If the second T20I between India and Australia brought back painful memories of the Champions Trophy final, reasons were not far to seek: India's batsmen have just not learnt their lessons.
Wind back to that June evening. Left-arm pacer Mohammed Amir trapped opener Rohit Sharma leg before wicket. The batsman instinctively pushed half forward with his pad, then realised he couldn't play around his pads to a delivery that came back into him.
On Tuesday, rookie Australian paceman, Jason Paul Beherendorf, playing only the second T20I of his career, flummoxed Rohit with an identical delivery. Rohit was himself so convinced about his dismissal that he didn't even bother seeking a second opinion through the newly-introduced DRS referral system for T20Is. He walked straight back to the pavilion.
Just as Amir had ripped the heart out of the Indian side in the Champions Trophy final in England by claiming Rohit, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli in one fiery spell, Beherendorf did the same in Guwahati on Tuesday. In addition to the trio, Beherendorf also accounted for Manish Pandey's scalp in his four-over spell.
By the time he was through, the Indians were a pushover and every bowler, including whipping horse Adam Zampa, were tucking into easy wickets.
To say the Indian batsmen were unprepared for left-arm pace would be an understatement. They never saw the threat coming and were ambushed in Guwahati. Ahead of last year's Test series, the Indians were so wary of Australian pace ace Mitchell Starc that they utilised Rajasthan left-arm seamer Aniket Chaudhary's services in the nets. He was made to bowl long spells to help the Indian batsmen get some practice against left-arm pace.
The team management was acutely aware of the threat posed by Starc, and the angles, swing and bounce he could generate. They took Chaudhary along with them just to avail of his services in the nets. But this constant exposure to left-arm pace helped, as the Indians got familiar with the new angles.
However, this sort of thorough preparation for Tests was not used ahead of the T20Is, simply because the main Aussie bowlers were all right-arm pacers. So, when Australia pulled out an ace in the form of Beherendorff's left-arm pace, India's top-order seemed categorically ill-prepared and vulnerable.
Beherendorff's bowling on the evening again proved just how potent a bowling attack can be if it has variety in the form of left-arm pace. Indian sides in the past have had a number of good purveyors of the art, like Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, RP Singh, Irfan Pathan, etc.
Zaheer was a huge success with his wide repertoire of tricks while Nehra, RP Singh and Irfan also had their moments. But of late, the talent pool has dried up, and Indian batsmen aren't getting sufficient exposure to the challenge.
The biggest advantage a left-arm pacer has is that the batsmen aren't used to the angles created by him. A majority of bowlers happen to be right-handed, and batsmen spend most of their time playing these. So, when a left-arm pacer is introduced into the scene, he offers a dramatically different option. For instance, while bowling over the wicket, he can exploit the blind spot around the good length area in line with the right-handed batsman's leg stump. Some batsmen prefer to open their stance to get around this issue. But a bowler who can get the ball to bend back and occasionally get it to hold the line and angle it towards slips would still be a challenge.
On Tuesday, both Rohit and Kohli were done in by Beherendorff's deliveries that came back into them while Manish Pandey was sorted out by one that held its course.
This collapse against a rookie left-arm pacer must have left a lot of people in the Indian team management red-faced. But it might actually not be all that bad. This could be just the wake up call they need to sort out the chink in their armour, and be better prepared for the challenging tour of South Africa.
Who knows, maybe the ageing Nehra could still have some use as a a good net bowler for Rohit, Kohli and Co.
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