Talking cricket with Tinu Yohannan

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Talking cricket with Tinu Yohannan

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Bastab K Parida

12/03/2016

On the eve of the Ranji Trophy encounter between Kerala and Tripura at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, SportsCafe caught up with Tinu Yohannan and he sat down to discuss the roles of a coach, techniques of a proper first-bowler, work-load management, talent scouting, and more.

Exactly 15 years ago today- on 3rd December 2001, India were playing the first Test of a series against England at the PCA Stadium in Mohali. That series was on the back of an embarrassing series defeat against South Africa and India had been left with a lot to ponder. In a desperate move to get positive results, the BCCI axed Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, and Ajit Agarkar, whereas senior-pros Javagal Srinath and Venkatesh Prasad sustained injuries and were kept out of the team. Skipper Sourav Ganguly handed debut caps to three medium pace bowlers in a single game- Tinu Yohannan from Kerala, Iqbal Siddiqui from Maharashtra, and Sanjay Bangar from Railways. 

Yohannan, who then was just eight first-class games old in the domestic circuit, opened the bowling for the Indian team. With an open-chested action, he drifted the ball away from England’s two left-handed openers Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher. Batsmen failed to understand his deliveries and struggled to pick his length. 

He picked the wickets of both Butcher and Trescothick- twice in the same game, giving a pleasant hope to the selectors and fans alike. But as it turned out, Yohannan remained just as a hope as he faded away soon after being axed from the team forever, after the 2002 tour to New Zealand. 

A soft-spoken and well-mannered individual, Tinu continued to ply his trade for Kerala and South Zone in Indian domestic cricket before hanging his boots in 2009 after a game against Haryana. Then in the year 2014, Tinu was roped in by the Kerala Cricket Association as the assistant coach of the Kerala Ranji Trophy team and handed him the full duty, surprisingly, mid-way through the ongoing 2016-17 Ranji Trophy season.

On the eve of the Ranji Trophy encounter between Kerala and Tripura at the Barabati Stadium in Cuttack, SportsCafe caught up with him and he sat down to discuss the roles of a coach, techniques of a proper first-bowler, work-load management, talent scouting, and more. Excerpts:- 

Q: How did your coaching career start after you played your last game for Kerala in 2009?

Tinu: It was my intent to give back to the game and that started it all. After retirement, I decided to move to Cochin to stay close to my family and KCA (Kerala Cricket Association) was the best place for me to work. They offered me a job there, and that’s how I started working seriously as a coach.

Q: What do you like the most about coaching?

Tinu: The current coaching job is temporary. I have taken it from the previous coach, but I don’t see myself continuing for long. I don’t think that’s my forte. I am looking to continue grooming fast bowlers in the academy and in the Kerala structure.

Q: What is the first thing that you spot when you see a fast bowler?

Tinu: Initially it is the talent that he has and then the natural athletic ability. I am talking about (pure) fast bowlers, (not) swing bowlers and medium pacers. It is about running in and bowling fast.

Q: How do you identify a fast bowling talent?

Tinu: Technique is something you have to always deal with carefully, especially with fast bowlers. They have natural abilities, and if you touch it at the wrong places maybe they will lose that natural ability to bowl fast.  It’s a gradual process, and we have to see where they can improve and which areas need to be touched.

To be able to have consistency and bowl in one area is most important in competitive cricket. Secondly, how they can avoid injuries. How they sustain for long? If we can get a bowler at a young age, maybe below 19 years, then we can work on the action a little bit, their load-up and their body alignment for them to avoid injuries. After one stage when he is 19 or 20 or 21, it is better not to touch his action and just make small corrections.

Q: So, catching them between the ages of 15 to 19 is the key?

Tinu: Mostly at 15 or 16, you don’t get fast bowlers. They would be hiding somewhere, but after that when they decide to bowl fast – from 17 onwards it is a very key period to build fast bowlers. That age is very crucial because that’s the age where the basics are set, like a building we build the foundation like fitness and training – a strong foundation from where they can build up.

Q: How do you suggest workload management in this day and age of Twenty20 cricket?

