Microscopic look at the disturbing Indian bowling attack

Munaf Patel in action against England

Microscopic look at the disturbing Indian bowling attack

By Jamie Alter

It doesn t matter the city, the country or the continent. Bowlers win you matches, and India were victims of cricket s greatest truism in an epic against England in Bangalore, contriving to tie a match which they should have wrapped up comfortably.

If last Saturday s win over Bangladesh exposed some gaping holes in the Indian bowling, yesterday s tie in Bangalore ripped open a crater which threatens to consume the team billed as tournament favourites. Teams who post 338 expect to win, and win comfortably. India so nearly ended up horribly red-faced had it not been for England s sheer ineptness during the batting Powerplay.

Just how did they let the game get so close? How did they bleed 28 runs in the last two overs, to tail-enders, having grabbed four wickets for 26 runs during the batting Powerplay?

Let s strip the second innings down. Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen delivered England a stirring response. Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel delivered two opportunities, but both times were let down. Strauss clearly nicked one behind, which Mahendra Singh Dhoni collected, but nobody appealed. Munaf drew a hoick from Strauss which Harbhajan Singh failed to catch at mid-on. Two big chances gone and Strauss ran away with the chase. If Zaheer was devastating with the old ball, he was disappointing with the new ball, straying either side of the wicket. Munaf was marginally better, but too often there were hit-me balls on offer.

Once Strauss and Pietersen and later Ian Bell – decided to open out, Zaheer and Munaf were clueless. They simply struggled with changes of pace. Zaheer managed it just twice with success, while Munaf too often bowled length, a dangerous ploy when you barely manage any variation.

Once the spinners came on, there was expectancy that India would rein in England. Didn t happen. Piyush Chawla began his stint with a couple long hops and maintained that rhythm, and his googly was all over the place. Repeatedly Strauss was able to hang back and cut and pull; this forced Chawla to toss it up but with no turn on offer Strauss was able to sweep.

Harbhajan Singh began well, but in his second spell was too short, by which time Strauss was entrenched. Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan, the part-timers, were repeatedly targeted and bled runs.

Then there was Dhoni s decision to turn to Chawla twice in the latter stages: the first, after 33 overs, the second, after 39, and then for the 49th. The first return resulted in just one poor over, as Chawla conceded 13 and Bell sped past fifty with a six and four.

With England needed 76 from 66, Chawla was given the 40th over and gave nine runs, again not getting the googly right and dropping short. He should have had a wicket in the 42nd over but Virat Kohli muffed the chance at slip. Two quite overs followed and it appeared Chawla had helped India pull matters back. Then Dhoni took him off and called him back to finish his quota, with England needing 29 from 12 balls.

Turning to spin in the death used to be a luxury Pakistan had under Wasim Akram when Saqlain Mushtaq was in his prime. Few teams have succeeded since, and Dhoni s decision to toss the ball to Chawla for the penultimate over was a major flop. With modern-day batsmen using such heavy bats, even mis-hits comfortably clear t the rope. Ad in two devastating hits, Chawla conceded 12 runs.

That left the equation 14 from six balls. Dhoni s decision to give the final over to Munaf was the right one. He had no option; the spinners had bowled out and Yuvraj and Pathan had been shoddy all evening. This was the same Munaf who bowled that amazing last over against South Africa in Johannesburg, and whose time playing in the IPL had resulted in a clever array of slower deliveries. On the day, he erred with a full third ball and was heaved for six.

The yorker, whether reverse-swinging or otherwise, has been a fundamental part of the problem. Zaheer used to be able to deliver it with regularity but now seldom pulls it off. When he does, the effect is devastating, as witnessed by Strauss demise. Munaf has found it difficult to master with the white ball, and his attempts to pitch full in the final over played straight into Ajmal Shehzad s hands, with a six being dispatched over the on-side.

So what now? For starters, India desperately need Ashish Nehra to regain full fitness. He has been India s most successful ODI bowler since returning to the side in June 2009. Since then, Nehra s 62 wickets from 45 matches at 32.29 stand 19 wickets more than the next man, Harbhajan Singh. Restrict that period to matches in India, and Nehra tops the list with 23 wickets from 19 games. Expand it a little to see performances in Asia, and once again Nehra comes out on top with 45 from 34 appearances; he was, after all, instrumental in ending India’s Asia Cup title drought last summer.

Three seamers is a risk because they neither have the searing pace, nor the genuine wicket-taking threat. Sreesanth was caned in the Bangladesh match, Munaf was taken for easy runs by England. If India are to stick with two spinners, then Ravichandran Ashwin should be preferred to Chawla. Recalled to the one-day fold after almost two and a half years, against a team which had traditionally wilted at the first signs of leg-spin, Chawla s figures of two for 71 were deplorable. Ashwin is a far more reliable option.

Yesterday was the 11th time in the last two years that India conceded a total of over 300, eight of those in the subcontinent. Champion sides have become champions because of their bowlers. Australia won the last three World Cups because they bowled sides out. The Indian side that won the World Championship of Cricket dismissed every team they came across, except Pakistan, who limped to 176 for 9 in the final. India reached the 2003 World Cup final on the back of good work from Javagal Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra.

India were the favourites going into the tournament, but haven t lived up to the billing. That India s batting would carry them through the World Cup was as obvious as a fly on a bald head, but it s now stark clear that their batting can only carry them so far. Doubts lingered over the potency of a pace battery featuring Zaheer, Nehra, Munaf and Sreesanth even before the tournament started, and they have now been increased multiple levels. Bowlers win matches for you and India, for all its batting might, appear very flimsy. India have a week before their next match, against Ireland in Bangalore, and there s plenty that needs doing.

