Colombo: If and when India bat first, they are placed in a very difficult situation because given their bowling attack, there is no way to know what exactly is a safe total.
Now, 185 isn’t a very bad total. In fact, by most counts, it is a very good total especially when you have managed to get a few early wickets too. But then India lost the plot.
Fathom this. Of the six bowlers India used in the match, only one — R Ashwin — managed to keep his economy rate (5.75) less than 10. Everyone else including Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, India’s two most experienced bowlers, was given the treatment.
Zaheer Khan conceded 31 runs in his 3 overs. Irfan Pathan, who got 5 wickets in the first practice match, was hammered for 40 runs in 3.1 overs. L Balaji also went for 41 off his 4. Harbhajan Singh was milked for 40 in his four. And in his only over, Yuvraj Singh conceded 11 runs.
“The bowling didn’t click today and that was a little frustrating… in the sense, that in the last match, this same bowling attack defended the 145-odd that we made in the first game on a flat deck. But today was one of those bad days. It’s hard to say what a safe score is,” said Rohit Sharma after the match. “We have to look at the opposition and the conditions before we can do that.”
India’s problems in the bowling attack boil down to one simple thing – all the pace bowlers seem to bowl at the same pace. They all depend on variations to do the trick for them. But there is only so much that variations can do. For a subtle change of pace or a slower ball to work, you first need to have the firepower to force the opponent to overlook it.
Now of India’s pacemen have that. They have plenty of back of the hand, off-cutters, leg-cutters – but none of them have a stock delivery that the opponents are wary of and after a while, the surprise factor ceases to exist and that is when the batsmen can do pretty much anything.
Take for instance, the shot that Kamran Akmal, who made a wonderful 92 off 50 balls, played off Balaji. The bowler had been trying to bowl the wide yorker for a while, so Kamran anticipated it well. He moved across the batting crease to where the six stump would’ve been, went down on the knee, and then sweeped the low full toss for a six over square leg. This is not the kind of treatment any fast bowler would like.
Had it been a proper fast bowler he would have charged in next ball looking to knock the head off the batsman. But Balaji just doesn’t have the option. Later, in the same over, another length ball, wide outside the off-stump was smashed over long-off for by Shoaib Malik.
Now the treatment wasn’t restricted just to him. Zaheer got hit for 2 sixes, as did Harbhajan and Pathan. As soon as he landed in Sri Lanka, Dhoni had said that a lot would depend on the part-time bowlers but on current evidence, he may have to worry about the ‘regular’ bowlers as well.
Harbhajan played but it was just another game of darts — fast and straight into the batsmen’s legs. The odd flighted delivery would’ve helped to just throw them off the batsmen and that’s what Ashwin did rather brilliantly.
Zaheer can still pump it up to 140 km/h for the odd delivery and he needs to do that ever so often just to keep the batsmen on the back foot. Balaji can use conventional swing and he must not get sucked into believing that his weird concoction of slower is all he had.
Irfan Pathan’s ability to get swing with the new ball must be appreciated and he must not bowl the last over. Harbhajan, well, by now he should know what to do or he needs to follow Ashwin’s example.
Granted that T20 is a batsman’s game but the fact that the bowlers are not pulling their weight will put a lot of pressure on India’s batting as well. The batsmen will go into every match knowing that every total below 200 is dangerous territory, they will be forced to take more risks and that can never be good. It will force India to live on the edge.
This wasn’t even a case of the Indian team taking it easy. It was a warm-up match and India actually played 12 players – Harbhajan Singh wasn’t in the initial team list but he bowled but in terms of intensity, the Indian team was giving it all.
“Our intensity was there and we were going all out,” said Rohit after the match.
And if that was indeed the case, then India will need to hope its batsmen have the best tournament of their lives.