The Depth of Batting Quality in India – My First Hand Look at the Next Pujara

Young Indian cricketers at KIOC

A group of keen young cricketers at Karnataka Institute of Cricket during our visit in May 2018

As an Aussie fan and general cricket lover I was enthralled watching the first Test between Australia and India at the Adelaide Oval.

Leading into the series, it shaped up to be an intriguing and potentially close Test series. Australia, although missing their two best and most experienced batters, are playing at home which is a massive advantage. Winning away from home is one of the hardest things for any nation to do, especially for India when they come to Australia and vice versa. Up against the world’s number 1 ranked Test side, under the leadership by a man who is almost unstoppable in recent years. The Aussies are trying to rebuild and win respect both on and off the field while India will never get a better chance to beat Australia in Australia.

The first Test didn’t disappoint! The contest see-sawed in the first few days before India took control of the match. While Australia regularly had hope on a very exciting final day, India eventually won by 31 runs.

PUJARA JUST LOVES BATTING

In my opinion, the difference between the two sides was Pujara’s first innings hundred. It was an exceptional display of Test match batting with his 123 (off 246 balls) the major contribution in India’s first innings of 250. Not content with that significant innings, his appetite for runs and to bat for long periods was on show again in the second innings as he batted for another 204 balls for his 71 before finally being dismissed by a bowler for the first time in the match.

Now having played 65 Test matches, the “veteran” Pujara has now scored 16 Test centuries, 3 of which he turned into double hundreds. He has a knack of turning starts into ‘daddy hundreds’ as England’s former batting coach, Graham Gooch described them. Pujara has scored the most double centuries in first-class cricket ever by an Indian batsman (12) with two of them being triple centuries scored for his state Saurashtra in the Ranji trophy – India’s first-class competition.

Having spent time in India earlier in the year, Pujara’s innings’ in the first Test and a deeper look at his first-class career doesn’t surprise me. I got my first taste of cricket in India and how much they really love the game when I spent 10 days as a guest coach at the Karnataka Institute of Cricket (KIOC), in Bangalore in May this year.  What stood out for me during my time in there was the passion and love of the game and how many hours, the young cricketers tirelessly worked at honing their skills.

INDIA’S NEXT PUJARA?

At the conclusion of day 4 of the Test, with India in a commanding position, I received the following photo from Irfan Sait, who is the Director and Founder of KOIC.

Sweeping – although it was my downfall in my debut, it’s a good scoring option against an accurate spinner

Irfan is a proud mentor of his cricketers and regularly sends me screenshots of the boys and girls in his academy that have had success. This particular photo stood out to me for a couple of reasons. The first was that I know the boy in the photo, Shivam M B, from spending time with him during the visit. KIOC has around 1,500 students attend their summer camps, who are part of the 2,500 players that regularly attend, and while I did meet a lot of them when I was at KIOC I spent some time with 13 year old Shivam and was amazed at some of his numbers (you can view our meeting in May in this episode of my vlog – 7:36min). The second thing that stood out was that it was his 32nd century. 32 centuries at the age of 13!!

Reverse the numbers of his age (31) and you get my age and having played a fair bit of cricket myself, I reckon I’d only just have him covered for centuries in my whole life (juniors, school, junior rep, grade, league cricket etc). Imagine how many centuries he’s going to have under his belt by the time he’s 21 and pushing for state or national selection.

Now for all you “doubters and sceptics” reading this, let me note here that I can’t vouch for the standard that he’s playing all the time. He does play representative cricket and is playing above his age group so I’m sure most of the time it’s decent but regardless a 100 is a 100 and as the famous saying goes, “you’ve still got to get em”. Run scoring is a habit and when you learn how to score big runs you can do it over and over again.

The other factor that must be noted when putting Shivam’s centuries in context is the number of matches he plays. When I asked Irfan to give me some more context he couldn’t tell me the exact number of matches but he said he would play in excess of 75 matches a year. These matches are a combination of T20’s, 50 over, two and even three day matches but predominantly 50 over matches.

AUSTRALIAN JUNIORS

Let’s compare that to some of the best young players that I mentor here in Perth.

Teague (who turned 14 in April) and Douwtjie (who turned 14 in June) are both in the Western Australian Under 15 squad. They are two of the best young batters that I coach/ mentor and I’m very excited about what’s possible for them in the future. Yet between them in all levels of cricket they’ve scored 3 centuries. Both are playing Under 15s and 4th grade for their district clubs and are having good seasons.

In Under 15s, Teague has scored 273 runs in 5 innings at an average of 91 in under 15s with three half-centuries. In 4th grade he has scored two half centuries in 4 innings with a highest score of 65 not out.

In Under 15s, Douwtjie has scored 215 runs in 6 innings at an average of 35.83 with 2 half centuries. In 4th grade Douwtjie has scored 2 half-centuries in 7 innings with a highest-score of 82.

