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Lockdown days: Steffan Jones: Mentoring Rajasthan Royals bowlers, writing a book, hoping to shape next-gen fast men

Steffan Jones is excited to be part of Rajasthan Royals as bowling coach and mentor the bowling unit, a mix of experienced and young names.

Bengaluru, March 4: These are unprecedented times for everyone. And the sporting fraternity is not an exception, coming to a standstill after the Coronavirus outbreak. But like all of us, they also need to find ways to keep in touch with the game while getting confined to indoors and maintain their fitness levels.

MyKhel touched base with Steffan Jones, the bowling coach of Rajasthan Royals who is now in England, his home country, to know how cricketers and coaches can maintain top shape in such lockdown days.

1. The Covid-19 has pushed the world in to a massive isolation with going out of home is restricted and there is no real word as to when the normalcy will be restored across the globe. This uncertainty could hamper the sportspersons, especially bowlers who will be deprived of bowling full tilt at nets etc. As a coach, what do you tell them to keep in touch with game?

Ans: I'm very active on social media. So, what I'm doing at the minute is trying to put as much information out there as possible. I've designed bodyweight pistol programmes so they don't need too much space. All you need is your own bodyweight and you can isolate key parts of the action and overload it and train it. So, when they then get back to bowling, they're in a more stable position. So, there's plenty they can do. From a personal point, I'm also writing a book, so try to put as much information out there so it's a good opportunity for bowlers - just to learn a bit about strength and conditioning, learn a bit about their game, watch some cricket. So yeah, there's plenty of opportunity to train and get better.

2. Specifically, how often are you in touch with Rajasthan Royals bowlers and are you giving them any specific advice to be in top shape considering the lockdown going on in India and the postponement of IPL 2020 at least until April 15?

Ans: Prior to the (IPL) season, we had training camps in Jaipur and Guwahati. So, I had profiled them there and I had assessed them. So, I've got all their numbers on bowling speed and bowling speed with a heavy ball etc. So, I know whether they need more heavy ball bowling or light ball bowling to improve their arm speed. I had videoed their actions. So, they've all got their own tailor-made programme - as fast bowlers how to work on technique and how to work on their strength and conditioning, specific strength. And then I've done a programme for all the batters and the spinners and keepers as well. So same thing, bodyweight only, but they got plenty of opportunity to train now and get better.

3. As a coach, how challenging it is for you to adjust to such sudden break from the game?

Ans: Right now, I am working on a book and I'm 220 pages into it now on the science of fast bowling. So that'll be out in the next few weeks or so. It's (break from the game) just a reset. Really, it's just a life reset. Obviously, it's not just about a life's reset. It's very serious, but it is also a time for people to just sit back, spend some time with a family. Look at the positive side of it, you know, we could read more, gain more knowledge, gain more understanding about the game and spend some quality time with your family.

4. As Rajasthan bowling coach, how do you assess the current bowling line-up? And specifically, your impression on Kartik Tyagi and Akash Singh as we have heard those two youngsters are quick and talented?

Ans: The two youngsters are awesome. They're the future of Indian cricket. I can see them playing a big part for Rajasthan Royals in future. And they're both receptive to my methods because it's specific for both are different categories. If you look at it, Kartik is a dominant bowler so they have different programmes. Akash needs to jump more because of tendon stiffness, so it's more about sprinting, whereas Kartik needs more strength. It's more single leg squat stuff.

But he needs to transfer that in to bowling performance because bowling happens too quickly for strength to have an impact on it, but because he's more muscular driven strength it is more important. So, both have got different pros and cons but then top tier of that programme is about drill work, ball work and it's also about jumping. So, they do some similar stuff too but they have huge potential and massive future, both bowl at 140-plus at the age of 18 and 19. So, the future is bright for them.

5. Jaydev Unadkat had a brilliant domestic season for Saurashtra (65 wickets as the state side became Ranji Trophy champions for the first time) and he seemed to have prospered under you after couple of seasons of struggle. What have you done to affect the turnaround?

Ans: JD is an awesome human being, awesome talent. When used correctly, he's very effective in all forms of the game as seen in this Ranji Trophy, amazing achievement. What I did was to profile him. I saw how little force he was putting in on the back foot and how long he was spending on the back foot. Because the more time you spend on the back foot, the more you decelerate, and the less force you can put on the front foot, which is a key indicator of ball velocity.

