The Indian batsmen have to be at their best to tackle the England bowlers in their own backyard © Getty Images
As England and India get ready to battle it out under intense media glare over a five-Test series, Bharath Ramaraj looks at possible strategies the home team may employ against Indian batsmen.
Over the years, India and England have been involved in many soul-sapping duels that can be encapsulated in a gilt-edged frame and kept with you forever. There have been innumerous tales of players from both teams jumping in joy and wincing in pain over epochal victories and heart-breaking losses.
As India get ready to take on England in what promises to be an intense battle between two sides on a rebuilding path, it is time to look at possible strategies the hosts’ backroom staff may employ to get the better off visitors.
Since the veteran opener Virender Sehwag was dropped from the setup, Murali Vijay has found a regular place in the Test side. During the Test series against Australia in 2013 and India’s tour of South Africa in 2013, sparks emanated from his bat, as Vijay showed his class by performing well. However, he flopped during India’s tour of New Zealand and now again finds himself at the edge of a precipice.
When Vijay is in fine form, his precise timing bears the stamp of someone having that inane ability to effortlessly caress the ball into the gaps. His flicks can be Mark Waughesque. However, there are times when Vijay seems to throw it away when he is on top.
One of the problems that even the writer wondered back in 2013 in an article written on him was his indecisive front-foot movement. Duncan Fletcher, the Indian coach seemed to have worked on it during Australia’s tour of India in 2013 and even in South Africa, Vijay stood up to the task and performed well. Yet, in New Zealand, Vijay again seemed to have gone back to his old ways.
James Anderson will undoubtedly pitch it up to him and with that razor sharp out-swinger, test his footwork in the corridor of uncertainty. Stuart Broad has a habit of bowling a tad short, but against Vijay, he perhaps would be better off pitching it up.
Shikhar Dhawan, after finding himself in the backwaters of wilderness for a long-time, hit the headlines with a rasping century against Australia at Mohali last year. When he played those off-side strokes, Australian fielders seemed to have been scalded in the sun. Dhawan though, found runs hard to come by in South Africa. But in New Zealand, he hit top form.
Dhawan, just like most left-handers, doesn’t mind having a go at even good length deliveries on an off-stump channel. On tracks that offer help to pacers, he can be vulnerable in that respect. In New Zealand though, he did show measured judgment outside his off-stump.
He also has an inclination to play the pull and the hook. He doesn’t exactly get into good positions to play that stroke, but on slower tracks of England, he may get away with it. England likely would pack the off-side and maybe, bowl that odd carrot that is full and wide outside the off-stump to lure Dhawan into his doom. It would be interesting to see to what extent Stuart Broad and Liam Plunkett would target him with short stuff.
Cheteshwar Pujara is unmistakably India’s best player when it comes to temperament. He seems to have that concentration prowess of a Buddhist monk in the middle. Pujara, who bats with a crouched stance sometimes doesn’t lean into the drive. He may plonk his front-foot straight down the ground. It isn’t like he does that all the time, but if anything, Anderson and co. can leave the gap at cover open and tempt him to drive. Pujara, early in his career, also gave an indication that he was a compulsive hooker. New Zealand’s pacers exploited it to the fullest in 2012. Since then, he has shown better judgement.
Virat Kohli comes across as India’s best batsman when you consider both technique and shot-making ability. Even if one uses a microscope, it is difficult to pick up a flaw in his technique. But in his short career, Kohli has shown that when he gets a bad score or two, he can get into that mode of playing with unnecessary trigger movements.
In the series against England in 2012-13, a few low scores led to Kohli trying out different trigger movements. Anderson exploited it beautifully at Kolkata when he used that in-dipper and reverse swing with the old ball to snare his wicket. The wily off-spinner, Graeme Swann, too tested him. Basically, England have to hope that he can get a couple of bad scores during the early part of the tour for him to press the panic button.
Over the years, Ajinkya Rahane has been a quiet and unassuming achiever. Rather than ruthlessly dismantling opposition attacks, he does it with a touch of elegance. There have been times when a fullish delivery that tends to shape back into Rahane has troubled him, as he likes to stay back. He hasn’t always got out to that delivery, but the in-swinger has led to indecisive footwork especially, while going forward.
In English conditions, it is imperative that you come forward at every given opportunity. Anderson, Broad and company are no doubt going to test him with the in-swinger.
The Indian captain and wicketkeeper-batsman doesn’t have a great record away from the subcontinent in Tests. Here is someone, who plays a lot with his hands. When it zips around a bit, that may result in MS Dhoni nicking outside the off-stump. For instance in 2011 that problem led to his dismissal in the first innings at Lord’s and in the first innings at Trent Bridge.
Catch all the stories from India’s tour of England 2014 here
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)