“With a throwdown specialist in the mix, a rookie left-arm seamer – Khaleel Ahmed – in the squad and batsmen becoming more confident in dealing with left-arm pace, the Champions Trophy debacle is a distant memory for India that could well be overwritten with a fresh, more memorable script at Dubai”
Pakistan might be fully stocked on left-arm pace but India have gone left field and picked a left-arm throwdown specialist to counter the impending threat as the arch-rivals prepare to face off at the Asia Cup. Sri Lanka’s Nuwan Seneviratne, a throwdown specialist who has worked with the Lankan side for close to a decade, has been hired by the BCCI on a temporary basis to help the Indian batsmen.
Left-arm bowlers are a recurring theme in India’s net sessions of late with their batsmen’s weaknesses against them well documented and cleverly exploited by several teams. From Arjun Tendulkar to Kulwant Khejroliya to Aniket Choudhary, left-arm bowlers have sent down quite a few overs at Indian batsmen in the nets of late.
With the Pakistan side for the Asia Cup having as many as four left-arm fast bowlers – Mohammad Amir, Usman Khan Shinwari, Junaid Khan and Shaheen Shah Afridi – of which at least two are certain to start in the eleven, India are ensuring their batsmen are extremely well prepared for the pace barrage.
In recent times, Pakistan’s bowlers have been the talk of the town at least in limited-overs cricket. The icing on their well-decorated cake is a predominantly left-arm attack which works particularly well for them against India, who have shown a clear-cut weakness at the top against these kinds of bowlers.
Roll back the clock to the Champions Trophy finals last year at The Oval and a ravenous Mohammad Amir feasted on India’s top-order, reducing them to 33/3 with Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli among his victims. Roll back further and an ODI in Chennai in 2012 comes to mind when Junaid Khan ripped through India’s batting line-up, leaving them at 29/5 within the first ten overs. Of late, Trent Boult, Mitchell Starc, Jason Behrendorff and Sam Curran have all had their share of success against India’s batsmen.
Since 2012, Pakistan have dominated the charts for left-arm fast bowling. With 335 wickets and eight left-arm seamers in ODIs – the most by any team – the sub-continental side has had no quandaries in unleashing quite a few of them. Against India, four of these left-arm seamers have played and two, in particular, have had tremendous success – Mohammad Amir and Junaid Khan.
Amir averages a miserly 16 while Junaid with 9 scalps in six games averages 20.44. Couple this with India’s tendency to crumble like a pack of freshly baked cookies to left-arm pace and you get a sense of where Pakistan are looking to hurt India as the teams prepare to meet after more than a year. Since 2013, India’s batsmen have fallen to left-arm pace 110 times in ODIs with a wicket coming every 36th ball (rounded) when they are operating. They don’t commit themselves to the front-foot all the time, and play a bit late. Most of their trouble happens only when the ball is moving, because our batsmen have shown against Starc and (Mitchell) Johnson that they can take on pace,” says former India coach Lalchand Rajput. “Net bowlers are an option, but they’re not comparable to what you get in the middle. And if he can bring the ball back into right-handers, even the best struggle.”
Rohit Sharma leads the list of batsmen with troubles against left-arm pace having conceded his wicket 22 times to them. While MS Dhoni (25 times) and Virat Kohli (22 times) exceed or match him in terms of the number of dismissals, their averages have been fairly good unlike Rohit’s. Dhawan, Kohli, Karthik and Dhoni have averages of 30 and above per dismissal against left-arm pace while Rohit averages just 23.22 with seven dismissals across formats against left-armers since the Champions Trophy.
What possibly ails the Mumbaikar is a profound forward press which leaves him vulnerable to balls shaping into him. Kohli and Dhoni, on the other hand, are more balanced in their forward movement which means they are quick to recover when the ball moves in and hence do not fall over. Dhoni flaunted this exceptionally well in a beautifully orchestrated hundred in that Chennai ODI in 2012 taking India to 227 from 29/5 after Junaid’s early burst.
