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Virat is the most dynamic captain India has ever had: Abhay Sharma

Abhay Sharma
Abhay Sharma, India A & U19 fielding coach.

India’s fielding standards have grown exponentially in the last few years and now they stand amongst the best fielding sides in the world. Where fielding used to be an underrated aspect of the game, now has become a crucial part of any team’s preparation. A lot of youngsters coming up the ranks in the Indian cricketing circuit are already quite agile and one of its prime factors has been the influence of Abhay Sharma.

He played as a right-handed wicketkeeper-batsman in a career that spanned from 1987/88 to 2003/04. Abhay represented the teams of Delhi, Railways, Rajasthan, Central Zone, India Under-19s and the Board President’s XI. Post his playing days, he was the Railways cricket team’s coach for 7 years starting 2007. Since then he has been active in coaching sides and also became the fielding coach of the Indian national team for the tour to Zimbabwe in 2016 and also in the 4-Tests series in West Indies and the two T20I games in Florida.

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He is currently the fielding and wicketkeeping coach of India A and India Under-19 teams. CricTracker had the chance to talk to him and he shared his insights on the importance of fielding these days and about the preparations that the players put in to improve their fielding skills.

Here are the excerpts from the interview with Abhay Sharma:

In your playing days, you were a wicketkeeper and now you are working as a fielding coach, so from being a keeper, how did you master the art of ground fielding?

Basically, it’s very easy because wicketkeepers are very agile and they know each and every fielding position and how the ball travels in those positions and so you’ll find most keepers are good fielders also. It was the same case with me and it was an added advantage for me that helped in progressing as a fielding and wicketkeeping coach.

At the age of 47, how do you stay so fit? What keeps you going and where does the inspiration come from?

Fitness is a habit and if you develop that habit, it gets very easy and you don’t feel like you are doing something and it’s the same as taking bath every day in the morning. It is like a routine for me and to be on top of your professionalism, modern day cricket demands a lot of fitness from the players as well as the coaches. That’s one area where a lot of development is happening and I am also a part of it.

Abhay Sharma hits the gym to keep himself fit.

How has coaching evolved over the years in cricket? Is it getting easier or tougher with time?

If you know your job well, it’s not hard. If you know how to plan your sessions and how to execute the drills. It has to be enjoyable for the players also and so the fun part has to be there. Whatever component of fielding you want like agility, target-hitting, diving, sliding, you have to be innovative to do all those. If you know how to conduct all those, it’s like routine to you.

Is coaching more demanding nowadays as compared to the time when you first started?

Yes, of course, nowadays cricket is changing and preparation part is really important and if you are well prepared, the percentage of performing well is really high. The preparation part is really improving and so the coaches too are getting into it and the same thing is happening to me and I do a lot of hard work in my preparation with players. After the game starts, it all depends on the players.

How do you train such fielders who are not so acrobatic?

You have to be smart enough to understand where you can use your players and where the captain wants to use such players. And accordingly, you can plan your sessions with such players also. If somebody is not that agile, you can always use him in a different area because he might be having a strong arm and we can use him in deep areas. But these days, a lot of work is being done and the standard is going up in Indian fielding. Throwing technique is very important these days and if it’s not proper then it can lead to shoulder problems and so we focus on various aspects in the preparations.

The standards of fielding have improved a lot in the Indian team as compared to that few years ago. Where do you rate the current Indian team amongst all nations in the fielding department?

Indian team is a very good fielding unit and they know the importance of their fielding also now. We have seen players like Umesh Yadav who developed into a very good fielder, Ravindra Jadeja is an outstanding fielder, Virat Kohli can field in all positions like slips, point, cover. There are a lot of players who can field in different areas and we are focussing on making them all-round fielders rather than specializing them for one place only. ODI and T20 cricket requires dynamic fielding and fast movements and it’s important to develop all-round fielders. Indian team is currently one of the best fielding sides in the world.

The Indian team currently has an all Indians coaching unit. Anil Kumble, Sanjay Bangar, R Shridhar and Rahul Dravid is coaching India A and the U19, how did this transformation happen given that we used to prefer overseas coaches?

I think BCCI had taken the initiative, from the last 2-3 years, a lot of Indian coaches are coming in which is a very good thing that Indian coaches are getting a lot of opportunities. I’ll be very honest in saying that Indian coaches are the best in the world.

What’s your take on Kohli’s captaincy and the use of DRS in the game?

He is the most dynamic captain India has ever had and he is always looking for results which is a very good and a positive sign for a leader and I believe India is in a very good hand and the legacy which was put in place by Sourav Ganguly and MS Dhoni is absolutely in the safe hands with Virat Kohli.

As far as DRS is concerned, I am always in favour of using technology because it brings a lot of inputs for the match officials also. But it has to be used in a positive way and should not be misused.

You are working very closely with the youngsters, who do you think are the upcoming talents from India A that could go on to make it to the Indian team?

It’s difficult to name one because it’s a big bunch of players. Everybody knows about Rishabh Pant, we have been pointing him out for the last two years and we knew that this boy was going to come up. There are others like Mayank Dagar, Prithvi Shaw, Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan and Virat Singh. Sanju Samson has been there in the circuit for the last 4-5 years but somehow he has not been able to make his place but he is one the best wicketkeeper-batsmen along with Rishabh Pant.

As a wicketkeeper, what do you think of Rishabh Pant, do you see him representing India as a keeper in all three formats in the future?

Definitely but at the moment MS Dhoni is there who is the best in the world and it’s not easy to replace him but one day someone has to take his place. So, there is scope for the keepers like Rishabh Pant and Sanju Samson. Wriddhiman Saha has already established himself in Test cricket and Parthiv Patel is there too. So there is a lot of competition in the keeping circuit these days but filling in the shoes of MS is going to be a really tough task for anyone who will take his place.

Abhay Sharma and Rahul Dravid
Abhay Sharma having a chat with India A & U19 coach Rahul Dravid.

You are coaching the India A side currently, do you aspire to coach India again given that you had a stint with the senior team previously?

It all depends on BCCI. Wherever my job is, I would like to do my best and at the moment I am enjoying working with Rahul Dravid and India Under-19 and A teams. If the opportunity comes, I am prepared and will try to do my best.

According to you, who is the best fielder in India and the world at the moment?

That’s a difficult one, there is a lot of competition for that position. Virat, Jadeja are good from India, David Warner is there from Australia, Joe Root and Ben Stokes from England. We can’t name one but amongst the all-round fielders, Virat and Warner are the best. Saha is one of the best keepers in the world.

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