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Sometimes, a mentor-student relationship goes beyond the confines of the teach-and-learn boundary, becoming the ground of mutual sharing of knowledge. This happens when a master of the previous era meets the champion of the present times.
The coming together of Waqar Younis and Dale Steyn has created a similar setting in the Sunrisers Hyderabad camp. Younis, that incredible pioneer of the art of reverse swing and one-half of the greatest fast bowling pair of the 1990s, advices the best and most complete fast bowler in the world today.
From India’s point of view, this pair of coach and senior fast bowler of the team proves to be most advantageous to Ishant Sharma. While his talent has never been in doubt, his international numbers don’t do justice to the gift he possesses.
Younis explains two of his premier pacers at Sunrisers:
Unity in diversity
The Sunrisers bowling coach feels the varied styles of his main pacers has troubled the opposition batsmen this season.
“When it comes to our pacers, they’re not only from different countries but are also different types of bowlers. Ishant is tall and can generate bounce while Steyn swings the ball at pace and Perera can bowl the wide yorker and the slower one well with his slingy action. That blend of different styles makes us an even better side. The batsman is already struggling against Steyn and then he has to face a ball delivered by Ishant from eight feet high.”
Younis then spoke elaborately about Steyn and Ishant
Fast, fit and a unanimous favourite
What makes Steyn special? Waqar Younis reckons it’s not only his abilities with the cricket ball
“I have been watching Steyn since he played his first game for South Africa but this is the first time that I have met him. I have been a big fan. Not only me but everyone in the cricket world loves him for the way he plays the game. That’s not only because of his bowling but other things that he brings onto the table.
“His fitness is the key behind his success. Also, he likes to talk. He’s amazing when he talks to the coaches and youngsters alike. He participates and shows interest in all the team matters. That’s one reason why the team is doing so well. The fact that we have mutual admiration and respect towards each other, makes it easier for us to talk about certain things and it works really well for the team.”
An all-time great
Where does Younis, a great fast bowler himself, place Steyn in the pantheon of greats?
“I don’t want to offend anyone because there have been some seriously great bowlers in the last four-five decades that I can remember. We’ve had Imran Khan, Kapil Dev, Dennis Lillee, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram, Michael Holding and so many big names.
“But Dale Steyn is definitely in the top three for me. And if he keeps going like this for the next two-three seasons, he’ll hit the top. Not many bowlers have swung the ball at his pace and have had his fitness.”
The unbridled admiration
The legend had no qualms in admitting he’s a big Steyn fan and working with him is a learning experience for him too.
“I’m glad that I met him and spoke to him about bowling. It’s not only him learning a thing or two from me but more of me getting knowledge from him. He’s an amazing athlete.
“If somebody wants to learn something from Steyn, just watch him bowl. He can bowl a 12-over spell of tearing pace with ease and then will go back and field with ease too. He’s a great man to have in a team, not only as a bowler but also as a person.”
The curious case
Ishant Sharma has disappointed those who expected great things off him after that spell to Ricky Ponting at Perth. His SRH coach, however, has faith in him.
“He is a very, very hard-working kid. He really wants to learn. He talks to you about his bowling and tries to get better each time. Fair enough, he hasn’t lived up to his potential up until now but he is on his way. I believe he will do well in the future.”
Younis cited the unhelpful pitches in India and a core group of fast bowlers to work with as the main reasons why Ishant hasn’t been able to establish himself at the highest level despite playing 50 Test matches.
“The first and the biggest reason are the slow pitches in India. They don’t suit his bowling style. He has played most of his 50 Test matches in India. When the team plays three spinners and one fast bowler, the pacer is not going to bowl much. On these flat pitches it’s hard to get wickets, not only for Ishant but for anyone.
“Even in Pakistan we have similar flat pitches but people like Wasim Akram, Shoaib Akhtar and myself always hunted in packs. We were two-three of us together and we used to gang up against the spin bowlers. When you’re the lone pacer, it becomes difficult to make the same impact.”
“Ishant is not express quick but he is tall and gets good bounce. When he goes overseas he’s a different bowler and bowls much better. But when you haven’t done enough at home, it is very difficult to go abroad and suddenly blast the opposition out. It can happen occasionally but not every time.”
Consistency and patience the key
Younis admits Ishant needs to increase his level of patience when bowling on the Indian tracks. That way he will not get desperate but keep trying something new and will bowl a string of good deliveries at the same batsman.
“That’s what we’re talking to him about and working on. We are telling him, ‘look, you have to chain the good deliveries together and bowl maybe four, five or six of them on the trot’. I think it has a lot to do with his action as well. He’s got a hard action and his height makes it even tougher for him. At times, he also tries to do too much when he doesn’t get wickets. We are trying to get him to bowl more good deliveries in a row.”
“He’s a tall bowler and so, his length is different from that of the other bowlers. I think he has to bowl a little short of a length to get that extra bounce. He’s not one of those who will be hitting the stumps all the time or getting lbws all the time. He’ll get you edges and get people caught off the glove. But for that, he needs to get the channel right and he is keenly working on it.”
