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Bounce & bouncebackability: Virat Kohli says short ball not a shortcoming for Indians

On the eve of second ODI, vice-captain Virat Kohli says short ball not a shortcoming for Indians

 

Seddon Park, traditionally a slow track that assists spinners, gets ready for the second ODI Seddon Park, traditionally a slow track that assists spinners, gets ready for the second ODI

Virat Kohli spoke with such eloquence and insight that you could almost picture him standing in the nets and laying bare the intricacies of the pull shot — that much-maligned stroke the Indians will allegedly leave in the dressing room before walking out to bat in the second One-day International in Hamilton on Wednesday. Four of India’s top six batsmen fell looking to swat aside the short ball in the series opener in Napier. 

But Kohli, who wasn’t among them, didn’t duck any of the questions that were related to India’s perceived collective ‘short ball’ shortcoming. Actually, Kohli’s reply was a mini masterclass.

“Even to leave the short ball, I think it is very important to want to hit the ball,” said Kohli, who scored an irresistible century on Sunday, when asked why the Indian batsmen were looking to play the bouncers. “If you are looking to leave the ball, your weight is already on the back foot and then you are in no position to leave or hit the ball. Whereas, if you are looking to hit the ball, you take your body forward and then you can be balanced enough to duck under it. I think that is one key aspect that a lot of people are mistaken about. If you are looking to leave the ball all the time, then more often than not you will get hit on the glove or the helmet,” he said.

It was Kohli’s way of saying that the Indian dressing room knew the intricacies of handling deliveries that take off after pitching. To be fair to the tourists, the talk about India’s pull-shot “shortcoming” in particular and their alleged batting woes in general, has come about too early into the series. Of the four players that got out to the short ball, two, Rohit Sharma and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, actually play the pull shot very well.

Rohit’s dismissal in Napier was not as much because of any supposed weakness against the short ball as it due to the slump and resultant crisis of confidence that he is undergoing. Dhoni, on the other hand, scored a sizable chunk of 40 runs by pulling the ball.

Spare Sharma, Dhawan

Sharma’s opening partner Shikhar Dhawan, indeed, has shown some susceptibility against the rising deliveries since South Africa, but he wasn’t a complete failure on Sunday, scoring 32 runs and sharing a 58-run second-wicket stand with Kohli.

In any case, Rohit and Dhawan have copped a fair bit of flak in December even though the duo have been among the highest runs-getters in international cricket in 2013. While Rohit’s sequence of 3, 19, 18, 4 and 12 in the last five innings — an average of 11.2 at a strike rate of 44 — is indeed alarming, it should be reassuring that his previous eight innings produced 627 runs — an average of 125.5 and a strike rate of 100. The same applies for Dhawan — his last ODI century was just four innings ago. The problem, it appears, is that the yardstick that they are measured against happens to be the prolific Kohli, who has been in sublime form.

Of the aforementioned four names that were “bounced out”, one that genuinely merits discussion is Suresh Raina. The left-hander’s form slump has now stretched to 28 matches and close to a year. In this period, he has made 462 runs at an average of 25.6, a full 10 runs less than his career average.

The first step to resolve a problem is to acknowledge that there is one. Dhoni, at least, did so after the Napier game. “So far we haven’t got a consistent contribution from the number four and five batsmen. It’s very important that (No.) four and five contribute,” he said, without directly naming Raina.

Just like home

Meanwhile, Raina, Rohit and Dhawan will have their best chance of shaking off their poor form on Wednesday when they play at a venue which is the most “Indian” of all New Zealand grounds. Seddon Park has traditionally been a slower track which also offers a bit of turn. Rest assured, it won’t have as much bounce as Napier had.

Less than a fortnight ago, in fact, the West Indies piled up 363 on this ground, while their left-arm spinner Nikita Miller took four wickets to set up a 203-run win for the visitors.

Before India count their chickens, however, it should be noted that the weather plays a very significant role in how the wicket behaves. If it’s overcast, the ball swings prodigiously. It was overcast during the second innings of the third Test last month, and the same West Indies were at the receiving end of it at that time. Trent Boult and Tim Southee ran through their batting to dismiss the visitors for 103 and set up an eight-wicket win.

The forecast for Wednesday is bleak.

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