The cricketing world continues to be in awe of Sachin Tendulkar’s sensational pyrotechnics against legendary Australian leg spinner Shane Warne. He violated every statute in the coaching books by smashing him against the spin from the rough outside line of leg stump, ran down the pitch to hoist him over the head and completely pulverised the great spinner with mesmerising strokeplay during the 1997-98 series.
No wonder Ian Chappell in his bizarre call to change lbw rules referred to that incredible, breathtaking aggression of the batting maestro. But his paean seemed to also suggest that all batsmen could play such awesome innings if only they did not ‘kick away deliveries pitching in the rough and turning towards the stumps’.
One other person, nay skipper, was haunted by visions of that magnificent innings. But before drawing attention to his shenanigans, it would be prudent to recall Chappell’s extreme suggestion to amend the LBW law.
‘...Forget where the ball pitches and whether it strikes the pad outside the line or not; if it's going to hit the stumps, it's out... It would also force batsmen to seek an attacking method to combat a wrist-spinner pitching in the rough outside the right-hander's leg stump...The current law encourages “pad play” to balls pitching outside leg while this change would force them to use their bat....’
Of course he draws attention to Tendulkar’s brilliance and matchless improvisation against Warne in that series 22 years ago.
But there was an England captain who had nightmares of that innings. It bothered him so much that he came up with an ugly counter which literally took the wind out of Tendulkar’s sails in the 2001 series.
Nasser Hussain, whom even Tendulkar hailed as a master strategist in one of his books, found the perfect antidote to neutralise the batting genius. Sadly that manoeuvre was everything the lbw law sought to discourage.
After England lost the opening Test at Mohali, Nasser Hussain had left-arm spinner Ashley Giles bowl from over the wicket to Tendulkar. He instructed him to pitch the ball a metre outside the line of the leg stump. Tellingly, England wicket-keeper James Foster too crouched at least a foot or so outside the line of the leg stump. There were six to seven fielders deployed on the leg side to keep the master batsman’s run flow in check.
These tactics, hideous as they were, ensured that Tendulkar failed to get a rhythm going. It blunted his stroke play and tied him up in all sorts of tangle. The crowds roared for him, expecting another onslaught like the ones against Warne. But Tendulkar was turned into a strokeless wreck by the despicable tactics. His 90 in the Bengaluru Test came off a painstaking 198 balls. In contrast, against Warne and Australia, off a near identical number of deliveries (191) he had amassed 151 runs.
Giles, ECB’s current director of men’s cricket, would be delighted if Chappell’s suggestion was ever accepted. After all the average Test bowler (54 Tests; 143 wickets) was England’s star of the two drawn Tests. He virtually brought the Indian innings to a standstill with his negative bowling (43.3 overs, 5 for 67 and 0 for 57 in 31 overs in the Ahmedabad Test and 1 for 74 in 34 overs in the Bengaluru Test).
England’s tactics were so pathetic that Nasser Hussain was asked at the post-Test media conference if he had not been excessively negative towards Tendulkar.
“Look up the records,” he snapped. “Australia, with Warne the greatest spinner in their ranks, were blitzed for 446 runs by Tendukar and lost two Tests. We kept him down to 266 which he took ages to get to. I’ll take that any day. Thank you.”
The last two Tests, where England wanted to cut their losses, were the most boring ones. The scoring rate (a little over two runs an over) was so pathetic that one more series like that would have killed Test cricket permanently in India.
Currently bowlers do not adhere to this negative line of attack simply because it does not pay. But if the law was amended, everyone, left arm pacer, right arm pacer, left arm spinner, leg spinner, off spinner (bowling to left hand batsmen) would all gun for batsmen from outside the leg stump. The results and scorelines would be disastrous as Chappell himself is aware of when he says ‘....It would also make four-day Tests an even more viable proposition.’
Why four days, Tests could finish in less than three days!
These disgusting tactics were resorted to in the 1920s and were referred to as ‘leg theory’ where more than two fielders were placed behind the crease on the leg side while others were scattered predominantly on the leg side. There was no law against it but it was generally held that ‘gentlemen did not practise leg theory’.
But captains under pressure often resorted to it until England skipper Douglas Jardine went over the top in 1932 in an attempt to curb the insanely high-scoring Australian Donald Bradman. Jardine took leg theory to another level with blatantly intimidatory tactics that came to be known as Bodyline before its brutal after-effects forced the game’s administrators to string together a number of legislations that made the tactics redundant and illegal.
Chappell’s call if it passes muster will legitimise ‘leg theory’ and bring back the painful days of unimaginative negative cricket. Worse, it will kill the game.
Simply put, all bowlers are capable of bowling down the leg side but very few batsmen can survive if constantly attacked from outside the leg stump. Even Tendulkar’s success against it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Just ask him of Giles and Hussain!
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