Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Lack of support behind Sharma's alarming decline

ISHANT SHARMA'S growing pains are the likely reason behind the summary dismissal of Indian bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad, says Australian coach Tim Nielsen.

This time last year, Sharma won the man of the series award as the spearhead of India's 2-0 Test series win over the Australians, his 15 wickets and domination of Ricky Ponting a key factor in the result. But the 21-year-old has since fallen on hard times, losing the rhythm and bite that so troubled Ponting, and leaving the Indian attack without anything like the same level of threat.

His efforts in the recent Champions Trophy, where India failed to reach the semis, were unrecognisable next to those of last year, and Nielsen believed the sackings of Prasad and fielding coach Robin Singh reflected grave fears about the development of Sharma and other young players.

''That's may be one of the reasons why they've changed their staff, trying to spark a bit of a change of message or voice to their younger players who might've gone a little off the boil over the last little while,'' Nielsen said.

''Sharma's an example of young players when they do start well there's expectation on them the whole way through, they find it difficult, they become targeted by opposition teams.

''Rather than being the second or third fast bowler in the group, you all of a sudden become the one everyone's very aware of. They haven't had Zaheer Khan playing for them for the last little while through injury, so he's had to take on a leadership mantle. All those things add up to mean more responsibility and more pressure.''

Prasad and Singh had worked with the Indian team on a series-by-series basis since their appointment in 2007 - neither were ever permitted to sign a contract. They were crudely informed of their removal via the Indian media, and there appear no plans to have fresh staff in position by the time the one-day series against Australia begins at Vadodara on Sunday.

''I am deeply disappointed and hurt by the way in which it has been handled, Prasad told the Hindustan Times. ''All I can say, with a clear conscience, was that I gave it my 100 per cent, and I wasn't short on either commitment or effort.

''We must realise that we can't keep winning all the time. We can't keep blaming the bowlers and the fielders for every debacle.

''Cricket is a team game, and it is important to recognise and appreciate that fact.''

Nielsen echoed those words as he reflected on his own support staff.

''From our perspective, one of the things we try to maintain with our staffing and the way we approach it is that we're aiming and wanting to win and preparing as such for every series we play in,'' he said. ''But if things don't go exactly to plan there's no point having huge clean-outs or changing over your personnel either staffing or playing-wise. I feel as though we've got an excellent staff working well together. The young players and the older players are responding really well to them.

''When you have a result like [India] did in the ICC Champions Trophy and then you lose some staff at that time, it always looks like they're the ones who've been made the scapegoats, so it's unfortunate for them and something they'll have to deal with in the next little while.''

Meanwhile, Queensland cruised to a six-wicket victory over South Australia in their one-day at the Gabba last night.

Set 185 to win, the Bulls grabbed a bonus point by reaching the total with 13 overs to spare, thanks mainly to an opening stand of 141 between Chris Hartley and Ryan Broad, who each hit 60. The win was set up by a greenhorn Bulls bowling attack led by debutant Scott Walter, who took 4-34.

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