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'Spinners must make friends with 'keepers first'

May 21, 2020 09:09 IST

Former India spinner Venkatapathy Raju explains the mysteries of spin bowling.
A Joseph Antony listens in.

IMAGE: Then India skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni celebrates with off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin. Photograph: Daniel Kalisz/Getty Images

Befriending the wicket-keeper first must be every budding spinner's opening move on the road to success.

"To read a batsman better, speak to the slips also," advised Sagi Lakshmi Venkatapathy Raju, the left-arm spinner who played 28 Tests and 53 ODI games for India.

Raju was addressing coaches of the Andhra Cricket Association at a Webinar hosted by Y Venugopal Rao, the former ODI batsman and ACA's director of cricket operations.

The online interaction was the first among many, planned at the behest of ACA President P Sarath Chandra Reddy, with former Indian cricketers to upgrade the expertise of the coastal squad's players, coaches and support staff, locked down by the coronavirus.

Not only did Raju dwell on his craft's nuances, he also explained what makes a good mentor.

Punctuating practical tips with anecdotes from the game's highest levels, he recalled roommate Rahul Dravid's intensity after a batting failure.

"He refused food, choosing instead to brood. He pondered deep and long on what went wrong, well after the day's play was over," the left arm spinner recalled.

IMAGE: A scene from the Andhra Cricket Association Webinar.

Former Indian captain and legendary leg-spinner Anil Kumble was a phenomenal player, Raju noted.

As India's coach, his seriousness and schoolmaster approach didn't go down well with the senior players, he added. Coaching was/is mostly about man-management, if not in delegation of responsibilities.

"In our days we went to the coach. In these times, coaches go to the players," Raju quipped.

The success of India Coaches John Wright and Gary Kirsten lay in assistance from support staff.

"In my playing days, there were just a coach and a manager," noted Raju, who has served as the International Cricket Council's Asia Development Officer.

IMAGE: Venkatapathy Raju took 93 Test wickets and 63 ODI wickets for India. Photograph: A Joseph Antony

When quizzed by Venugopal Rao about the dearth of spinners from south India, as against so many in his time, Raju, nicknamed 'Muscles,' seized the moment for a dig at the present lot.

"They are busy with weight training when they should be spending long hours in the nets or in practice," Raju, who was once the Odisha cricket team's coach, observed.

What would his mental 'make-up' be against aggressive batsmen, one attendee asked. Say against Virender Sehwag?

One had to bowl not to his strengths but to his weak spots, Raju explained.

This would not only restrict runs, but curtail the batsman's flow too.

Against batsmen as destructive as the Australian Dean Jones, who stepped out often, Raju would bowl well outside the off.

"Such tips came from (wicket-keepers) Kiran More, Chandrakant Pandit and Nayan Mongia. Jones wanted to dominate the bowler right from the start. It was up to the bowlerl to prevent that," Raju reminisced.

His worst nightmares were bowling to the 5' 7" David Boon and then to the towering Tom Moody, who stood over 6' 6" feet tall, hitting the length for both calling for huge control.

Against a cover drive specialist like Mumbai's Amol Majumdar, a middle and leg line kept him in check.

"We were fortunate not to have power plays in our time," noted Raju, a member of the ICC Americas's cricket combine lead coaches panel.

"The ability to adapt across formats, surfaces and playing conditions will set a spinner apart."