Mohammed Amir is known for his sorcery, Wahab Riaz has the snarl and Shaheen Afridi showcases sharpness. Together the three Pakistan left-arm seamers can produce the most sinister tunes the Indian batsmen might have yet tuned into this damp English summer. And the fact that India’s two main batting pillars, Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma, haven’t quite mastered the arcs and angles of a left-arm pacer bowling adds an intriguing dimension to the must-watch Sunday duel.
Kohli, generally a competent player of any variety of bowling, has looked vulnerable while facing left-armers, especially the ones from across the border.
The unfortunate Junaid Khan, who narrowly missed out on a World Cup spot, used to brag about his one-upmanship over Kohli: 24 balls, 2 runs, 3 dismissals. Wahab Riaz has nailed him twice; so could have Amir but for the slip fielders greasy fingers in the Champions Trophy final. In 12 innings against Pakistan, on the 10 dismissed occasions, he has surrendered to left-armers six times. Such a frequency is no coincidence, but a definite weakness.
Kohli has also been dismissed in identical fashions. Riaz had him twice caught at point or backward point, when the Indian skipper had tried to stab at the ball angling across him. Junaid too has had him caught behind twice and once bowled with a late-swerving delivery.
And then the most famous of them all, not for its beauty but the sheer context, came as it did in the Champions Trophy final. Kohli almost walked across to work the ball on the leg-side. The previous delivery was an out-swinger that had taken his edge, which the first slip had spilled. He second-guessed that the follow-up could be the late-bending in-swinger, the one that had consumed Rohit.
But this one nearly straightened after the pitching and took the leading edge of his closed bat-phase. Kohli, here, was trying to get inside the line, so that he could get on top of the ball and force it leg-side.
Right-handed batsmen vs left-arm pacers
The southpaw’s in-swinger is the right-handed batsman’s old foe. If it’s angling away, he can just thrust his front-foot across and play outside the line. But if it’s breaking in, the early commitment could entangle him. Since he has committed to the line early, he is bereft of time or space to make that second, smaller movement to adjust to the swing. He is left relying on just the hands, and when the ball bends back in, the front-pad invariably gets in the way. Like Rohit has on several occasions. To neuter this, several batsmen, most noticeably Sachin Tendulkar, press half-forward before the bowler releases the ball. That allows him to time and space to adjust to changing line and length of the ball. However, Indian batsmen of this generation tend to shuffle across, which is fatal.
Riaz’s burst of energy
More than Kohli’s, Rohit’s lbw was the classical Amir dismissal. Then left-armers with the ability to hoop the ball into the pads are a waking nightmare for Rohit, who has been consumed 24 times in his career by them. Of those, 13 times he was expelled by an in-swinger.
They say Trent Boult has him in his pocket. With Riaz, you don’t fear the lbws, because he seldom swings or seams the ball into the right-hander from over the stumps. But the Indian batsmen, as well acquainted with him as they are, would know that he can explode in a sudden burst of energy. He is known to crank it up a notch or two, making the ball bounce and move without giving any hint.
He doesn’t swing the ball as much as Amir with the new ball—though with the old ball in Tests he could—but he’s quickest of the three, besides in possession of a heavy ball. He also has that pantomime villain aggro that makes him infuriatingly thrilling to watch.
His most intimidating weapon, arguably, is the bouncer, which’s quite awkward to face as he generally targets the body, often pitching on middle-stump and congesting the batsman for any room whatsoever. Another dangerous gift is his ability to move the ball away from the right-hander from around the stumps.
The steadiest of them is the 19-year-old Afridi. Still cutting his teeth at this level, he hits the good length consistently, and the 6’ 6 frame ensures that he procures more bounce from good length than Riaz. Sometimes, he gets too overawed with the bounce he generates and tries to bang the batsmen with a flurry of short balls. But he could be lethal if he corrects his length, apart from slipping in those devious yorkers that made him an instant PSL celebrity. The extra bounce can fool batsmen into thinking that they’re misjudging his length.
What makes the three-pacers unit most difficult to face is the lengths they probe. Amir trades in fuller length, Riaz obsessed with back-of-length and Afridi a good-length predator. Amir beguiles you, Riaz intimidates and Afridi harasses. They could be a three-man jugalbandi emitting sinister tunes to the Indian ears, both batsmen and fans.