The Indian bowlers were belted by the South African openers when they were bowling with the new ball. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at an alternative method the fielding sides could adopt during these phases.
Dale Steyn returned to form by slicing through the Indian line-up with impeccable line and length, vicious bouncers, and oft-unplayable reverse-swing. After being flayed at New Wanderers, he showed once again why he is widely acknowledged as the greatest bowler of his times.
Zaheer Khan and Mohammed Shami had a different kind of start altogether as they conceded 29 runs from the first four overs to Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen with the new ball. Even Zaheer, arch nemesis of Smith, failed to create any sort of doubt in the minds of the South African captain.
Then, as the ball got older, the Indian seamers slowly clawed back into the match, and brought on earlier than he was expected to, Ravindra Jadeja found enough turn to create hopes in the minds of Indian fans. The final 16 overs saw 53 runs being added, which, though not an exceptional bowling performance, was better than the new-ball performance.
The fielding got closer, the batsmen looked in discomfort of sorts, and though India could not break through they bowled better and better as the ball got older. In other words, the Indian attack – consisting of three medium-fast bowlers (who are more proficient with reverse-swing) and a spinner – preferred to bowl with the old ball rather than the new.
This poses the obvious question: Why not start an innings with an old ball?
Law 5 of the rulebook deals with The Ball. Law 5.3 (New Ball) clearly states: “Unless an agreement to the contrary has been made before the match, either captain may demand a new ball at the start of each innings.”
In other words, a captain may demand a new ball at the start of each innings. May. It is not something a captain has to do. Why, then, not begin with an old ball? Is it simply because of a convention that has been going on for ages?
The Law was created in an era when bowling with the new ball gave seamers a clear advantage; the spinners came into play as the ball got older. With reverse-swing coming into prominence since the late 1970s, the advantage of seamers has not reduced as the match progressed.
We have seen captains delay the second new ball – not because the pitch is offering turn – but because reverse-swing is in full flow. We have also seen spinners take the new ball, especially in the subcontinent, when perhaps an older ball may have helped their cause.
Law 5 still belongs to a bygone era. Why not take advantage of them, then, till they do not change them?
Of course, there will be doubts regarding whether how old a ball one would be allowed to start with – but even that is not mentioned anywhere in the Law. Why not give it a shot before they are rewritten?
(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He generally looks upon life as a journey involving two components – cricket and literature – though not as disjoint elements. A passionate follower of the history of the sport with an insatiable appetite for trivia and anecdotes, he has also a steady love affair with the incredible assortment of numbers that cricket has to offer. He also thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and blogs at http://ovshake.blogspot.in. He can be followed on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ovshake42)
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