Anti-gravity batting... (from left) Suresh Raina, Abhinav Mukund and Yuvraj Singh look as comfortable against the English quicks as a cat on a hot tin roof! © Getty Images
Anti-gravity batting… (from left) Suresh Raina, Abhinav Mukund and Yuvraj Singh look as comfortable against the English quicks as a cat on a hot tin roof! © Getty Images

 

Last month when India were on a tour to the Caribbean, they handed out debut to a player who is almost considered as the next batting great — Virat Kohli. He did not make any use of the opportunity and had to return to the repair shop immediately. His technique was found wanting against the short balls and the working over that he got from Fidel Edwards is something that would stay in the mind for some time to come.

 

Now, on the ongoing tour of England, India’s youngsters and not-so-young, especially the left-handers, are being hunted out with the short balls. Anybody who saw the dismissals of Abhinav Mukund, Suresh Raina and Yuvraj Singh, would have lost hope on them countering the short balls. Mukund did not make anything of the reprieve he got of the first ball he faced in the second innings. Instead his response to a continued barrage was to put the hand in front of the helmet grill!

 

For long, the talk about Raina was his susceptibility to the short balls. Any kid with a working knowledge on cricket will tell you that the situation shouts for a short ball when Raina is at the crease. If he does not change the position that he gets into, while facing the short balls, he would be in for a lot of similar dismissals abroad. The tendency of getting behind the line of the delivery and then trying to duck does not actually give him enough time to do that. More often than not, he ends up playing the short delivery. Eventually, he does his best to swat it away from above his eye level. With this kind of weakness, employing a fine-leg fielder against him will always pay off. Else he needs to weave away from the delivery, Robin Smith style.

 

Yuvraj’s dismissal was the most surprising of all, but not quite so for the England bowlers. They consistently pitched it short, so as to make him play on the backfoot. Once they got him playing on the backfoot, they went for the throat. Yuvraj was hit on his hands on more occasions than one. And finally he too was dismissed of a short delivery, and it was a well thought out dismissal.

 

The murmurs of Indian batsmen coming up short against the rising ball gained momentum during the failed T20 World Cup campaign of 2009. On that occasion, India was hunted down by West Indies with the same ploy, and other teams followed suit. Champions Trophy held in South Africa further enhanced that belief

 

In the quarter-final against Australia in the World Cup, Raina seemed to have finally put the horrors behind him as he faced the rising ball with aplomb. And on the tour to Caribbean, he seemed to have found a method of countering it. Two Tests into the England series and the old failings are back to haunt him again.

 

Part of this can be attributed to complacency arising from success in One-Day Internationals and T20 cricket. It is easier to front up to short balls in the shorter formats of the game with the knowledge that only one short ball per over is allowed. The lack of sustained attack on the batsman with the rising ball allows him to thrive in these formats.

 

There is a common thread that links Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Mohammad Azharuddin, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. They have had success in English conditions, and some part of it can be attributed to the county circuit or the youth tours. The best part of most tours till the mid-90s were the warm-up games. These allowed the players to slowly acclimatise themselves to the conditions.

 

It is perhaps an indicator that of the three left-handed batsmen ravaged by the short ball from the previous match, only one would find a place in the eleven for the Test starting today.

 

(An Australian fan at sports. Loves Cricket and Tennis equally. Puts his biased thoughts into writing once in a while at raghavmv.wordpress.com)