In the first ODI played between India and South Africa in Johannesburg, the Indian batsmen flailed hopelessly on a trampoline wicket against mean pacers from South Africa. Bharath Ramaraj analyses the failure of India’s batsmen to cope with the pace and bounce at Wanderers Stadium.
Facing up to fast bowlers who generate scorching pace and extract disconcerting bounce can send shivers down the spine of the bravest of batsmen. Mean pacers with dreaded pace and a piercing glare can vanquish an entire batting line-up. When those mean quickies get a rare chance of bowling on a trampoline track, they lick their lips and make the life of batsmen seem like hell by zipping it across their very noses with thundering pace.
In the just concluded first One-Day International (ODI) played between India and South Africa, the next generation of Indian batsmen got a taste of what is in store for them during the rest of the series on quick wickets of South Africa. The likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel went hammer and tongs at Indian batsmen and they had no answer for it. In the end, South Africa pummelled India and won by a convincing 141-run margin.
The present Indian batting line-up is made up of a surfeit of fearless stroke-makers who on Indian tracks can blitzkrieg even the fastest of bowlers through the line and on the front-foot. However, when playing on arguably the quickest track in South Africa at Wanderers Stadium, it is a different story altogether. In fact, the only batsman the writer has seen consistently pull the quickest of fast bowlers on the front-foot, even on a pacy track, is Kevin Pietersen. But the consummate mastery of Pietersen against pacers is an exception to the rule in this case. For most batsmen, at least on a trampoline wicket, it is mandatory to pivot onto the back-foot and play the pull shot.
If we turn back the pages to 1989-90, when England was about to travel to play Tests against the pillaging West Indies’ pace bowling machinery, their former opening batsman Geoffrey Boycott is believed to have made English batsmen play against young and motivated Yorkshire pacers who bowled as quick as they could from a mere 18 or 19 yards. These days, bowling machines have come into play. But the old maxim of acclimatising to the conditions by spending time in the middle in First-Class games in similar conditions is always the best way to prepare for the gargantuan task of facing up to the might of a slew of fast bowlers in the opposition camp.
Unfortunately, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) doesn’t seem to believe in playing warm-up games against a strong opposition before an important series. India went into the match against South Africa at Wanderers Stadium without having played a single List A game against any First-Class team in South African conditions. No wonder, Shikhar Dhawan and company were looking to pull everything on the front-foot and looked completely at sea.
It becomes very easy to pass the blame on the Indian batsmen for flopping miserably in their litmus test of playing on a track with pace and bounce. But if we scratch the surface underneath, in a crystal clear manner, one can see that the blame lies squarely on the haphazard scheduling done by the BCCI. Watching Indian batsmen playing against some mind-blowing pacers from South Africa was akin to lambs being led to slaughter. In short, every batsmen in the world of cricket have had issues against venomous pace. However, with an unflinching desire to succeed, one can wash away the challenge with aplomb.
(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)
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