Fast bowling is often backbreaking work. It is the most physical of all departments in cricket and one area where India have been found wanting over the years. Yet 2008 was a bumper year for fast bowling in India. Apart from the emergence of Ishant Sharma as someone the opposition respects and fears in equal measure, Zaheer Khan has taken his game to a level previously unimaginable.
In the last two series played at home, considered a fast bowlers’ graveyard, Ishant (against Australia) and Zaheer (England) have walked away with the Man-of-the-Series awards. Venkatesh Prasad, India's bowling coach, refuses to take any credit for the gains, and insists it is the playing group that has made the difference.
"I would not like to pin point individuals. It has been a group effort," Prasad told HT. "It is the work ethic that this group has evolved. People have taken responsibility at different times and understood the need to share the load."
The noticeable difference in Zaheer is the consistency he brings while leading the attack. "Consistency is something we have been focussing on. We've been practicing to specific scenarios," said Prasad. "The way our bowlers are using bouncers and slower deliveries effectively even on unresponsive tracks is crucial. Their contribution in picking up early wickets or breaking partnerships in conditions that favour spin has been vital."
Prasad explains that Zaheer's evolution as leader of the attack has helped the group as a whole. "Zak has been really good in team meetings, coming up with ideas and strategies.
"On the field, Zak has constantly looked out for the younger bowlers, set fields and devised strategies. When you have a senior doing that it really helps me as bowling coach to help others."
Prasad credits the success of the coaching group to the approach. "Gary Kirsten, Robin Singh and I have played at the highest level but we know the importance of being humble. There's no special thing about coaching. It's a lot about understanding one another and facilitating the process in which the players can get better," said Prasad.
"Coming from a middle-class background with strong family values, playing alongside guys like (Javagal) Srinath, (Anil) Kumble and (Rahul) Dravid has helped me to focus, remain humble and in the background."
Prasad also stressed that his role did not end with those in the team but extended to those on the fringes.
"I would like to mention that Sreesanth is very much in the scheme of things. With his talent he can bring good balance to the bowling department when he's fit," he said. "That remains the big challenge for all the bowlers. To have long careers, you have to constantly work on fitness, getting the right mix of strength and endurance work."