Updated: August 27, 2021 2:14:13 pm
On eve of the England-India Test at Leeds, the most anticipated face off happens to be the one between rival pacers Jasprit Bumrah and James Anderson. How things change, now only a few are talking about Virat Kohli vs Anderson, the much hyped duel that dominated all pre-series previews.
That’s because of the recent Lord’s Test which gained a tangible edge at the fag end of Day 3 when Bumrah went after England’s No. 11 Anderson with deliveries targeting his head and ribcage. England captain Joe Root was batting serenely on 170+ at that stage and Anderson himself has been known to stick around to annoy oppositions.
The hosts had already taken a first-innings lead and India captain Virat Kohli was in no mood to let it swell further. Hence, the ploy to target Anderson, who, incidentally, is also England’s trump card as far as bowling is concerned.
The Indian strategy clearly riled England and in the final analysis, to their detriment. It also reignited the debate about fast bowlers targeting their counterparts in the opposition.
The atmosphere charged up when Bumrah, and a vocal Kohli, went after Anderson.
“You swearing at me again, are you? This isn’t your fu**ing backyard. Chirp chirp chirp. This is what old age makes you,” the Indian skipper said to Anderson.
The England legend was not amused with the jibe and at the end of the day, asked Bumrah, “Hey mate! Why are you bowling so fast? Am I doing the same to you? All this while, you were bowling in 80 mph; suddenly on seeing me, why are you bowling in 90 mph?”
If it was a deliberate ploy by the visitors, it worked perfectly. On Day 5, when Bumrah came to bat with the hosts sensing a quick kill, the England captain and bowlers forgot the virtues of line and length and started targeting the Indian tail-enders with short-pitched stuff, in an apparent attempt at retribution.
But it seems, Bumrah and Mohammed Shami had come prepared. They not only endured the blows bravely, but counter-attacked in memorable fashion to turn the tide of the match in India’s favour as the visitors sealed a memorable triumph late in the day.
Is it a legitimate ploy to target lower-order batsmen with short-pitched deliveries?
Nothing in the rulebook says that fast bowlers can’t bowl short or at their quickest against opposition tail-enders. Of course, umpires can intervene if they deem the bowling to be intimidatory or part of a negative tactic, but that rule doesn’t make a distinction based on the batting position of a player.
Often, pacemen target the head or the ribs to push a tail-ender on the backfoot or mess with his footwork and mind. A subsequent full ball on the stumps is later bowled to get him bowled or LBW, which is what exactly happened with Anderson at Lord’s.
Was there a fast bowlers’ club in the past?
Nowadays, most lower-order players can be expected to handle themselves with the bat. But that wasn’t always the case. Fast bowlers often refrained from bouncing their opposite numbers, as they didn’t want to face similar bowling when they came out to bat. Also, bowlers didn’t fancy getting behind short-pitched deliveries and take the risk of injury which would have left them incapable of practising their primary skill – bowling. And there was the theory that what was good enough to get the top and middle order out – mostly length and fuller deliveries aimed at the stumps or just outside off-stump – would be good enough for the tail.
The exception was made probably against spinners, who didn’t pose a physical threat with the ball. This may have prompted then West Indian skipper Clive Lloyd to unleash a bouncer and beamer barrage on the Indians at Kingston in 1976.
When did the unofficial pact end?
When tail-enders started to stick around. An incident that comes to mind, similar to the Bumrah one at ironically the same venue, came in the 1983 World Cup final. India’s No. 11 Balwinder Singh Sandhu was hit on the flap of his helmet by a Malcolm Marshall bouncer. The crowds at the ground and umpire Dickie Bird expressed their disapproval of the “ungentlemanly act”. The commentator on air frowned on the tactic saying that Sandhu wouldn’t be batting at No. 11 if he could bat. It didn’t prevent Sandhu from adding 22 runs with Syed Kirmani for the final wicket to give India hope.
Subsequently, as batting techniques improved due to professionalism and better protective gear emerged, it became more difficult to dislodge tail-enders. Stubborn lower-order batsmen found little difficulty in dealing with length balls, prompting opposition fast bowlers to go upstairs. This tactic tested their courage, in addition to the technique. It has come to the point now that Test matches and series between roughly evenly-matched sides are often decided by the number of runs contributed by the lower order.
Is the treatment meted out to Anderson by India part of a recent trend?
If a team has the requisite fast-bowling resources, nowadays they are not too hesitant in targeting the lower order, if that serves the purpose. Anderson and his fellow tail-enders received similar treatment by Mitchell Johnson & Co in the 2013-14 Ashes. Pace provides an additional dimension to a bowling attack and no batsman, regardless of ability with the willow in hand, likes to get hit. When stakes and emotions are high and margins are slim, every quiver in the arsenal becomes a legitimate weapon. As the tactic paid rich dividends at Lord’s, the Indian think tank may resort to it again in the remaining three Tests. It remains to be seen how the hosts respond.
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