Tuesday, May 11, 2010
Batting against short pitch stuff
One of the finest sights in cricket is, fast bowlers bowling short and the batsmen looking to take on the short pitch stuff and succeed. It is a huge challenge for any batsman as it is hard to take on bowlers, who are bowling quick and are looking to bounce the batsmen out on bouncy tracks. In cricket, I don't think there has been a single batsman, who has looked comfortable against short pitch stuff as even Bradman's average came down a bit in that bodyline series, but it is about devising a method that would make the batsmen effective against it. Batsmen may look to take the aggressive route and look to pull, hook or even guide the ball over the keeper's head by playing the upper cut or devise a defensive method like swaying away from the ball.
If I look at the various batsmen, who have succeeded in test cricket I can think of different batting styles. One of the modern day greats, Ponting is the best puller I have seen. He is always ready to take on the short pitch stuff and more often than not succeeds. He has taken on the best quicker bowlers in his time like Akthar at Perth in 99/00 and has succeeded by picking the length very quickly or that superlative hundred at Old Trafford in the unforgettable Ashes series in 05.
The other great player of this era, Tendulkar was another one, who frequently pulled and even hooked during his heyday. He was able to take on Aussie bowlers like McDermott and Hughes on a pacy Perth wicket at the age of just 19 in 1992 and score a century. The best innings that I have seen him play was just a 40 odd he made against Ambrose and co. on a treacherous pitch in the Caribbean in 97. No batsmen knew when it would bounce or it would keep low on that pitch, but Tendulkar picked the length quickly and smashed the likes of Ambi and co. all over the park before a bad decision ended his innings. The factor to look at was how quickly he picked the length and his head being very still. He is of course a genius as on that pitch most batsmen were just looking to survivie. As years went by, injuries took its toll on him and he has almost left playing that pull shot. He still can easily sway away from the line as he uses his lack of height to good effect and even plays the upper cut. Occasionally he still plays the pull shot like we saw in the IPL, but Tendulkar has been able to modify the way he plays bouncers and still is getting lots of runs.
Steve Waugh early in his career decided not to play the pull shot as he was getting into lots of problems against the short pitch stuff by playing that shot. He failed in the Caribbean in 1991 and again against the same team in 92/93 he didn't do well, but worked hard on his defensive technique and was able to come up with a technique which, wasn't pleasing to watch but effective. Most of the times he would move towards the off stump and was able to keep short pitch deliveries down by playing with a loose bottom hand. He was able to survive as he worked very hard on his technique and had a very good temperament. He showed his class by getting a double hundred against the Caribbean team in 94/95. His twin brother Mark was more of a gambler as he would pull, hook and even play upper cuts in his younger days. It helped him to succeed against the Caribbean quicks in 91, 92/93, 94/95 and against Donald and co. in 97. He has one of the best averages against the Caribbean bowlers, who played from 77 to 95( the period in which the Caribbean fast bowlers terrorised the batsmen) Another batsman, who comes to the mind would be Vaughan and he employed the pull shot beautifully against Australia in 02/03. If Vaughan was great at pulling in that series, the Indian maestro Dravid's ability to sway away from the line by keeping his eyes on the ball to deliveries which is just slightly short is exemplary.
Among modern day players, Sehwag doesn't play the pull shot, but can survive as he has a decent technique against short pitch stuff and that shows even a player like S'wag plays within his limitations. He knows that any bowler won't be accurate all the time, so he usually waits for a delivery that is slightly short and wide and if a bowler bowls it a touch wide to Sehwag, I don't have to say what will happen next! KP on the other hand, deliberately stays back to the quicker bowlers and uses his height to good effect by getting on top of the bounce to pull it.
One can see that every batsman, who have succeeded in cricket have their own way of playing short pitch bowling, but they rarely got into two minds of whether to pull or play defensively and that is when the problem can start. If I look at some of the young Indian batsmen they seem to get into two minds of whether to pull or play defensively.
So, let us have a look at the Indian batsmen, who are playing in the T/20 world cup.
Vijay- He is a fine timer of the ball, but struggles to move back and across and transfer his weight onto his front leg. Vijay just backs his eye to get a boundary by hitting it in the air which can also be risky. If he perhaps works on a few things, he can succeed as he keeps his head pretty much still and that helps him to maintain his balance. Being tall for a batsman, he can get on top of the bounce as well.
Ghambir-I'm surprised by his struggles in the tournament. Ghambir has always come across as a good player of short pitch bowling, but seems to have got into two minds of whether to pull or leave it. Yes, he got a brute of a delivery from Roach in the last match, but has generally struggled. His tendency to slightly back away from the stumps hasn't helped him either. More than anything else, he seems to have lost a bit of confidence, but he is a class player for sure.
Raina- Raina's problem is, him being predominantly a front-foot player and just doesn't want to play a pull shot. At best, he heaves it over the mid wicket region. Raina doesn't seem to be a natural leftie and if that is the case, he may struggle to keep the short ball down as it is difficult to control the shot with a weak bottom hand.
Sharma- He can look at ease against the short ball, but his biggest weakness can be his shot selection as he can try to play some cute little shots and get out by looking silly.
Dhoni- In this team, he perhaps has the best technique against the short ball and if India get a bit lucky and play in the finals at Barbados should probably move up the order.
Yuvraj- Contrary to what many think, he controls the pull shot well by getting on top of the bounce and can keep it down too, but just like few others, has been let down by very bad shot selection.
Yusuf- He is predominantly a front foot slogger and likely would always struggle against short pitch stuff. I'm not sure about him playing in international cricket.
I think with time Indian youngsters would do better against short pitch stuff and I always believe that it is perhaps a bit easier to adjust to the slower conditions of the subcontinent than it is for the subcontinental players to adjust to the bounce and most international cricketers tend to have similar views.
Of course, in the past India have produced some fine players against quick bowling like Hazare,Gavaskar, Amarnath, Vishwanath, Vengserkar and the likes of Tendulkar, Dravid, and Laxman. The youngsters in the present team too can succeed as they have the talent. It is just that they may have to work a bit on their technique to find a way to be effective against it and more importantly have a good temperament to take on the short ball.