A father and his young son are watching Indian maestros like Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and co. grind down the opposition in a clinical fashion. The opposition seems to be in a rabble as none of the bowlers look like can trouble the legends of Indian cricket.The son asks to his father, are these batsmen from Mars as they don't seem to ever get out. Father replies, son, they are legends of Indian cricket and one of them, who isn't taller than a school ruler called Tendulkar seems to be playing cricket for about million years and scores centuries for fun.
Now, the above para includes a bit of exaggeration, but I don't think any player in the England set-up underestimates the enormity of the task that awaits them.The players know that they are up against a set of batsmen, who have the class, the temperament and the hunger for runs and that too at an age when most batsmen would have retired and taken up a job in the commentary box. Yes, the likes of SRT and Dravid may have failed in the ongoing match against Somerset, but unless you're a gambler, who is even ready to sell his own house, no one would bet against them of doing well in a four match series.
On expected lines, many questions would be oscillating in the minds of cricket fans as well as experts as to what can be the minute weakness one can find in players like SRT and Laxman. I already see lots of discussions and expert opinions on how to tackle the Indian batsmen. Let me make it clear that I am no expert, but just like I have done it before, I thought of writing an article on what are perhaps the options England's bowlers can look at when bowling to the Indian batsmen. This time around though, I would also look at what were the plans that England's bowlers tried after every test and analyse whether there are other options against the legends of Indian cricket.
So how can England's bowlers take up the gauntlet of bowling to batsmen of such high calibre? Of course, first and foremost any bowler should stick to the basics of bowling line and length and not lose heart when any of them look in ominous form, as just like any other batsmen in World cricket, one mistake may mean that SRT, or Laxman would have to take the long walk back to the pavilion.
Dissecting the technique of Indian batsmen and the options available to England's bowlers.
Just like in any cricket match, where the openers go into bat first up, I will look at the two openers for the first test at Lord's.
Mukund - My first impression of the young Mukund in West Indies was of a batsman, who lacked a defence to survive in test cricket. In-fact, he reminded me of all those openers cum tailenders, who played for India in the 90's. I looked at him as a typical front-foot bully who struggles to play in the V. The more I saw of him though, I started to believe that yes, he lacks the defence, but to an extent makes it up with his fighting spirit.
As Mukund has a tendency to go for a premeditated forward press and has a nonexistent back-foot play, it results in him favouring the cover region with lots of shots being hit on the up.The Windies bowlers though were shorter than England's bowlers, were still able to trouble him by just bowling it across Mukund. As he got more confident, Mukund started to play a bit better as he left more deliveries outside the off-stump and tried to drop his wrists against those short deliveries that were bowled at him. The fact though is, when a player has a premeditated forward press, it makes life difficult for the batsman, as he would likely struggle to play on top of the bounce on the front-foot.
Mukund's tendency to have a premeditated forward press and his inability to play straight means that England's bowlers have the options of either getting him caught behind, or there is also a chance of Mukund inside edging one of the deliveries onto the stumps.
I would look at Tremlett and Bresnan as my two options to bowl at Mukund. Tremlett gets natural lift even from a good length and should trouble Mukund big time by bowling it across him and getting him out caught in the slip cordon. Bresnan doesn't get the bounce of Tremlett, but he bowls a slightly fuller length and there is a decent chance that Mukund may get tempted to look for a few boundaries against Bressy as he doesn't get the lift, nor he bowls slightly short like Tremlett. In an attempt to hit on the up through the off-side, there is a good chance of him inside edging a delivery onto the stumps.
In West Indies in the final test, it looked like Mukund was getting used to the angle across him, but Edwards used his brain by shaping one of the deliveries back into Mukund and got him out LBW. It is something England's quicks can try as a surprise weapon because Mukund would be always expecting all the quicker bowlers to bowl across him. As he is a left-hander, Swann too can be a good option, as he is a very good bowler against the left-handers, but I see Tremlett and if selected, Bressy as the main options against Mukund.
Gambhir- When India were about to embark on a tough tour to the Safferland, most critics opined that Gambhir would be a failure on bouncy tracks in the Safferland. I though had no doubt about Gambhir succeeding in South Africa as whatever technical flaws he has, Gambhir more than makes it up with his sheer mental toughness. Yes, he may struggle in the first few tests in the Old Blighty, but you should be a brave man to bet against Ghambir doing well in at least one of the tests. Here is a cricketer, who is always looking at ways to improve his batting and is a battle hardened cricketer.
The question mark against Gambhir is his tendency to stay leg-side off the ball which in turn can leave him vulnerable against taller bowler, who can tuck him up for room. The tall quick from South Africa, Morkel tried every trick in the book which included going around the wicket and tucking him up for room. Gambhir though, came out of that series with flying colous as after getting out in the first innings of the first test against a lifter bowled by Morkel, he stood toe to toe with Morkel for rest of the series on bouncy tracks and chipped in with useful scores.
In England too Tremlett would try the same option of tucking up Gambir for room, but if he is ever selected, Bressy can again be the trump-card against Gambhir. With Bressy bowling slightly fuller than Tremlett, there is always a chance of Gambhir looking at more scoring options against Bressy and getting out. Gambhir also used to fail against bowlers, who could bowl full and across him as he used to struggle to get his weight forward into the drive, but nowadays he seems to have corrected that flaw.
As soon as the opposition have a left-hander in their ranks, people will invariably bring up the name of Swann as he is a fantastic bowler against left-handers. Ghambir though is already a great player against spin, as he is prepared to take the risk of coming down the wicket, is wristy and more importantly, is light on his feet which helps him to use the depth of the crease beautifully against any spinner.
Strauss and Swann can definitely look to do what Sanga tried against Ghambir in the 2011 WC final. Sanga packed the off-side field and left the on-side field almost open with the off-spinner Randiv bowling to Ghambir around the wicket. The ploy almost worked as Ghambir couldn't play one of his favourite shots against the off-spinner, which is to come down the wicket, make a bit of room for himself and look to smash the off-spinner over the long-off region. Ghambir tried his best to play the waiting game, but in the end lost his patience and tried to play against the turn through the on-side and was beaten by the flight and the turn imparted by Randiv. Luckily for him, he got a slight inside edge and Sanga couldn't effect the stumping. In the end, the simple fact is, there are lots of battles to look out for in the upcoming series and one of the battles can be between Swann and Ghambir. Can Swann outwit Ghambir, or will Ghambir continue to take any spinner he faces to the cleaners?
I will write rest of the article in part 2 of Having a look at the Indian batting line-up, as otherwise it can lead to paralysis by analysis!