In February, earlier this year, there was a reason why team India had roped in Rajasthan left-arm pacer Aniket Chaudhary for its net session. While the series was against Bangladesh, Virat Kohli and his men were already preparing for their challenge against Mitchell Starc by roping in the lanky left-arm quickie. Fortunately, India escaped unhurt as Starc had to head home mid-way in the series. But Indian batsmen facing trouble and getting out to left-arm pace bowlers has been a perennial problem and it doesn’t seem likely to go away anytime soon.
At the iconic Wankhede on Sunday, this problem reared its head once again as Trent Boult ran through the India top-order. If we take a look at the number of dismissals of Indian batsman to left-arm pacers since 2014, topping the charts is Rohit Sharma with 11 dismissals. Following him is fellow opening batsman Shikhar Dhawan with 10. Ajinkya Rahane, MS Dhoni follow behind with 8 and 7 dismissals each. Skipper Virat Kohli and Ravindra Jadeja have been dismissed six times.
Batsmen, in general, find it challenging to face a left-arm fast bowler. While one reason could be that the art of left-arm pace bowling is a relatively rare commodity in international cricket. Also, when they can swing the ball at brisk pace, they tend to be unplayable at times. Another reason could be the lack of quality left-armers in the current Indian squad. But the lack of habit of facing left-arm quicks is now slowly but surely becoming a nemesis. As long as someone like Zaheer Khan was among the ranks, the Indians fared relatively better as they had an exponent of left-arm swing bowling to face in the nets. But since his retirement in February 2014, things haven’t really worked out well for the Indian batters. (as seen in the statistics mentioned above)
A closer look will reveal another area of concern which is the batting stance of the current crop. As they tend to be side-on and not really open this is causing some trouble to the Indian batters. This tendency can often lead to a wrong judgment of line and length and even the amount of swing from the ball. When a right-hander is facing up to a new-ball then the natural angle of a southpaw will tend to take it away from the batsman towards the slips. But those with the art of inswing will bring the ball into the batsman and create problems in the mind. Going by the dismissals, the present Indian batsmen certainly do not seem prepared to face such a potent threat and need develop their arsenal for an equal combat.
In recent memory, the Indian top-order comprising of Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli seemed vulnerable when Mohammad Amir rattled them in the finals of the Champions Trophy. While Amir trapped Rohit lbw with an inswinging delivery, Kohli seemed hardly comfortable during his brief stay at the crease. Before being dismissed off a leading edge, he once edged it to the slips but survived a chance. Shikhar Dhawan too seemed ill-at-ease. In the T20I’s against Australia, it was Jason Beherendorff who once again troubled the Indian batsman and reduced the scoreboard from 8/0 to 21/4 in a jiffy. All the four right-handed batsmen seemed completely bereft of ideas on how to counter his swing and pace.
Over the years, Indian batsmen have struggled against this form of art and against New Zealand’s Trent Boult it once again lay threadbare. Hence, the need of the hour does seem like this squad needs a southpaw which it can at least face enough at the nets. Jaydev Unadkat, Aniket Chaudhary and a few others seem to be fit the bill but the idea of facing the likes of Arjun Tendulkar and a few youngsters at the nets certainly doesn’t seem like a long-term solution.