Banter and mind games are synonymous with every Ashes series and it has been no different even this time around.
Former players from England and Australia have left no stone unturned to ensure that their teams hold the psychological edge going into the first Test at Trent Bridge from July 10.
But England bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed believes that England players should focus on their strengths and not think too much about Australian players and things happening in the their camp in build- up to the Ashes.
“I always believe that you have to concentrate on your own game. We can’t think about the Australians, we need to look at ourselves and see if we are playing positive cricket. If we play to our potential and strength and focus on playing positive cricket, I firmly believe we have the best chance of winning the Ashes,” he told Mail Today. Critics have compared the two teams’ performance in India — England won the series 2-1 while Australia lost 0-4 — to conclude that England is a stronger team and holds the edge ahead of the Ashes. But Mushtaq begs to differ and feels that the opening session in the first Test will be crucial.
“This game is all about confidence and the lack of it. Past performances don’t count for much when a fresh series starts. One good spell of bowling or one positive partnership at the top can change the whole mindset of a team. We aren’t assuming too much about them and we need to remember our strengths. We aren’t focusing too much on Australians,” the 43- year- old said.
While pundits felt that Mushtaq’s success with the English spinners in India had more to do with him knowing sub- continent conditions like the back of his hand, Mushtaq feels he has an equally important role to play in the Ashes.
“I have played 13 years of County cricket. So I know the English conditions just as much as I know the conditions in the sub- continent. So how spinners need to create impact on English wickets is also a trick that I impart to the England spinners. The pace and the point of release are all different in England than at the sub- continent. I have worked on those technical things with my boys as to what exactly should be the field placement. Also, I have helped the fast bowlers with the technique of reverse swing. But as much as working on the technique and the talent is one of the role of a coach, getting the guys to gel as a team is equally important and a vital role for him,” he said.
Elaborating on the England spinners’ success in India, Mushtaq said: “The most important thing was that Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann put in a lot of hard work and listened to whatever advice I gave them.
And I feel that is very important because once you are a good listener, you end up understanding exactly what the coach is asking you to do. They were very open and frank during our discussions and when I asked them to try out new stuff, they never hesitated. Then obviously luck plays an important role.”
But Mushtaq doesn’t restrict himself to the bowlers and is often seen working with the batsmen, and the bowling coach feels that he has tried to teach the batsmen a few tricks as how they can combat quality bowling.
“I am lucky that I not only work with the bowlers, but also with the likes of Alastair Cook and Kevin Pietersen and other batsmen. Having been a spin bowler and also played with the likes of Wasim Akram, I know the techniques used by batsmen like how do they combat reverse swing. Similarly as a spinner when I bowled, I knew when a batsman played me well and what technique did he use against me. So I don’t change the technique of a batsman, I try to bring in scoring options to his game. That doesn’t bog down a batsman and actually helps him when he finds the going tough,” he signed off.