Dubai: Sridharan Sriram, the spin consultant of the Australian team, is not exactly the type who likes to make a sales pitch about himself. Still, he has made the cricketing media sit up after playing a key role in the visitors’ emphatic first Test win over the heavily fancied Kohli & Co in Pune.
The soft-spoken former Indian all-rounder has again proved the theory that playing and coaching are different ballgames and one need not be a great player to prepare players as a coach. One look at the coaching staff of both the teams will tell the real story as, barring Anil Kumble, the highest Indian wicket-taker, most of the others have only had moderate success at the top level.
Ever since the Australian left-arm spinner Steve O’Keefe stunned the hosts with a match haul of 12 wickets in Australia’s 333-run victory, the talking point has been the way Australia ambushed India with their preparations in Dubai for the series and the role of the 41-year-old from Chennai. The battleground has shifted to Bengaluru for the second Test, which begins today.
Sriram said O’Keefe’s success should be attributed to his “preparedness” and “willingness to experiment”.
Asked what exactly did O’Keefe change, Sriram said: “Not necessarily change, more I would use the word adapt. Because India is such a big country, there’s no one-stop solution. If you say ‘this will work’, it is not going to work. So you have just got to adapt on the go. You have got to see what works for you on that day.
“And so I think that’s where O’Keefe really scored, because he was well-prepared. He was prepared to experiment, he was prepared to sort of try different things in the nets. Which goes back to our time in Chennai in 2015. So, I think he knew that he had to come with an open mind for every day of a Test match. What works on day one may not work on day three. He knows that. I think that’s his biggest strength.”
The O’Keefe revelation
O’Keefe’s figures were the second best by a visiting bowler in India, behind Ian Botham’s 13/108 in Bombay, now Mumbai, 37 years ago. It was the fifth-cheapest 12-wicket haul in Test cricket. During an interaction with the media after the Pune massacre, Sriram said: “During the break I knew he [O’Keefe] was a little disturbed. He said I think I need to have a bowl with you in the centre.
“He then said that he was little nervous to start because he was in his comfort zone and trying to bowl as he would do in Australia. But, I said what do you think you need on this wicket?” and he said: ‘I need to go a little bit rounder and quicker and I just said to him to go for it,” he added.
The UAE has been very much a part of Sriram’s life, where he has played a couple of his One Day Internationals in Sharjah and frequents Dubai for coaching clinics. Sriram has a Level 3 Certificate from UK and has been a trainer for Level Three coaches in Australian Academy.
He has had a few coaching stints in the UAE in the past and has been part of the Delhi Daredevils coaching set-up for a few years now.
His coaching credentials would have been done no harm after having worked closely with Gary Kirsten, the former South African opening batsman who guided India to a World Cup triumph, adding that the ups and downs in his career as a player must have played a part in him taking up coaching. Sriram has also set up an academy called ‘The Drome’ in Chennai with the likes of Subramaniam Badrinath and Dinesh Karthik.
It is here in Dubai where Sriram hatched the plan to shock the hosts.
Answering to a query on the problems he has faced on acceptability in the Australian team considering he is not a big name, Sriram said: “I don’t think the name really matters, does it? I mean, I come in and if I talk sense, they listen to me, if I talk [expletive] they don’t. It’s as simple as that.
“I think it’s taken time. They have really been open. That’s the best thing about this Australian team. They have been open to listening first. And then obviously I made sense a little bit and they started listening and they started trying out things in the nets and saw that it worked for them and I think that’s how it’s gone,” said Sriram.
Freedom to share ideas
“I have a chat with everyone, it is not just the spinners, that is the freedom I get from my head coach, which is amazing, so I can chat to anyone if I feel there is something they should do, I go up to them and suggest and it is up to them if they implement it or not, some say no some say yes, I am willing to try and prolong the conversation,” Sriram added.
— With inputs from agencies