It was good to see the Indian batsmen practise horizontal shots on short-pitched deliveries on the eve of their third one-day international at the PCA Stadium here in Mohali. Apparently, the instructions from coach Duncan Fletcher to Indian pacers were simple and clear: “Hit the deck and target the rib cage in order to tackle Australian pacer Mitchell Johnson in the remainder five ODIs.”
Indian opener Shikhar Dhawan confessed before the match that Indian batsmen are not really worried about the short stuff from the visitors. However, Mitchell Johnson remains a challenge.
“We have been working hard in the nets on short-pitched deliveries. Now with two new balls, bowlers from both sides are trying to test batsmen on short-pitched deliveries. Be it our bowlers or the Australians. But facing Mitchell Johnson’s 150-plus speed bouncers are certainly a challenge for anyone. We’re ready to face any kind of short stuff,” was how Dhawan described India’s preparation to tackle the bouncers.
Dhawan and vice-captain Virat Kohli played down the Aussie tactics of testing India’s weakness against short deliveries. But going by Saturday’s innings, it seems the problem is far from gone.
The Aussie left-arm pacer made full use of the short stuff right from the word go on a wicket that offered more bounce than the previous two decks. Johnson kept testing both the Indian openers Rohit Sharma and Dhawan — from one end.
Though Dhawan only stayed for a while, Sharma repeatedly showed indecisiveness while tackling Johnson’s deliveries targeting his body.
After his uneasy seven-over stay in the middle, Sharma was out to one such delivery from Shane Watson, which he tried to tackle awkwardly with a horizontal bat without moving his feet.
Johnson then rattled India’s weakest target — Suresh Raina — with some well-targeted deliveries. Johnson went on to dismiss Ravindra Jadeja with a similar fiery ball that provoked him to try a pull without getting into the position.
The only person who remained unaffected by Johnson’s (or any other Aussie pacers) repeated assault was skipper MS Dhoni. Though his footwork also seemed to suggest that he was a little tempted to take a step back in anticipation of the short ball, but he never let that affect his natural free-flowing batting style.
The big question again is whether the Indian top-order is still amateurish in their approach, wary of bouncers, and only comfortable on their home soil. The problems which led to the decline of previous generation of players like Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Sourav Ganguly still exists in the present age of batsmen.
The task will not be easy against the likes of Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel when India travel to South Africa later this year but India can learn from Kohli or skipper Dhoni’s way of tackling short deliveries. Even though the skipper has some technical deficiencies, his determination and grit to dig deep makes him a perfect example to follow.
And lastly, the Indians will have to come to terms with the fact that the 2015 World Cup will be played in Australia and New Zealand. And if the present rule of two new balls manages to survive till then, there will sure be some chin music and teams blessed with fast bowlers will have the last laugh.