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Abhiram's Mumbai Adventure


Abhiram Joshi approached the club in December 2016 with a request to spend time in Mumbai.


He went on to spend his winter break at the prestigious Global Cricket School in Mumbai, used extensively by professional counties, and international teams such as England.  Our thanks go to Brian O’Rourke at Cricket Ireland, one of the first coaches in the world to take a team to GCS, for smoothing the path for Abhiram to be selected by Sachin Bajaj, the Director of GCS.

 

Abhiram has kindly produced this detailed blog into his time at GCA.  As these are Abhiram’s unedited words and photographs, NUSC must state that the opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of NUSC or, any of its associated partners.
















At Shivaji Park, a famous ground where the likes of Sachin Tendulkar and Sunil Gavaskar first learned the game. You can see two men on the left, hands on their heads, the same reaction but part of two different games.






















Training facilities at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai


























Both the England (far left) and India A squads training ahead of their warm-up game in Mumbai























Me with England spin consultant Saqlain Mustaq and star leg spinner Adil Rashid

Why Mumbai?
My first view days in India were spent first did not involve much playing, but just watching the people playing cricket there you come to understand why people like Sachin Tendulkar were worshipped like gods. Not only are there hundreds of young cricketers that flock to the local ‘maidans’ or grounds that come to play the organized ‘hardball’ version of the sport, the type that is normally played in England, but there are an uncountable number of tennis ball games taking place all around them, where groups of people, from school children to adults, set up a few stumps and get going playing a proper game of cricket with a rubber like tennis ball and a thin wooden bat. It wouldn’t be uncommon seeing an organized school match played on a proper pitch with umpires and all, being encroached on and interrupted by a number of tennis ball matches being played on the outfield of the ground.
 


Joining the Global Cricket School
My cricket there was organized through John Holland, who put me in contact with Mr. Brían O’Rourke, a very influential figure in Irish and Leinster Cricket who recommended me to go to same place that he sends all his own upcoming cricketers from Leinster when they tour India. Brían helped me get in touch with Sachin Bajaj Sir, the founder of the Global Cricket School and academy which has invited and organized cricket India for the likes of Joe Root, Jonny Bairstow and many other English players. Having the opportunity to be part of such an organization was a very exciting prospect for me. Sachin Sir had organized two weeks of cricket for me in India with now coach and former Ranji player Hitshu Bichani, who was very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the game. With Hitshu Sir, I had sessions where I would either be improving my bowling by bowling to India first class cricketers or improving my batting by having 2 hour long net sessions in the Indian heat. In both cases, my own mental strength was tested, fully immersed in a different cricketing environment, and though I am an Indian myself, adjusting to the culture there and trying to fit in was one of the biggest challenges, where gaining respect from the locals depended solely on how well you played.
 
In India, forging a path of cricketer is a path of great opportunity but equally of great struggle. For every fairy-tale story such as that of Virender Sehwag, who came from a very impoverished family in New Delhi, there are number of players that don’t achieve their dreams. When I was there I met a number of cricketers that would travel over 2 hours every day on the train just to come to Mumbai and play cricket. Thus the main thing I learned in India was not the skill required to become a better cricketer, but the sheer determination needed to become a better cricketer, and the sheer mental strength required to keep up with the sport in a country that is so obsessed with it. In India, there aren’t or county or in the Indian case, state academies that groom a player until they are ready to represent the state. There is so much competition that players that work the hardest are the ones that get the results, and so mental strength and determination to play are the key things that you find are developed very early on over there. That is why it is uncommon when you see the multitude of high scores in Indian schoolboy cricket, most recently Pranav Dhanawade, a 15 year old from Mumbai who smashed 1009* in a school match there. When you get a chance, you simply have to take it with both hands or someone else will take it for you. 