So we needed to train on stiffness, active stiffness of his back leg, how to control the contact and enable the transfer of momentum and reduce the size of his run-up length. Because he was slowing down about a metre before the back foot contact, so that can reduce his momentum into front foot by about one and a half metres per second. So, all that and then he's done more running. He looks leaner. So now, he's running in more and he's running in harder. He's fitter, over 500 overs (this Ranji season) is phenomenal. can't ask for more success for this great human being.

6. You have another senior bowler in Varun Aaron at Rajasthan Royals. He had suffered a lot of injuries in his career. But last season he came up with some consistent efforts. How much has he progressed, and chances of him playing at the international level again?

Ans: Like JD, I think Varun can play for India again, he can bowl 140 kmph effortlessly. He came over and spent three weeks here and did very similar things -trained a lot with some change in the training programme. To be more specific, more concentration on bowling and less weight, although he still does it because he likes it but it's more specific now. So it is more about jumping, it's about getting momentum into back foot like a sprinter, avoid the dragging stuff that transfer to his bowling speed and that also puts less stress on his body because he's had five or six stress fractures on his back.

But he's still strong because and he will come again, and he just needs a good state. We'll give his body time to heal and get over all the small niggles and ensure he will have a great IPL if it gets going. He's on fire. I saw him at the camp bowling nicely and looked more bouncy, more spring in his running. Yeah, it's working well.

7. You had worked with Ishant Sharma in the past. He now has more accuracy and fitness levels to seemed to have gone up. Can you elaborate on working with Ishant?

Ans: Ishant contacted me two years ago on social media. So, I've been in contact with him for a while, just communicating, just giving him my ideas and then I met him in Bangalore twice during my camp as part of the Padukone-Dravid Centre for Sports Excellence. I did one session of profiling when I tested him. And I saw that his RSI - which is an active strength index - was very low, which means he wasn't able to utilise the energy stored in his muscles especially in his back foot.

And when he landed on back foot, he pivoted under himself, and he crossed over on front foot contact because he was spending too long and on the back foot, which leads to a collapse of from foot. So, by training on the stiffness on his back leg, he's now able to transfer his momentum directly to work. Ishant is a very good athlete, he has great work ethics and a great example to young Indian fast bowlers.

8. Apart from being the Rajasthan Royals bowling coach, you have camps in Bengaluru at the Dravid-Padukone Centre. How excited are you with the stint in the IPL and in general in India? Are you excited to see a crop of young pace bowlers as a coach and according to you what potential India holds as fast bowling nation?

Ans: I work a lot in India at the minute. I do about four or five camps at the Paduone-Dravid Centre of Excellence - the pace lab, India. That's the hub, that's where it's based. So, last time I had about 80 bowlers per week coming in. So, it's the appetite to learn to bowl quickly. It is about coach education and getting the information spread down to all the coaches throughout India because playing experience doesn't necessarily mean you're going to be a good coach. You need knowledge on all aspects, not just the tactical side of it, you know, that comes from playing experience, but you need to know how the body works.

You know, if a bowler can't keep their wrist behind the ball? Well, maybe it's because they're collapsing on the back foot or front foot so there's a reason for everything. So, it's for my role. It's about educating coaches while helping fast bowlers flourish. There were lots of questions every day at the camp. The understanding is getting there as I hear more and more questions about the difference between hip and knee dominant bowlers and there's a lot of questions because every bowler is different. That's sort of things about bringing individuality into India, Indian fast bowlers because everyone is different. Now we have Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma, then you have Mohammad Shami and then you have these two young quicks - Kartik Tyagi and Akash Singh - we're coming through so lots and lots of talent then you've got JD and then you've got Varun.

And in India at the minute they have lot of talent, but they just need to be nurtured. They need to be managed. As there's a culture over bowling and the nets is really important. They can't bowl for two hours at nets. You can have speed and you can have the volume, but you can't bowl fast for a long time. You can have one or the other. You can't be a sprinter and a marathon runner in the same session. So, hopefully, I'll get into the system in some way or another. I put my name into the hat for the NCA role. My role is to educate coaches and how to manage the workloads of these fast bowlers.

You know they can both bowl 20 minutes flat out, have a rest, come back two hours later and do the same thing. The more these boys bowl, a fast bowling session for two hours in a net, the more you fatigue them and they will become the workhorses. If you have a bowler who can touch over 140 they're the Ferrari's. They're not tractors. It's not about strength. It's not about bowling all day, that sort of thing - someone else can do that. So that's my role, it is to educate coaches, strengthen and conditioning coaches as well on how to look after fast bowlers.

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Story first published: Saturday, April 4, 2020, 12:45 [IST]
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