In the build-up to this Test match,there has been a noticeable change in New Zealands net sessions. As the bowlers mark their run-up and wait at their marks,two batsmen walk to the pitch. What follows is a match-simulation, where the focus isnt just on big strokes and defensive play,but equally on taking singles and switching ends.
In the first Test,which the hosts lost to India by 10 wickets,the Kiwi batsmen played 819 dot balls over two innings. More number crunching reveals that they managed just 13 per cent of their total runs in singles. Understandably,a change of plan is underway.
Oddly enough,India too had a similar shortage of singles,managing just 12 per cent of their runs by switching ends,but the fact that they dominated the Test means they arent too worried about changing things.
What really hurt the Kiwis was the difference in effectiveness of the two spinners. Both Harbhajan Singh and Daniel Vettori form important cogs in their bowling attacks,but the Indian batsmen seemed to deal much better with the home skippers left-arm spin.
Where Harbhajan Singh picked up six wickets to hasten New Zealands fall in the second innings,the Indian batsmen managed to frustrate Vettori by repeatedly rotating the strike. While pace bowlers are stereotypically seen as attackers that rely on sudden ambush,spinners pride themselves as experts in laying booby traps. They can take a hit over the fence by a big-slogger,but what frustrates them is the pesky tip-and-run kind of batsman,where a change of strike means a change of plans.
New Zealand skipper Vettori didnt beat around the bush when he spoke about his tribes annoyance about singles. I always thought the key against spinners is the singles. Singles frustrate spinners,I can say from experience. In the first innings,Jesse (Ryder) and me were not too aggressive (while playing Harbhajan),but we were pretty effective. I think you can still play him,just turn the strike over. We are trying to do that more,thats one way of unsettling him, he said.
Dots and wickets
The manner in which Harbhajan dominated his batsmen obviously isnt lost on Vettori. In the second innings,Harbhajan bowled as many as 48 dot ball in his first 10 overs as he got on top of the batsmen. His wickets followed a pattern as well: To James Franklyn,Harbhajan bowled 10 consecutive dot balls before getting him out. Daniel Flynn too fell on similar lines dismissed after playing a succession of dot balls.
Over the last three days,the Kiwis have been scampering around looking for ways to draw level in this series. From all indications,they seem to have settled on scampering across for singles to unsettle Dhoni & Co.