If you only focus on strengthening, you’ll have a shorter career: Manoj Prabhakar

Manoj Prabhakar has become the bowling coach for Delhi cricket, in charge of the entire set-up – senior, junior and women. In an interview with The Indian Express, the former India all-rounder spoke about his plans and also, the current Indian fast bowling resources. Excerpts:

Q: Your first stint as Delhi coach lacked continuity. What will be your vision and focus now?

A: The biggest problem for Delhi cricket is that we have talent but they aren’t being utilised properly. Earlier, the way it used to work, if you were playing for Delhi, then 50 per cent of those players were ready to play for India. (But) in the last 10-15 years, we played the Ranji Trophy final only twice – 2007 and 2017. If a team has good support staff, it grows in confidence. If their shortcomings are addressed properly, players improve. This is what I told (Delhi and District Cricket Association president) Rohan Jaitley ji and he has shown faith in me.

Q: Is it a case that now there’s no proper transition for Delhi cricketers from age-group to senior level?

A: Talent needs to be nurtured properly. For a fast bowler, speed is important. But if you can’t work on different variations, you don’t progress. This is what we have to look into, like you have to mix swing with speed. Just relying on speed can make you erratic. What I have learnt as a cricketer, if I can teach even some of that to the youngsters, I think the Delhi team will touch the peak again.

Q: What is your brief as the bowling coach for Delhi cricket?

A: The entire bowling department in Delhi cricket will be under my charge; senior, junior, women. If I see a bowler doing well at U-19 level, he can be fed to our Ranji team. Then, we have the U-19 women’s World Cup next year and I will like to see at least two-three Delhi players picked for the Indian team. I have time to groom them.

Q: Someone like Navdeep Saini, who is injury-prone and has fallen off the radar a bit, what will be your work process with him?

A: In 2017, when Ishant Sharma was dropped from the Indian team and I was Delhi coach, the way I trained him… Ishant was having some technical problems for over a period. His shoulder was dropping, his wrist position wasn’t correct. See the way he has been bowling now and spot the difference.

Navdeep played for Delhi in 2017 when I was the coach. After that, we didn’t meet. If I get a chance to work with him, I will definitely help him out. Rhythm is very important for a fast bowler. If it’s disturbed, injuries creep in. If you want to play Test cricket regularly, you have to change your thought process also. It’s important to know when to give more than 100 per cent and when to bowl at your 80 per cent. If you think about bowling every delivery at 140kph-plus; it’s not easy to maintain that. I have seen some big bowlers picking up injuries (bowling that way). Navdeep can be a big weapon for India in the coming days, because he is good. But he needs to learn a few things and gain some experience (to reach the next level).

Q: Why are fast bowlers these days so injury-prone?

A: A lot of them don’t have ground fitness and rather work on gym/health club fitness. So, they are more into strengthening exercises at the expense of endurance. And injuries come thick and fast. This is something we need to teach our youngsters, that if you only focus on strengthening, you will have a shorter career. I played for India for 12 years and never got injured.

Q: For the majority of youngsters these days, focus is primarily on the Indian Premier League (IPL) and/or white-ball cricket rather than Test cricket. So, do you agree that training methods should be different as well?

A: You need a good run-up and action to start with followed by developing variations. Modern-day coaching for young fast bowlers can’t solely be top of off-stump. You have to develop a good slower delivery. You saw how many slower deliveries were bowled in the Lord’s Test. Also, you need to learn the art of bowling reverse swing early in your career.

Even for Tests these days, players are being picked from the IPL. So, you have to groom young cricketers with an eye to white-ball cricket also.

Q: What do you attribute this upsurge in Indian fast bowling – a four-pronged pace attack?

A: What the current Indian pace unit has done, opponents hesitate to lay out green-tops even in their backyard. To a large extent, this upsurge is down to the IPL. The exposure it has given to our young fast bowlers, we have been reaping the rewards.

(Jasprit) Bumrah is a product of the IPL. (Mohammed) Shami’s improvements have happened there also. (Mohammed) Siraj as well. They get some top-class coaches in the IPL, which has contributed to their development. And Virat (Kohli) deserves credit. He has changed the fitness level of our team.

Q: So many players at U-19 level bowl at 140kph, but the majority of them fade out. Why?

A: They need to be groomed properly. Yes, they need to think about their cricket to get better; that banking solely on pace is not enough. But they should have a clear direction also. A lot depends on how they are being captained and coached, while making the transition from junior level to first-class cricket.

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