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By Sunil Gavaskar
India’s collapse in the first Test on a hard, bouncy pitch got the tongues wagging again about the inability of the batsmen to cope with bounce and pace outside the subcontinent. In another Test played on the same dates in Australia on a similar kind of pitch both the team’s batsmen with the glorious exception of Michael Hussey also looked pretty inept at playing the bouncing ball. Of course not many will comment on the way the batsmen coped in Perth but as usual those who are forever trying to lessen the performances by the Indian batsmen were quick to get off the mark with the nudge-nudge, wink-wink about Indian batsmen being “Flat Pitch Bullies” who can’t put together a run on pitches with life in them. Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni did show that they could bat in those conditions and before them a 100 plus opening partnership between the irrepressible Virender Sehwag and the determined Gautam Gambhir had paved the way for the others to knuckle down too. Gambhir in particular was very impressive as he made adjustments to his backlift, shortened it and played the bowling by staying still. Dravid also looked untroubled till he was dismissed by a beauty from Morkel.
At Perth there was nobody who could bowl with the speed and movement of Dale Steyn and the sharp bounce of the tall Morne Morkel yet the batsmen looked so ill-at-ease it was as if they had never played pace like that before. Sure Johnson and Harris bowled a good line and at some pace but by no stretch of imagination were they express in speed. For England, Anderson, Tremlett and Finn also bowled nippily and moved the ball around but they were again not frightening in pace. Yet when we saw the dismissals and the manner in which the batsmen played, it was clear that apart from Hussey and to a certain extent Shane Watson and Haddin, none of them relished it and some actually looked relieved when they were out. Michael Clarke fished at a ball so far away from his body that the bat may have needed a visa to get back in his hands. Ponting too jabbed at one that lifted and was superbly caught by Collingwood. In the second innings both looked in so much hurry as if the Test was coming to an end in the next few overs. When England batted, Andrew Strauss who beats Sehwag hollow when it comes to non-movement of the feet, was seen giving the ball lots of air with his bat and not once looked as if he was trying to get behind the line of the ball. Mind you, on pitches with exceptional bounce it is better for shorter batsmen to play besides rather than behind the line of the ball as Gundappa Viswanath used to do so brilliantly.
In cricket, batsmen have to find ways to score runs and each batsman has his own method and as long as he is getting the runs whether prettily or in an ugly manner, the team doesn’t mind. So there is absolutely no issues with the feet movement or the lack of it as long as the runs are on the board. The issue is with stereotyping Indian batsmen despite their impressive record on all pitches and in all conditions as ones who cannot play the short bouncing ball when others in the cricketing world are no better. India has never had quick bowlers in their domestic cricket excepting for the period in the early 60s when five West Indian fast bowlers were playing in the five different zones in the Ranji and Duleep Trophy tournaments. Most other countries who point a finger at Indian batsmen have at least a few genuine quick bowlers in their domestic cricket and also have harder, bouncier pitches than in the Indian domestic circuit and who should therefore have little trouble in coping with such bounce against such bowlers. But as we have seen in Perth and as we have seen when the West Indian fast bowlers were sending the shivers up most batsmen's spines, they do not necessarily cope better despite all this practice.
India have shown in recent times that it can play on any surface as long as it gets decent time to play in those conditions. In England in 2002, India batted splendidly on a grey overcast day on a real green top and ended up scoring over 600 runs and went on to win the Test. In 2008 in Perth, on a similar sort of pitch as the recent Test match India won the game. So they have displayed that they can bat in these conditions too. However it is important to note that these Test matches were in the middle and not the beginning of the tour by which time the Indians had plenty of time to acclimatize themselves to the pitches and weather conditions there.
If India had a similar pitch that they got in the first Test a bit later on in the tour they would have batted well in both innings. In fact the way they batted in the second innings showed that they had got used to it a bit more. It still won’t be easy for them as both the pitches at Durban and Cape town will be hard and with bounce but having played a bit of cricket in South Africa now the Indians will be a bit more prepared than they were in the first Test.
They have had a great year so far so let’s hope that it ends well and begins well too and to all the readers a Happy, Healthy and Peaceful New Year.