said ahead of the Perth Test a fortnight back.
“Consistency was a bit of an issue on previous tours and that’s something we’ve addressed with the bowlers. It’s something we’ve really worked hard on. The one-percenters which we insist even during practice - the bowlers have responded exceptionally well. It’s very simple. Each time they bowl in the nets, they need to be aware of their plans and what they need to execute. Each time, it’s a little different. We test as to how well they’ve executed, that feedback allows them to be more consistent. I ask the bowlers what their plans are, and as long as those are in line with what we want to execute in the game, that’s perfectly alright.”
Helping Ashwin’s cause
It isn’t just the pacers who have benefitted from Arun’s expertise. R Ashwin, the off-spinner with towering numbers, told this writer three years back, after India’s tour of Sri Lanka in 2015, “The amount of knowledge and the amount of confidence and the grip that I have over my skill now is definitely a marked difference from what I had some years ago. The major reason I have to attribute that to is Bharat Arun because the amount of questions I had, he had all the answers for it. When you have answers and when you have someone who is empowering you to do all these things, it makes my job a lot easier.
Ashwin met Arun at Chepauk when he was director of the TNCA Academy and set about trying to become the best in the world.
“Where we met and drew a line was that we were never hesitant in trying or experimenting because you try and rediscover and discover new things every single day. The one thing he always says is everything is inside you, it just needs to be brought out. And what exactly is bringing out? Bringing out is giving yourself a chance to succeed, at the same time not worrying about your failures. We worked on angles, we worked on actions. I understood from him what exactly loading is, where are the allowable leeways in terms of making an error. I thus started delving into technique. He gave me manuals and books. I started thinking like a coach and wherever I had doubts, I used to put it across to him,” Ashwin said.
Arun has, understandably, an easy relationship with Ashwin, especially given that they both hail from Chennai.
“Ashwin has been extremely confident, he’s aware of what he’s doing. It’s important that a spinner discovers the things he can do,” Arun said. “For that to happen, a coach can give the necessary feedback because most often, what the bowlers think they’re doing and what they’re actually doing can be two different things. If you can bridge that gap, that’s when the bowlers can grow.”
India’s bowlers have truly grown over the past 12 months in particular, which has manifested itself in enhanced overseas results to go with customary stirring success at home. Arun hasn’t bowled a single ball himself, but there is an Arun hand in every strike. As the bowlers themselves testify.