Comparisons with Morkel unfair
While admitting their tall frame makes Ishant and Morne Morkel similar type of bowlers, Younis says the comparison should end there. He feels it is unfair to compare Morkel’s growth and success as a fast bowler and with Ishant’s lack of it because of the vast different in the conditions they both encounter at home.
“They are similar bowlers. But don’t forget that Morne Morkel has grown up on the South African pitches. He knows how to generate that extra bounce off those tracks. Plus, he is taller and a touch quicker than Ishant. Bring Morkel here and he will struggle. It’s not easy to bowl on these wickets as a fast bowler, trust me on that.”
Blast from the past
The current generation has embraced the Twenty20 format wholeheartedly. But Younis feels his generation of cricketers would have fared equally well in the shortest format.
“I would have succeeded (in T20 cricket). I enjoyed every bit of what I achieved in my career and I have no complaints. But I think a lot of guys from our era would have succeeded in this format. Shane Warne proved that in the first couple of IPL seasons. Our era has shown glimpses to this generation of cricketers that we wouldn’t have done too badly in this format as well. We had some seriously good cricketers in our era.”
Although they came into the match against the Delhi Daredevils with a hard fought, nerve wracking win,Kings XI Punjabhad yet to win back to back games in the Pepsi Indian Premier League 2013. But, ahead of the match coach Darren Lehamann had said that they hoped to make it two in two at the Feroz Shah Kotla.
And although he did not reveal them, he had mentioned that they had plans for sending back the dangerous Delhi Daredevils opener Virender Sehwagwho had won the hosts their previous game. The coach’s wards executed their plans to a nicety and set up a second consecutive victory by restricting DD to 120 runs and importantly sent back the dangerous Sehwag early.
The bowler in the spotlight who claimed the prized wicket of Sehwag was Harmeet Singh Bansal. Back on the field after almost a year, his last match was at the same venue against the same opposition in May 15, 2012, the pacer put in a match winning performance. The 25-year old finished with three for 24 in his quota of four overs.
Holding his nerve he removed the important cog in the DD line-up. Speaking about the plan to get Sehwag’s wicket he told iplt20.com, “Our plan was not to give width to Viru bhai and bowl stump to stump and that’s what we did and that was what caused him a bit of problem I think.”
Elaborating on the plans for removing the DD opener, David Hussey added, “The plan was just to bowl in the good areas. Everybody knows he is one of the best players in the world. Today he hit some of the most amazing shots you will see and we were just lucky to get him out for 20-odd runs.”
Speaking about the nerves and preparation ahead of the game, Harmeet said, “I was told in the morning by the team management to be ready to play. So I was ready and felt that I might get a game and then when we came to the ground they confirmed it. I was focusing since morning. I was a bit nervous because when Viru bhai (Virender Sehwag) is in front of you, one will be nervous and especially because of the innings that he played in the last match scoring 95 runs. Seeing that knock anyone would be nervous. But it was important for me to read the wicket. It was a double paced wicket so I bowled accordingly to Viru bhai.”
But, did they expect to restrict the star studded Daredevils line-up to 120 odd runs? Harmeet said, “We saw in the beginning, the wicket was bit double paced, the ball was stopping and coming on and we bowled a little quick in between too. So it becomes a bit difficult for the batsmen to score runs. We were thinking that if we could restrict them to 120-130 runs it would be good and obviously Viru bhai’s wicket was very important so I think because of that too we could contain them.”
Having bided his time, the youngster was keen to get a day in the field and hoped to make it count. “I was a little frustrated that I wasn’t getting matches. I had sat out for six matches so I was waiting to get an opportunity to get a game. I was always ready to play when I got the chance. And today when I got it I delivered well,” he said.
The senior cricketer were full of praise for the pacer. Lauding Harmeet’s performance, Hussey said, “He was superb. Hardly missed a beat with the training and to get the Man-of-the-Match in your first game back is pretty sensational.”
The team drew confidence from their previous win but did take a fresh guard against DD. Speaking about the boost Hussey said, “Always when you have had a close fought win, a very high scoring win, it gives your team a lot of confidence. The way our bowlers bounced back after the last game, it was just sensational tonight and hopefully we can keep the winning momentum going.”
Harmeet said, “Yes ofcourse it helps. We have won two in two so the confidence is really high and will now be looking forward and working towards the next game. But when we came out to play today we had forgotten about the previous match because every game is different and the wicket here is different from Mohali.”
“When we go from here for the next game we have to put this behind after celebrating the win and focus on the next match.”
The team has found their footing and will be looking forward to carry the momentum ahead. The seniors and the captain have played a vital role in regrouping and binding the team together. Crediting his captain, Harmeet said, “He (Adam Gilchrist) is the kind of captain who will even motivate a player who is very low. He is a very good captain during the match and off the field as well. He tells us what to do. His experience obviously helps.”
Hussey added, “Gilly is leading so well on the field, he is tactically very, very smart. He brings everybody together.”
Speaking about his own role, Hussey who stood in as captain in a few matches last year said, “I am sort of a fielding captain. I bowl a couple of overs, sneak in couple actually and bring the over rate down and hopefully score a few runs in the middle as well. All our batters are firing at the moment and hopefully that continues.”