 
Learning to bat the Indian way
Skill wise, there are a few key things I learned in India that really goes towards describing how the conditions really do shape the way you learn to play the game. In slow Indian pitches, coaches tell you while batting to take a short stride into the ball and play the ball with the ‘hands’. Meaning allow the ball to come to you and manipulate its direction of the bat by merely using the wrists and changing the angle of the bat face. Furthermore, many say to not try and hit the ball hard at all, merely try to time it and deflect it here and there for runs. This type of technique is further promoted by the grounds many play at. With quick outfields and generally small boundaries, hitting the ball hard is not required at all, if you get it past the inner ring, the ball is guaranteed to go for a boundary. 
 
Especially against spin, the coaches there told me two distinctive pieces of advice that go against all previous advice that I have received. According to coaches in India, the way to play spin bowling is to take a very small step forward when going on the front foot and playing the ball with the hands well in front of the front pad, and again manipulating the wrists to soften the ball when it makes contact with the bat. This is beneficial because it allows you not only to be able to adjust to the ball when it spins off the wicket, but if you happen to get an edge, the ball is less likely to balloon off your pad into the hands of the close in fielders, but rather go to ground. This technique took me quite a while to accept and have still not completely implemented it as in England we learn spin either right forward or right back, with bat and pad together. Though the English technique is not bad, if you tend to lunge forward when you try to play spin ‘right forward’, you will end up going at the ball with hard hands, which is not good.
 
Basically to summarize, as an Indian batsman you are simply taught to play the ball very late and manipulate the wrists for power and placement, which is why you can see that Indian players tend to be very wristy in the way they play. My coaching involved completely stripping away any fancy shots from my game, such as hitting over the top, inside-out and especially playing any shots such as the reverse sweeps and ramps. The coaches in India really emphasize the need to do the basics perfectly and never teach any of the innovation that you routinely encounter in coaching here over in England such as playing reverse sweeps. This may explain arguably the best batsman in the world today, Virat Kohli, plays next to any unorthodox shots even in formats such as T20, where innovation is normally embraced.

 
Rethinking how to bowl spin
This manipulation and use of the wrists extends directly into spin bowling. On the first day of my training in India, I was at the prestigious Cricket Club of India based at the Brabourne Stadium, bowling to a former Mumbai first-class cricketer. Within the first six ball that I had delivered, I was told that I was using my shoulder too much to get the ball to the other end, and in doing so, was losing rotation on the ball that would cause it not only to spin off the wicket more, but also drift and dip in the air. See, dip and drift in the air are caused not by the bowling action necessarily but mostly by the amount of spin on the ball as it spins through the air. So, as I was using my shoulder too much, I was not actually using my fingers and wrist to ‘flick’ the ball out of my hands and give it enough rotation to drop on the batsman and trouble. Instead, I was darting the ball in, thinking that if I bowled quicker, the batsman would have less time to react and I would be harder to face. This dependency on my shoulder would also mean that I would have not only poor control over my line and length but also on pitches in India, where though the balls spins, it usually is ‘slow turn’ rather than spitting turn and bounce, I would be quite ineffective as even if the ball did turn, the batsman would easily adjust as the trajectory of my delivery would be flat rendering it easy for the batsman to play. So, my action was completely stripped away completely for a day and I was told to simply practice flicking the ball forward with power without using my shoulder at all. For the first few attempts at doing this I was not even able to get the ball a quarter way down the pitch, in complete contrast with Hitshu Sir himself, who was a left arm spinner for Ranji team Baroda, who could deliver the ball with an appreciable amount of turn just through the flick of a wrist.
 