KL Rahul, Ambati Rayudu, Manish Pandey and Hardik Pandya have all had unsuccessful trysts with left-arm pace bowlers. Unlike Rohit, though, Rahul and Rayudu are more compact against balls moving into them while Pandya has shown several times in his short career, starting with the last-ditch onslaught at The Oval in the Champions Trophy finals, that reputation or angle of bowlers does not matter to him when in the mood.
Overall records can be tricky, though. While it is true that left hasn’t been right for India’s batsmen, Pakistan’s bowlers have been an exception. Since 2013, the arch-rivals have played the most number of left-armers (alongside Australia) against India in ODIs – four. In seven matches, though, they have picked up a combined 12 wickets at an average of 41.75 – worst among left-arm seamers from all teams against India.
This could also stem from the fact that India have been cautious while dealing with Pakistan’s evident left-arm threat. The rate of scoring for India’s batsmen against Pakistan’s left-arm seamers remains on the lower side – 4.87 runs per over – and is their worst against left-armers from any team. This was well illustrated in an uber careful approach against Mohammad Amir (economy of 3.91) in the group match of the Champions Trophy last year when the rest of Pakistan’s bowlers were clubbed around in an Indian total of 319.
India, though, have conceded very fewer wickets to their left-armers which is clear from Pakistan’s left-arm pace bowlers having a deplorable strike rate of 51.4 against India’s batsmen (worst among all teams).
However, Amir’s rip-roaring spell in the Champions Trophy finals seemed to have opened up familiar wounds for India. His numbers since then have taken a beating, though, with him picking up just three wickets in eight ODIs at an average of 79.33. Junaid Khan has fared better and his record against India (an average of 20.44 and economy of 4.18) should see him emerge as a strong contender to displace Faheem Ashraf from the starting eleven on Wednesday. The toast of the pack, though, has been Usman Khan Shinwari. The left-arm seamer has picked up 18 wickets in 7 ODIs at an average of 10.55 and strike rate of 15.0 (both the best for any fast bowler with atleast 10 wickets since the Champions Trophy). That said, Usman has played five out of his seven games against lowly opposition – four against Zimbabwe and one against Hong Kong.
The fact that Amir’s burst at The Oval was followed by successful spells by a few other left-arm seamers has apparently masked how India have become better equipped at handling left-arm pace. Their average and strike rate against left-arm pace have gained an upward spike.
Before the Champions Trophy in England and after the 2015 ODI World Cup, left-arm fast bowlers had averaged 31.8 against India with an economy of 5.74. Since the finals of the event, though, India’s batsmen have been more than adept at dealing with them. An average of 47.15 by left-armers against India’s batsmen is coupled with an increased economy of 5.81. For the record, left-armers have averaged 31.15 against all teams during this time frame, a markedly low value compared to that against India.
“Left-arm quicks force you to change something even before bowling a single ball — if you bat right-handed, you ought to open your stance to get a full view of the bowler. Now, that change can lead to a slight miscalculation in terms of where you land your front foot: the usual slightly-across front-foot stride barely covers the stumps after you’ve opened up your stance,” Aakash Chopra, the former Indian Test opener, had written in his piece on ESPNCricinfo while commenting on India’s left-arm woes.
Rohit Sharma, for one, still has a rather closed stance and is vulnerable to the movement into him but the new crux of India’s batting line-up – the likes of Rahul and Jadhav – have more open stances and get into better positions while playing the ball coming into them. The recent turnaround in terms of averages also suggests that India have accepted their problems against left-arm fast bowlers and worked in rectifying them.
With a throwdown specialist in the mix, a rookie left-arm seamer – Khaleel Ahmed – in the squad and batsmen becoming more confident in dealing with left-arm pace, the Champions Trophy debacle is a distant memory for India that could well be overwritten with a fresh, more memorable script at Dubai.