Tinu: It is a very debatable topic. All the science and technology guys say that you have to reduce the workload, and all us cricketers say that they have to bowl more. The correct formula has not been found yet. If you ask me, the more they bowl, the more bowling fitness they gain, but you have to be aware of what their body capacity is, how much rest someone needs, the recovery. That’s where science and technology come in and you have to combine both.

Q: The Indian Premier League has meant that the resting period for Indian bowlers has reduced drastically…

Tinu: The word recovery is very important. A smart cricketer will use whatever recovery time he has smartly because you can’t choose your schedule. If an IPL game ends by 11pm, they have to move to the next centre by 2am. But if you have to find whatever period you get, you have to use it for rest rather than wasting that time and going somewhere else. You have to be smarter and have that self-control.

Q: One of the things that has changed in the domestic circuit from the time you last played is that pitches have more help for seamers now. Have grassy tracks changed attitudes of pace bowlers?

Tinu: It’s a great opportunity for them. As fast bowlers, they just have to learn how to get wickets. This year we have seen all responsive pitches, everyday for at least two hours there was life in the wicket. It’s not something we got in Kerala sometimes. The earlier they learn, the more success rate they will have because hitting the right areas is the most important thing.

Q: There is a flip side to it. Bowlers like Kapil Dev and Ashish Winston Zaidi used to bowl for years on unresponsive pitches and used to learn. Do you think that skill is fading away?

Tinu: It’s a process. When they get flat wickets, they have to learn how to bowl in that too. You can’t give excuses. Like if you see in this season, some of the wickets have become flat in the second innings and they (the seamers) have to find ways to penetrate through the line-up in that. They have to bring variations or get the ball to reverse.

Q: Is it what has made Umesh Yadav and Mohammed Shami grow in stature?

Tinu: They have stuck to their plan. They have been consistent in what they are doing. Virat plays a big role in it. He is controlling them well. The way he is using the bowlers, resting his spinners and getting the pacers back when the ball is reversing, giving them enough confidence. The captain plays a big role.

Q: How do you judge a fast bowler in a match situation?

Tinu: In a match situation, it’s mostly about areas, speeds and how he is using his strengths in the best possible way. (During) these matches, most of the time we look at the wrist of the fast bowlers, how better can he hold it behind the seam. The seamers who are using their wrist better and getting more backspin are the ones who are able to get more success.

Q: What’s the best way for a fast bowler to use his wrist?

Tinu: We can tell them a lot of drills of how to hold your wrist back, but in the end, it is the feel that they get. They have to play matches, (and) feel it in the nets in order to get success. Ultimately, the bowler has to find the benefits of holding the wrist behind, only then they will do it. It varies from bowler to bowler, and the will to learn is very important.

Q: Who is your definition of a dream fast bowler?

Tinu: Someone who can bowl at 140kph and swing the ball both ways. Someone like Shami. Also, he needs to have the right temperament.

Q: Kerala has been the land of some good fast bowlers. Before you there was Abey Kuruvilla, and then Sreesanth came through. Now you have Sandeep Warrier and Basil Thampi in your ranks. What’s the secret of this?

Tinu: It’s the way we are brought up from childhood. There are a lot of open areas. Even in the house; now you find a lot of flats, but otherwise it is more of rural areas where you can play and run around. Also, our diet structure is better to be athletes. It’s more protein-oriented and has a lot of natural food. That’s one of the reasons I guess why you see a lot of athletic people coming out of Kerala. Also, the terrain plays a role.

Q: How much has the loss of Sreesanth impacted Kerala cricket?

Tinu: Very much. As I said, a player has to be groomed. They are youngsters and see only cricket. They don’t see life as a whole. It is very important to guide them to keep cricket and life in their places. We miss Sreesanth. His life was not controlled. It is very important for the association to give life lessons to players. But we have not felt the vacuum of Sreesanth so much as a lot of talent has come in. His presence (though) could have changed the situation and we would have filled the gap of a steady bowler.

Lasith Malinga or Bhuvneshwar Kumar? Who will take more wickets?

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