Pictures Getty Images

By Jamie Alter

It doesn t matter the city, the country or the continent. Bowlers win you matches, and India were victims of cricket s greatest truism in an epic against England in Bangalore, contriving to tie a match which they should have wrapped up comfortably.

If last Saturday s win over Bangladesh exposed some gaping holes in the Indian bowling, yesterday s tie in Bangalore ripped open a crater which threatens to consume the team billed as tournament favourites. Teams who post 338 expect to win, and win comfortably. India so nearly ended up horribly red-faced had it not been for England s sheer ineptness during the batting Powerplay.

Just how did they let the game get so close? How did they bleed 28 runs in the last two overs, to tail-enders, having grabbed four wickets for 26 runs during the batting Powerplay?

Let s strip the second innings down. Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen delivered England a stirring response. Zaheer Khan and Munaf Patel delivered two opportunities, but both times were let down. Strauss clearly nicked one behind, which Mahendra Singh Dhoni collected, but nobody appealed. Munaf drew a hoick from Strauss which Harbhajan Singh failed to catch at mid-on. Two big chances gone and Strauss ran away with the chase. If Zaheer was devastating with the old ball, he was disappointing with the new ball, straying either side of the wicket. Munaf was marginally better, but too often there were hit-me balls on offer.

Once Strauss and Pietersen and later Ian Bell – decided to open out, Zaheer and Munaf were clueless. They simply struggled with changes of pace. Zaheer managed it just twice with success, while Munaf too often bowled length, a dangerous ploy when you barely manage any variation.

Once the spinners came on, there was expectancy that India would rein in England. Didn t happen. Piyush Chawla began his stint with a couple long hops and maintained that rhythm, and his googly was all over the place. Repeatedly Strauss was able to hang back and cut and pull; this forced Chawla to toss it up but with no turn on offer Strauss was able to sweep.

Harbhajan Singh began well, but in his second spell was too short, by which time Strauss was entrenched. Yuvraj Singh and Yusuf Pathan, the part-timers, were repeatedly targeted and bled runs.
Then there was Dhoni s decision to turn to Chawla twice in the latter stages: the first, after 33 overs, the second, after 39, and then for the 49th. The first return resulted in just one poor over, as Chawla conceded 13 and Bell sped past fifty with a six and four.

With England needed 76 from 66, Chawla was given the 40th over and gave nine runs, again not getting the googly right and dropping short. He should have had a wicket in the 42nd over but Virat Kohli muffed the chance at slip. Two quite overs followed and it appeared Chawla had helped India pull matters back. Then Dhoni took him off and called him back to finish his quota, with England needing 29 from 12 balls.

Turning to spin in the death used to be a luxury Pakistan had under Wasim Akram when Saqlain Mushtaq was in his prime. Few teams have succeeded since, and Dhoni s decision to toss the ball to Chawla for the penultimate over was a major flop. With modern-day batsmen using such heavy bats, even mis-hits comfortably clear t the rope. Ad in two devastating hits, Chawla conceded 12 runs.

That left the equation 14 from six balls. Dhoni s decision to give the final over to Munaf was the right one. He had no option; the spinners had bowled out and Yuvraj and Pathan had been shoddy all evening. This was the same Munaf who bowled that amazing last over against South Africa in Johannesburg, and whose time playing in the IPL had resulted in a clever array of slower deliveries. On the day, he erred with a full third ball and was heaved for six.

The yorker, whether reverse-swinging or otherwise, has been a fundamental part of the problem. Zaheer used to be able to deliver it with regularity but now seldom pulls it off. When he does, the effect is devastating, as witnessed by Strauss demise. Munaf has found it difficult to master with the white ball, and his attempts to pitch full in the final over played straight into Ajmal Shehzad s hands, with a six being dispatched over the on-side.

So what now? For starters, India desperately need Ashish Nehra to regain full fitness. He has been India s most successful ODI bowler since returning to the side in June 2009. Since then, Nehra s 62 wickets from 45 matches at 32.29 stand 19 wickets more than the next man, Harbhajan Singh. Restrict that period to matches in India, and Nehra tops the list with 23 wickets from 19 games. Expand it a little to see performances in Asia, and once again Nehra comes out on top with 45 from 34 appearances; he was, after all, instrumental in ending India’s Asia Cup title drought last summer.

Three seamers is a risk because they neither have the searing pace, nor the genuine wicket-taking threat. Sreesanth was caned in the Bangladesh match, Munaf was taken for easy runs by England. If India are to stick with two spinners, then Ravichandran Ashwin should be preferred to Chawla. Recalled to the one-day fold after almost two and a half years, against a team which had traditionally wilted at the first signs of leg-spin, Chawla s figures of two for 71 were deplorable. Ashwin is a far more reliable option.

Yesterday was the 11th time in the last two years that India conceded a total of over 300, eight of those in the subcontinent.

Champion sides have become champions because of their bowlers. Australia won the last three World Cups because they bowled sides out. The Indian side that won the World Championship of Cricket dismissed every team they came across, except Pakistan, who limped to 176 for 9 in the final. India reached the 2003 World Cup final on the back of good work from Javagal Srinath, Zaheer and Nehra.

India were the favourites going into the tournament, but haven t lived up to the billing. That India s batting would carry them through the World Cup was as obvious as a fly on a bald head, but it s now stark clear that their batting can only carry them so far. Doubts lingered over the potency of a pace battery featuring Zaheer, Nehra, Munaf and Sreesanth even before the tournament started, and they have now been increased multiple levels. Bowlers win matches for you and India, for all its batting might, appear very flimsy. India have a week before their next match, against Ireland in Bangalore, and there s plenty that needs doing.

(Jamie Alter is a freelance cricket writer, having worked at ESPNcricinfo and All Sports Magazine. His first book, The History of World Cup Cricket, is out now)

Pictures Getty Images