They have one more district match before the Christmas break and have both played in 8 other matches outside of district cricket (school, rep trial games etc.). They will both also play three 50 over matches before Christmas in the state Under 15 talent carnival where the squad will be selected for the national carnival in February 2019. So at roughly the halfway stage of the Australia season, Teague would have had had 20 innings and Douwtjie 23 innings. Looking at their fixtures after the Christmas break, there is another seven under 15s matches and seven 4th grade matches (not including finals). Providing they get into the state squad (let’s assume they do) they will play three scratch matches leading into the tournament then six matches at the tournament in February. Throw in another five or so school games (they said that’s the absolute max they’d play) and it totals 28 matches after Christmas. There are three finals for under 15s and three for 4th grade so presuming both those sides make it to the grand final, there’s another 6 games. Adding it all together the absolute maximum number of games they will play 57 matches. In reality they are more likely to play somewhere in the mid to high forties

This number has actually surprised me as I thought it would be less than that but about 7 or 8 of them are practice matches. They both also go to schools that have a cricket program and are in the state system so play a fair bit more cricket than most other kids in Perth. I can’t comment on what other state’s are like but assume it would be similar but either way it’s still a considerable amount less than the number of matches that Shivam plays in India.

Another reason that Douwtjie and Teague’s number of matches is high is because they are playing two matches on a Saturday (Under 15s in the morning and 4th grade in the afternoon). As they progress up the grades (I’d expect them both to be playing second grade by the end of the season) they won’t be able to play Under 15s as well, which will cut out a significant amount of their matches.

Getting back to Shivam, there’s no doubt that he is a very good young player and I’m sure there’s many other 13 year old boys and girls all around India who are doing great things like Shivam. However it wasn’t his level of skill that stood out for me. He wasn’t head and shoulders better than Teague or Douwtjie or any of the young batters I work with in Perth. What stood out for me was his work ethic and amount of practice and playing he did.

Let me paint the picture of Shivam’s work ethic a little more for you. When I was at KIOC in May, it was the summer school holidays. This meant that there were matches on almost every day. Shivam was regularly the captain of his team and his team bus would leave KIOC at around 9:00am to go to where they were playing that day. They would play a 50 over a side match and the bus would return them to KIOC around 5:30pm. Nothing too different to what a young kid in Australia would do.

What was different was what Shivam would do before and after the matches. He would get to KIOC a few hours before the bus was due to depart and begin practicing with his mates. It was never too structured but always competitive. After a couple of hours in the nets he’d go off with his team for the match. Once the match was finished and the bus had returned to KIOC, regardless whether he’d scored runs or missed out, Shivam would do the 7:00-9:30pm training session under lights that was for KIOC’s better cricketers.

I’m not suggesting this is what everyone needs to do. In fact it’s probably not healthy for most people. But Shivam knows no other way and is happy when he’s got a bat in his hands and when I see Pujara’s two innings in Adelaide and his level of concentration, I have a better understanding of how he’s able to do it.

Under 19s 

Although it was a close first Test, the current gap between India and Australia is sizeable. India are ranked 1st in Tests, 2nd in ODI’s & 2nd in T20I’s while Australia are ranked 5th in Tests, 6th in ODI’s & 4th in T20I’s. According to my good mate, Chris ‘Buck’ Rogers the gap is even bigger at Under 19 level. Buck was coach of the Australian team at the Under 19 World Cup in New Zealand in January this year, which the Indian team won. He was so impressed by them and told me afterwards that they were miles ahead of everyone else. Buck made a point of telling me how further advanced both the Indian boys understanding of the game and level of skill was ahead of Aussie boys and every other country.

India has a population of 1.34 billion people (according to Google) compared to Australia’s 24.6 million, hence giving them many, many more people to choose from. However, the competition is much more fierce and conditions often nowhere near as good for many of them. It takes a desire and level of commitment like nowhere else to make it to the top.

Again, after spending my short period of time in India and having lived between Australia and the UK my whole life I’m not surprised by this at all…

THE MIDDLE IS THE BEST PLACE TO LEARN

Any good cricketer or coach will tell you that the best place to learn is out in the middle. Scoring big runs is an art form. There are so many elements that you have to get right to consistently score big runs. Firstly you have to get through the start of your innings. Then you have to know how to build an innings. You have to know when to attack and when to defend. You have to be able to handle pace and spin. You have to be able to switch on and switch off. And that’s just a few of the things needed to score big runs. As I mentioned previously, run scoring is a habit and scoring big runs is a habit that young Indian batters are learning at a young age and becoming very good at as they progress through the ranks.

I would encourage any young aspiring cricketer reading this, no matter where in the world you live, to play as much cricket as you can. Challenge yourself in as many conditions and circumstances as possible. The other positive of playing all the time is that you don’t put as much emphasis on one particular innings which means you don’t put yourself under as much pressure to succeed every time you walk to the crease. This allows you to play with more freedom which, combined with the experience you gain from playing regularly, is where your success lies.

While Australia and other countries are struggling to find long term successful Test batsman, I have no doubt that India will continue to do so for a long time yet! Maybe Shivam M B will be one of them one day and do it on Australian soil just as Pujara has done. 

Tom Scollay batting for Middlesex

About the writer: I founded Cricket Mentoring in August 2016 with the goal of helping cricketers all over the world become the best they can be – on and off the field. As a former professional cricketer with Middlesex CCC (2010-2012) I’ve played with and against some of the world’s best players and worked with some elite coaches. I’m a Cricket Australia Level 2 coach and through my own personal experiences, practice and a hunger to always learn, I’ve developed and continue to refine my principles and philosophies on the great game. I believe there’s 6 pillars to peak performance (Technical, Tactical, Mental, Emotional, Physical, Lifestyle) and most athletes only focus on one or a few things. All of our content (articles, videos, podcast) covers the 6 pillars and has been created to assist cricketers understand what it takes to achieve great things in the game.

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By |2018-12-12T06:35:05+00:00December 12th, 2018|Blog|0 Comments

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