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Explained: Lyon vs Kohli-Pujara and the perils of going back or pressing forward

When batsmen think of going back, the ball climbs and turns inexorably. This makes them feel that they can’t wrist it down or tap it past waiting palms at backward short-leg and the very squarish-short leg which Lyon regularly deploys.

Written by Sriram Veera , Edited by Explained Desk | Mumbai | Updated: December 18, 2020 9:47:19 am
adelaide test, australia india test series adelaide, virat kohli nathan lyon, cheteshwar pujara,pujara kohli, pujaraVirat Kohli lifts his bat after making 50 runs against Australia during their cricket test match at the Adelaide Oval in Australia (AP/PTI)

There are a couple of questions that get frequently asked when batsmen struggle to face Aussie off-spinner Nathan Lyon. Why don’t the batsmen go back and work the ball behind square? Why don’t they press forward to blunt the spin? The answer is simple: He doesn’t allow them.

When batsmen think of going back, the ball climbs and turns inexorably. This makes them feel that they can’t wrist it down or tap it past waiting palms at backward short-leg and the very squarish-short leg which Lyon regularly deploys.

When they press forward, like Cheteshwar Pujara tried and failed on the first day of the Adelaide Test, the ball rears up on them. It triggers self-doubts about getting on top of the bounce and they must be muttering under their breath: “Damn that overspin”.

How Pujara’s degree of difficulty kept increasing?

It was fascinating to see the mood of anticipation, hope and expectancy Lyon got into after releasing the ball towards Pujara. Not that India’s No.3 was struggling, but the challenges he was trying to overcome were getting steeper by the minute. Pujara would later talk about how Lyon has “increased the revolutions” on the ball these days, which presented more questions for batsmen.

The ball that got Pujara had that extra tweak. His first movement to counter the ball was to try and get forward. But Lyon has the skill to control the air-time of his deliveries. He doesn’t always allow the ball to hang in the air for too long, especially on tracks like this. This one too dipped pretty quickly.

Pujara sensed he wasn’t going to get anywhere close to the pitch of the ball, despite his early intent to get forward. So he stopped. Now, the challenge was to hold his balance. He tried making tiny stuttering movements. The ball began to climb, and Pujara was caught at the crease. His instinct was to somehow take his bat away. He tried to tuck the bat between his legs and hoped the ball would break away from the edge. That was not to be.

Ravichandran Ashwin has spoken about the kind of balls that take the edge. “People think it’s the break that gets the inside-edges. It isn’t always (so). It’s the angle from where you release at times. The batsmen are trying to push or defend down the track, but the ball goes in at an angle, and takes the inside edge.”That’s what happened here too, sharp turn would have meant jailbreak for Pujara.

If pressing forward has its pitfalls, what about going back?

Both Pujara and Virat Kohli tried that tactic. However, the extra bounce, aligned with turn, didn’t allow them to ride it when they pressed back. Back in the day, the wristy Mohammad Azharuddin and the equally skillful Pakistan batsman Saleem Malik would retreat right back, open up a bit, and forcefully wrist the ball between short-leg and backward short-leg. Probably the present generation lacks those supple wrists and confidence. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Why Kohli is more suited to face Lyon?

On the first day in Adelaide, Kohli was superior to Pujara in dealing with Lyon. His game is inherently suited to counter this tough challenge. The angle at which the bat comes down helps and he also trusts his hands to float well ahead of his pads, unlike most of his teammates. His wristy bottom hand and the angle with which it comes across allow him to work the ball to midwicket, which he does a lot.

Unlike Pujara, Kohli rarely allowed himself to be caught at the crease. Time and again, he leaned forward but his game allows him to tackle the twin menace of bounce and turn, especially on an opening day pitch.

Even though the ball is climbing, because Kohli lets his hands wander ahead, the point where he meets the ball is not alarmingly high. Of course, there is the danger of the inside-edge going to the hands of close-in fielders. That’s the reason not many take that bait and someone like Pujara prefers waiting for the ball to come to him. Only those with an upper body as elastic as Kevin Pietersen and Younis Khan, can perhaps lean so far ahead and reach areas unreachable for others.

Kohli is an extremely self-aware and ego-less batsman in that respect. And so, he kept pressing forward and working the ball to the onside. Pujara too did his thing, and so did Lyon. The trio kept at it. Lyon kept waiting for something, looking for something, Pujara negotiated hope with method, Kohli trusted his defensive game. It was the period of play that diffused restlessness and eager anticipation.

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