Virat Kohli and his men are not afraid to hook and pull the fast bowlers these days.
Most of the English, Australian and South African batsmen have struggled against spin in the subcontinent and similarly, the Indians have faced issues against short-pitched balls on the bouncy foreign tracks. Considering some of the recent series, it would be fair to say that while England, South Africa and Australia players have not yet sorted their spin issues, the Indians finely have found answers to their short ball problem.
Talking of the Indian cricketers in the past, their repetitive failure against short-pitched deliveries had given a strong weapon to their opponents: “Bounce them out,” this was the strategy against Indian cricketers or for that matter, cricketers from the subcontinent when they played outside the subcontinent. In this part of the world, you don’t find bouncy pitches. Since India played more home matches than away tours, their batsmen were more accustomed to those conditions. It took a good amount of time to get used to the bouncy conditions and hence they failed, at least in the initial matches of the tour.
However, the recently concluded Test and ODI series against South Africa in the Rainbow Nation, the Indian batsmen seemed comfortable despite the movement in the pitch. The likes of Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwara Pujara produced an excellent technique to either pull or leave those deliveries. The Indian skipper Kohli marched to a superb hundred in the second Test at Centurion. Rohit also played the short balls well in the final innings of that Test, but eventually succumbed to an alike delivery.
It wasn’t surprising when the Proteas continued their game plan of short balls into the limited-overs series. The primary reason why the players in the past were not good against short deliveries was that they had the luxury to duck under it or just leave it. That was the culture followed and more because their majority of cricket happened in India. But then, that exposed their short ball woes whenever they toured overseas (outside subcontinent). However, with the evolution of the T20-format, the batsmen have developed a variety of shots and strokes that helped them pull or hook the short balls instead of leaving them. This has been the main reason behind India’s improved version on bouncy tracks.
During the ODI and ongoing T20I series, the Indian batsmen have been seen playing the short balls in front of square and that implied that they have unfolded the knack of picking up the length early and by doing so, they have enough time to judge the ball and play the shot. Following India’s 5-1 win in the ODI series against the Proteas, they switched the format to the shortest one and played the opening T20I at Wanderers, which tremendously supported bounce and pace.
The hosts initiated their plan to attack the Indian team with short balls. While they bowled some six or seven overs of short balls in a hope that it would fetch them quick wickets, the plan ruthlessly backfired. Instead, the Indian batsmen ended up registering their highest ever score (78) in powerplay in T20Is.
SA bowlers have still not realised that Indian batsmen are very much prepared for their short pitch bowling ….@imVkohli @SDhawan25 just hammering the balls #SAvIND
— ROHIT RAWAT (@rohitrawatatima) February 16, 2018
The South Africa tour began on a low note, where the Indians lost the Test series 1-2, they have turned tables around in the white-ball game. The 2016-17 season was the major home season for Kohli and Co. However, the ongoing one is a litmus test for the No. 1 Test side to prove themselves across the globe. India’s next tough tour awaits them in July where they are set to tour England in a full-fledged series. India have suffered humiliating defeats on the English soils in the past. Considering their performance in South Africa, India needs to continue the same kind of preparation more rigorously though to change their fortunes in England. There will be more swing to offer the bowlers and the added bounce that could add to India’s hardship.
Although India certainly have their short ball strategy covered, moderately, but they still have a lot of work to do to ensure success in England. After India’s loss in the Test series recently, the Indian Head Coach Ravi Shastri had mentioned further 10 more days of practice in South Africa would have made a huge difference. Taking into consideration that subcontinent batsmen do take a while to get used to the foreign conditions, the Indian board should ensure that the team is given enough practice in England before the crucial tour went underway.