Just three and a half months since India’s batting debacle in England, the Test team has reached and begun practice fairly well in Australia, as the first tour game will suggest. But once the big test begins next week, will the faulty techniques of the top-order show up again? Unlikely, considering the conditions (warmer) and the lateral movement (marginal) of the ball. Still, application of both mind and technique will be of utmost necessity. We take a close look at each of India’s top-six batters.
In England, it was his front-foot movement that brought his slump. James Anderson would move the ball away from him and because Dhawan’s front foot would land on leg-middle, he would end up playing away from the body. In Australia, Dhawan might enjoy batting for certain reasons. Firstly, he is strong on his backfoot. Secondly he plays the horizontal shots. For any player, the square cut and the pull are the most productive shots since the Aussies bowlers rarely bowl too full at home. In his very first innings in South Africa, Dale Steyn did get him with a bouncer, which doesn’t mean he should shelve that shot but he needs to be selective with his shots. The Aussies will start with a deep square-leg, though, to test his pull shot. Also, Dhawan needs to cover the line of the ball and place his front foot behind the line of the ball. In Australia the ball rises from the fuller length, thanks to the hard pitches there and his habit of making room, by staying adjacent to the line, can get him in slight trouble. At the same time, because the bounce can be trusted, Dhawan does not necessarily have to stretch on the front foot to a good length ball but can stand tall and play his back foot punches.
They say that the new Murali Vijay is deft at shouldering balls. And he can do it entire day if he is asked to. In England, unlike the other Indian batsmen who like to feel the ball and hence tend to follow it, Vijay was prudent with his leaves. But by the end of England tour, though, Anderson had sorted him, forcing him to overdo the leaves before bringing one back sharply into him. In Australia, his biggest strength could be his front-foot play but anything short and in the range will have to be dispatched. The Aussies will continue to bowl outside the off-stump and dry up the run flow. Also he has to play very close to his body and try play as late as possible because of the steep bounce.
England wasn’t his best outing but Pujara has runs in New Zealand and South Africa. He found the late movement in England tough to handle. Nothing wrong in the technique but he had a problem which was very similar to Shikhar Dhawan’s. Pujara’s front foot was landing on leg-middle and the bat was coming down at off-stump. It led to a huge gap and his stumps were rattled twice in the series. Secondly, he is more of a front foot player because he has matured playing in the Western part of India where the pitches are low in bounce. Though, he does play the pull reasonably well once he has settled but in the early part of the innings he can be tested with a bodyline bouncer. In an interview recently, he said he realises that he will have to be really strong on the back foot in Australia. And for his front foot, for a guy who likes to drive, he should make sure that his foot is planted near the pitch of the ball so that he can kill all the movement off the pitch.
He is one player in the batting line up who can dictate terms to bowlers as he possesses such a wide variety of shots — both on frontfoot and backfoot. But shortcomings in his technique — especially with his front shoulder opening up, Kohli was reduced to a mere tourist in England. Anderson dismissed him thrice in the series with balls that moved away from his off-stump. Had he been covering the line, he might have had different numbers. Now, he is in Australia where he has a Test ton. He is supremely strong on the pull and the hook and once he discloses his plans by negotiating the short stuff, he can force the bowlers to bowl up. Advantage Kohli. And as far as his shoulder is concerned, Kohli will have to keep it in control.
He happens to be in sublime form. He can cut, pull, flick and drive. Australian pacers are quick and the wickets support even bounce, which can interest Rohit as he likes the ball coming on to him. Previously, he used to play away from the body, but in recent times has tightened up his technique and holds his bat close to his hip. His punches off the backfoot are his strength, which he can play to his benefit and disturb the line of the bowlers from the good length area.
When England toured India in January 2013 for an ODI series, Steve Finn picked him off consistently: The tall pacer would hit the three-quarter spot and Rahane would be late in working out whether to go on front foot or back. It became Rahane’s bane for some time. He went to domestic cricket, worked on his game, simplified his foot work and found success overseas this year. Though, in Australia, his reluctance to go on the front foot can work for him. In India he couldn’t quite trust the bounce but in Australia he can. Another crucial thing about Rahane is his attacking nature. He loves the square cut, a shot that can fetch him a lot of runs as no fielder guards that region. Sehwag did it throughout his career. Although, he is strong on the pull as well but it will be interesting to see how he plays it Australia as he has a tendency to lap it around the corner rather than playing it in front of square.
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