On Sunday night,in the inconsequential game against England,Team India pulled out a few big thorns that were wedged in their foot for months on end. Harbhajan Singh,nearly a year into his exile,came good with the ball. Gautam Gambhir,a man who had been out of form for nearly the same period that Harbhajan languished outside the set-up,made it count with the bat.
Both,in their own rights,were feats worth chest-thumping about. But lost in the chaos of their re-emergence was perhaps the biggest benefit,the biggest problem-solving and what should have been the biggest talking of Sunday night. At the R Premadasa Stadium against perhaps the best attack of fast bowling in the world,India showed that they can play the short-ball,and play it well.
Dealing with bouncers and stuff around their collective mid-riffs had been a problem that was more than just a thorn in India’s flesh; it had been a cancer that was eating away at them for a generation. The first signs of improvement,hence,is worthy of ecstatic celebration.
Not everything short was dealt with properly,but most of them were. And it was their intention to go after it that counted,rather than ducking and generally looking clumsy. Gambhir showed the way,and Rohit Sharma literally from Ball One followed suit.
These tick marks made with hooks and pulls and cuts will hold India in good stead in the Super Eights,where they take on South Africa,Australia and Pakistan. That in turn indicates that they will have to handle Dale Steyn,Morne Morkel,Jacques Kallis,Mitchell Starc,Pat Cummins,Shane Watson,Umar Gul and the wrong-footed Sohail Tanvir. To face them,these individuals,the English pack led by the back bending Stuart Broad gave them the injection of confidence. Between Steven Finn and Jade Dernbach in the first two overs legally 12 balls England bowled eight short-pitched balls.
Not once did they make an effort to keep those hits down.
England dug in as much as 70 per cent of the deliveries in their own half,but Indians were up to the challenge,even upper-cutting when required. In the 17th over of the game,Broad followed Rohit with an incoming bouncer,but found the ball coolly clipped over the keeper’s head. Out there in the dug-out,captain MS Dhoni must’ve surely had a wry smile on his face.
Dont duck,play the shot
In every World T20 since their inaugural win the frailties against bouncers snapped India’s journey into the 2009 and 2010 journey’s short. It goes without saying that it created a ruckus back home. Dhoni,rather unsuccessfully,tried reasoning it out that in T20 cricket,batsmen cannot afford to waste balls by ducking to these balls. They have to play at them,only they hadn’t been playing at them well. So with the combined efforts of Duncan Fletcher,Trevor Penney and bowling coach Joe Dawes,the Indians have begun attempting full-measured strokes on these untypically bouncy Lankan wickets.
So unlike Sri Lanka the pitches have been that bouncing teams out has been many a side’s Strategy A. For Australia skipper George Bailey,it worked against the Irish like a charm in their tournament opener. “Watto’s (Shane Watson) tone the other day really set us up. His bouncers were right on the money and it was probably as quick as he’s bowled in a while too,” says Bailey. “Strong batters can still clear the ropes,but mis-hits are generally being caught on the fence.”
This strategy,hence,will now be employed against the Indians too. “If we can target their helmets a little bit,maybe that’s a way ahead. Most of the strikers like to hit the ball down the ground. They like to target mid-on and mid-wicket,so if we can force them to hit into different areas that might change up their game plan,” Bailey suggested.
Going by what England did,Bailey would be attempting suicide by driving down the same route. For once,it could be the oppositions who might change their plans and bouncing out the Indians successfully.