“Each bowler is an individual, they all have their own limiting factors, what’s stopping them, hitting their pace ceiling and my skills are identifying exactly what they need. Do they need any technical help or do they need physical help or do they need tactical help?”
Steffan Jones wants to talk about fast bowling. He, in fact, wants to give a thesis on it and educate every other fast bowler in the world with the knowledge that he has acquired over 20 years of professional cricket for Kent, Somerset, and Derbyshire and by being one of the most renowned coaches in England, having coached the likes of Stuart Broad and Jofra Archer.
One of the most respected county cricketers in England, Steffan has the distinction of being the last professional dual sportsman - having excelled in cricket and rugby both. He also took a tangential approach that saw him being associated with China’s javelin coach Dave Parker and American baseball teams. His profile as the head of Sports Performance and Wellbeing at Wellington School in Somerset and bowling coach of Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League allows him to have a distinctly different perspective which, as Varun Aaron told SportsCafe recently, has been of great help for the pacers like him.
“I am a bit different, unique in the sense that I cover all aspects because I played the game for 20 years professionally," Jones told SportsCafe. “I was the last professional dual sportsman, both rugby and cricket. I am technically qualified, not through my coaching badges and all that stuff but mainly through watching other sports, throwing sports, I am closely involved with baseball in America. I work closely with Dave Parker who is a javelin coach in China. So all these sports that are transferable to cricket. Understanding how we acquire our skills, motor learning, the different stages of learning and then obviously combining all that with the qualifications I have got.”
This is an interesting revelation. Of course, the modern-day cricket, and fast bowling, in general, has become more about brute force and realising how much workload a professional fast bowler can take to bring the best out of him. Understanding one’s natural strength and then using it subsequently to your own benefit requires an immense amount of care and a professional coach needs to be educated enough, in order to save the players' body from breaking down. For Jones, it is all about being systematic and create a very different structure for different individuals - either tactical, mental, or physical.
“I have coached myself to bowl all my career so I am self-taught really, I have got the badges but they only allow you to open the doors. To get in the door, you have to have a knowledge of all capacities of playing and it’s called the governing dynamics of coaching. It is having all the knowledge to have an impact on performance because doing too much of general work in the gym, heavy-weights for the wrong bowler can be detrimental.
“It works for some but my stuff just takes the guesswork out of it. Each bowler is an individual, they all have their own limiting factors, what’s stopping them, hitting their pace ceiling and my skills are identifying exactly what they need. Do they need technical help or do they need physical help or do they need tactical help? At the end of the day, physics governs everything so you need that knowledge.”
While listening to Jones’ explanation, the mind is bound to go back to the pace revolution that India has witnessed in recent years. After the retirement of Zaheer Khan, the likes of Ishant Sharma, Jasprit Bumrah, and Mohammed Shami took their skill set different notches above while Umesh Yadav has become one of the best bowlers on flat Asian conditions.
Ishant was one of the guys to have benefited from Jones’ model of coaching, and now the likes of Varun Aaron, Jaydev Unadkat, and Dhawal Kulkarni are under the wings of the Rajasthan Royals coach, who has also applied for the Indian cricket team and National Cricket Academy’s bowling coach position. Shedding light on it, Jones stated that his unique method has resonated with the Indian pacers.
“If they are struggling to swing the ball away, more often than not, it’s the base itself so it’s the alignment on front foot contact at the crease. So you work with that, you identify with the alignment issue which is why they don’t pull behind the ball. They fall sideways on the ball, they roll their wrist but actually, due to the fact that they lack eccentric strength on their backfoot contact, they struggle to take it away. So unless you have that knowledge, it doesn’t matter what you do with the wrist position, it’s never gonna work because the body will follow the path of dysfunction so they won’t follow the strength, they will follow the weakness. So if they always collapse on backfoot due to lack of eccentric strength, the ability to absorb force, they are never going to separate their hips and shoulders.”
Explaining it further, Jones added, “They’re always going to be across those on the base and they are always going to roll down the side of the ball. So you have to have that knowledge on everything, to truly have an impact and that is why I think my stuff now resonates well with all Indian players because ultimately, they are talented, they love playing cricket and they don’t want to be spending hours and hours in the gym doing general stuff. So with that in mind, what excites you about the job, it’s having an impact at the top and knowing that my stuff works. It’s helping Indian bowlers, I have a passion for Indian cricketers and also, it’s showing the world that my stuff works at the very top. Indian bowlers have so much potential if we get it right, you know they are all individuals.”
It is that love and passion for the Indian cricket that propelled Jones to apply for the Indian team’s bowling coach as well as the National Cricket Academy bowling coach. Over the years of conducting camps in Bangalore, Jones understood that India is a hub for many talented bowlers and with proper coaching and harnessing their training methods in a new way, they can be the best in the business.
“It's individuality and the natural ability that these guys have in the Indian cricket team but then the NCA’s job is having an impact around the country. There is so much talent in the country so I do workshops in Bangalore. We had 50 bowlers come down last week,and they all put in five miles an hour in one week. So that just shows that my stuff is facts and data-driven, sports science guided and I deal in facts. I assess and don’t guess, so that’s a big thing,” Jones explained.
Of course, it is a complex method and breaking that down for simpler understanding needs more than just theories and, as stated by Dan Christian and Stuart Broad, Jones has the ability to procure it, and definitely not being an arse for the bowler. His method has definitely struck a chord among many and to explain it further, we will publish another essay on August 20 in which Jones decoded the techniques of the Indian pacers.
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