Eventually, after a countless number of attempts I was able to consistently get the ball to flick out of my hand using only my wrist, and this is when I was allowed to go to a two step run and try to incorporate the flick of the wrist with the full shoulder rotation. The next steps from there was then practicing to get a perfect rotation of the seam through the air, getting the seam to spin at an angle of 45-degrees from the direction of the path of the ball and bowling a bit slower so that the ball can be ‘tossed’ up above the batsman’s eyeline and allowed to dip and drift. All these things are not revolutionary, nor are they things that you don't read all the time when you search topics such as ‘How to spin the ball more’ online. So again, it is simply the idea of perfecting the basics rather than learning how to do all the fancy things such as bowling the doosra. The difference then between the Indian spinners and spinners that I have seen in England, is that the spinners in India, though they only have two main variations - a ball that turns and on that does not - they know exactly when to use these variations and completely out-think the batsman and pressurize him with immaculate control over line and length rather than try to bowl a magic ball every deliver and get the batsman out. The spinners in India simply knew what to do when a batsman was playing a certain way, and was one step ahead at all times. This mental approach with their skill to flick their wrist and get the ball to dip in the air meant that the batsman facing them had to genuinely think ahead about what the bowler was trying to do rather than just react to the ball coming at him. Rather than just a battle of skill, it was really a battle of wits, who could out think the other; a game of chess.


Experiencing the Bharat Army
While there I got the opportunity to watch the two warm-up matches that the touring England Team were having with the India A team in preparation for the ODI series they were going to participate in. Other than the fact that it was amazing to see some of the best player from each country play so freely. One of the games also happened to be Dhoni’s last game as captain of an Indian team, and so the atmosphere from the large crowd that turned up to watch was a sight to behold, nothing I have experienced before. Again, the passion of the Indian fans could really be sensed there, with deafening cheers every time Dhoni even took a single. The other thing I noticed though is again how the two teams played their games. Again, Indian coaching mentality of perfecting the basics really showed through as the Indian players would never try to muscle the ball in the air, try to hit the ball too hard or play any unorthodox shots, whereas the England players were playing all sorts of reverse sweeps, paddle sweeps and moving around their crease when batting. The results of the two warm-up matches that were played were one win to England and one to India A, which suggests that there is no one best way to play cricket, just illustrates the many good ways to get the job done and the different styles that occur in different regions of the world.


Putting it into practice against India and England
One of the coolest things that I was able to do when I was in India though, was to bowl to both the England and the India A squad in the nets.  This was an amazing opportunity for myself cricket wise because not only did I get to meet some of the best cricketers in the world, but I got to bowl to and alongside them as well. It was a great opportunity for me to see up-close what made these cricketers so different from an everyday amateur player and to test myself against them and see where I was at on my journey to professional level. 
I think I did achieve that, but not in a way that I thought it would happen. I didn’t improve as a player only because I improved my skill by playing in different conditions, but also because I became better mentally as a player and a person. I gained confidence in myself as a player and a person. The thing I realized the most by going to India - training with the coaches there - and why I think it was a good one for me is that I realized that to reach the next level you do not need insane amounts of talent or skill for that matter. You simply need to be able to do the basics well and believe in your own ability. You need to be mentally ready for any challenges that are thrown at you and believe that you can take on any of these challenges. I learned what it means to back my own ability and realized how I can get to that stage personally. It was a good break from such an organized version of the same game here in England, to go to India and just play, everyday, multiple times a day, and discover where you are at as a cricketer, why you play cricket, and how you yourself can get better. It was not a trip where I learned radical new techniques that I did not now before, but learned to actually use all the things that I did know to be better overall. That is the key, know yourself, know your own game, and enjoy doing what you do. 
 
 
 
Have I come back from my India trip an improved player?
 I think I did achieve that, but not in a way that I thought it would happen. I didn’t improve as a player only because I improved my skill by playing in different conditions, but also because I became better mentally as a player and a person. I gained confidence in myself as a player and a person. The thing I realized the most by going to India - training with the coaches there - and why I think it was a good one for me is that I realized that to reach the next level you do not need insane amounts of talent or skill for that matter. You simply need to be able to do the basics well and believe in your own ability. You need to be mentally ready for any challenges that are thrown at you and believe that you can take on any of these challenges. I learned what it means to back my own ability and realized how I can get to that stage personally. It was a good break from such an organized version of the same game here in England, to go to India and just play, everyday, multiple times a day, and discover where you are at as a cricketer, why you play cricket, and how you yourself can get better. It was not a trip where I learned radical new techniques that I did not now before, but learned to actually use all the things that I did know to be better overall. That is the key, know yourself, know your own game, and enjoy doing what you do.