'Pujara can think of playing a few more shots': WV Raman ahead of India vs New Zealand WTC final
Former India batsman WV Raman shared his thoughts on English conditions, the Indian batting unit, the subtle change in approach that might help Cheteshwar Pujara and much more.
Former India batsman WV Raman is a man of few words except when the topic is cricket, especially batting. The tall figure who was known for his solid technique, coupled with the left-hander’s grace, didn’t quite make it big at the international stage in the very few opportunities that he got but he was a domestic stalwart who quickly rose to become one of the most respected coaches of the country. Hindustan Times caught up with Raman in which he shared his thoughts on English conditions, the Indian batting unit, the subtle change in approach that might help Cheteshwar Pujara and much more.
How do you see the Indian side shaping for the WTC final against New Zealand?
It is important not to bother about the past, whether it’s the previous ball or the previous tour. That is exactly what this team has been doing. They came back from 36 all out to win the series (in Australia). The current side has shown a lot of resilience. The ability to be selective in their memory and also go and fight it out against all odds. That has been the hallmark of this side in the last 12 months or so. And mind you, they’ve also had to battle frequent breaks and bio-bubble scenarios, so it has been tough both on and off the game.
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The WTC final is being pitted as a battle between seamers and batsmen in English conditions… Your thoughts?
The challenging part about any overseas tour is handling the conditions. And it is not always about the batsmen. If you look at the first Test between England and New Zealand, then there was a fair bit of swing and seam when the Kiwis were bowling, but it was different when the England bowlers bowled. This also depends on what time you are batting, what is the weather like then. It is always a cat and mouse game not only between batsmen and bowlers but also with the weather. In England, it can change in a matter of seconds and at times leave a deep impact on the outcome of the match.
Do you think the Indian top-order can handle the New Zealand new-ball bowlers in one such overcast condition in Southampton?
Rohit has played enough. He is vastly experienced. Shubman Gill despite being a youngster has got a lot of exposure of playing international cricket. There is no reason why they cannot do it in the WTC final. What is important in England is to take it moment by moment. There you can’t say you are totally set if you have batted for two hours because the weather can change suddenly. So, it is important to always take it one ball at a time.
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You spoke about the mental challenges but what about the technical adjustments to bat well in England?
You cannot trust the pitch. You shouldn’t follow the path of the ball blindly. In India, once the ball comes out of the bowler’s hand, you can pick the line and trust it to hold it and play through the line. It doesn’t generally deviate much after pitching but that is not the case in England. Firstly, there is a fair amount of swing in the air and even after pitching there is a high chance that it might deviate. So, you need to ensure that you are not trusting the line of the ball. You need to keep your eyes on the ball until you make contact.
Does positive footwork make a difference? Most of the current Indian batsmen like to hang back and play shots with minimal foot movement, can that be a problem in England?
No, it's not necessary. It’s a question of how people view things. The expectations of the Indian public are so high that if somebody plays a shot that does not come off then everybody piles onto that particular player till the time he plays a brilliant knock. So, the batsmen need to maintain their basic framework and not tinker with their natural stance often. Players like Rohit, Shubman and Pant need to work out a method to try and succeed in these conditions without compromising too much of their basic technique because that has helped them become the players they are.
Speaking about technique, what have been the issues with Cheteshwar Pujara? He scores in Australia every time but seems to struggle in English conditions...
I think Cheteshwar perhaps can look at playing a few more shots. In England, you’ve got to make the best use of the scoring opportunities. Assuming this will again be a typical English summer, you will get very few scoring opportunities anyway. Cheteshwar likes to grind for long hours and then score. In that period, he might miss out on some scoring opportunities. You can get away with that in India, Australia, where there is not much swing and seam. But both happen a lot in England. In Australia, you will have bounce, you might have a bit of seam but in England, you will have to cope with all three at times. It is important not to let the scoring opportunities go. This not only gives him runs and builds his confidence but it also puts the bowler under pressure. It makes him think.
But won’t that be against Pujara’s natural style of batting?
I’m not trying to say that he has to play against his character. He keeps it very simple. If he picks a bowler and decides that he has to play him out then he can do that quite easily and he does that quite often. But if he just tries to score some runs even against the best bowler then that will keep the bowler on his toes. He suddenly has to think about saving runs too, it’s not only about bowling over after over to Pujara and testing his resilience. The equation then changes slightly. That was perhaps one of the biggest differences between the Indian batters and others when they played Shane Warne. The moment he dropped it slightly short or got his line wrong, our players were ready to punish him. That’s why he perhaps did not have as much success against India as he did against South Africa in England. He did not have mental domination over India.
Did Virat Kohli make similar adjustments when he turned things around from a disastrous 2014 tour to an outstanding series four years later?
I think in 2014 he was so keen to get right behind the line of the ball that his bat at times was struggling to get down on time. He was not offering the full face of the bat. Sometimes when you are too keen to play it the correct way that you forget to relax. For example, beside the line, a player need not alter his technique completely to succeed in England. He needs to ensure that doesn’t play his shots far too early in the innings and pick his deliveries smartly. At this level, it is all about these subtle changes. When you are on a tour, it is very difficult to suddenly bat like someone else in a matter of two weeks. When you are used to playing a certain way for so many years, you need to maintain that and find ways to cope with difficult scenarios.
Who holds the advantage in the WTC final and why?
I would pick India as the favourites. They have got a good all-round side. India have the strength to put together a side that can do well in any condition. They can take the pitch out of the equation. That way this side has an advantage. This team has shown that they can perform regardless of the situation and conditions. They may not have had the opportunity to get the feel of a Test match before the final but I don’t see it mattering to this side. All of them are seasoned. These things hardly matter to them. All of them are eager to go out and perform.
There's a lot of talk about New Zealand having an upper hand because of the two Tests they will play before the final...
Even though there is a general tendency to believe that New Zealand are playing Two Test matches so they might have an advantage, what if they have a bad Test match in the second Test? That can’t be the best thing going into the final.