The Indian Board's decision to appoint Venkatesh Prasad as the team's bowling coach is a welcome recognition of his abilities . It should have been done earlier, but I have a feeling that more than the BCCI, it were the incumbent coaches who did not wish to have anyone else on board.
Modern cricket is so dominated by batsmen that the bowlers seem to be a dying breed. One-day cricket and now the still shorter Twenty20 version are threatening to push fast bowlers to the brink of extinction. The sight of mediocre batsmen being successful against any bowling attack is not uncommon. Flat tracks, heavy bats and rules favouring batsmen have not done anything to encourage young cricketers to pursue bowling right from the grassroots levels. The bowlers who still make it to the international level do not find much success. But then, a team that doesn't take care of bowlers will always suffer from inconsistency.
Under such circumstances, the dearth of a bowling coach for the national team was felt for long. Prasad, who has gone through a gruelling fast bowling career that lasted 15 years, is certainly the best person for the post. The immediate challenge before him would be to rescue the current band of fast bowlers from its traditional role of serving as support to the spinners in Test matches.
The self-respect of a fast bowler stems from the lead role he plays in Tests. Without undermining the spinners in the team, fast bowlers need to be given the belief that they are the spearhead on any wicket, or at any stage. Prasad needs to look for bowlers who can carry such attitude on to the field. The nuances of bowling can always be taught but without a proper attitude, it will all be in vain. Tests are ideal for building such an attitude.
The concern is about Prasad's tenure as a coach. It is important for him to know how long his tenure would be, and it is equally important for the BCCI to know what plans Prasad has.
Prasad knows that no magic can be performed in a series or two. A minimum of two years is a must for such a post. Without a prior time commitment from the Board, Prasad would run the risk of becoming a non-performer.
While congratulating Prasad, I made a quiet inquiry about his plans. Prasad told me, “My main focus would be on the current crop of fast bowlers like Zaheer, Munaf and Sreesanth, who are an experienced lot. The senior bowlers should be the architects of creating a learning atmosphere. After all, it's the faith between players that will enable bowlers to work as a team.”
Prasad further stressed on the point that bowlers need to play more Test matches, as Tests give bowlers more depth and understanding of the game. Prasad is making all the right statements but I hope he has realised that massive effort is required to convert words into deeds. Prasad's style of functioning and freedom of operation largely depend on the coach and the captain. What I can vouch for about him are his human values, which I believe are the base ingredient for any coach.
Given the right support and time, I am sure Prasad would deliver. Good luck, Venky!