The seemingly straight ball makes an abrupt curve in the air. It curls in on the slender space between bat and pad. Don’t tell this to VVS Laxman. He’ll insist that the ball must be pasted to mid-wicket.
But don’t tell this to lesser mortals either. They’ll moan that the bend of the ball is too much to cope with. So what’s it about the incoming ball that has given India a torrid time in the ODIs against Pakistan? India lost half their side for less than 30 in Chennai. Junaid Khan got four of those wickets. All with in-dipping deliveries that swerved in the air and beat their forward prod.
Junaid revealed why Wasim Akram urged him to develop the skill. “It’s very natural for left-arm fast bowlers to slant it across the right-handers. Once a guy like Virender Sehwag gauges the length of the away-going deliveries, you can be murdered. When I did my homework, I found out that Sehwag has a problem with the ball that comes in,” he said.
Akram ought to know. As a commentator, he’s been following the Indian team closely. Don’t forget he’s involved with the Kolkata Knight Riders too. The conditions in Chennai were conducive for swing. But if sides lose five wickets for 30 on slightly green tops, will every game end in two sessions?
So how do quality batsmen counter inswing? To the end, Ricky Ponting lived with the flaw. He would go hard at the ball, making him susceptible to LBW early in the innings.
Sunil Gavaskar would play late; it allowed him to adjust to the deviations. A pointer for India, perhaps?
Sachin Tendulkar, occasionally, stands one foot outside the crease to smother the movement. Some prefer an open stance to have a better view of the ball.
In India’s context, it could be argued that they don’t quite get those pacy, full length deliveries at practice. As Sanjay Manjrekar pointed out, bowling ‘up and quick’ comes naturally to Pakistan as opposed to Indian fast bowlers who land it around the good length. Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Praveen Kumar are exceptions.
Aakash Chopra feels Indian batsmen aren’t in any sort of nick to play swing bowling, let alone the incoming ball. “With the kind of form they are in, feet not moving, they are bound to lose wickets,” he reasoned.
But he insists that India’s fallibility against the in-dipper is a touch exaggerated. “Indian batsmen are not bad against inswing. Barring Virender Sehwag, they are good on the on-side. VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, all use their wrists,” he said.
Chopra points out that Junaid was tough to negotiate because he moved the ball both ways. “He wouldn’t have been that effective if he was taking everything away or just bringing them in. If you look at the way India play in Australia or England, they have been out to catches in the slips, not knowing where the off-stump is.”
Chopra doesn’t agree that India’s present lot isn’t exposed to quality swing in domestic cricket. He said, “What is happening in international cricket is not a true reflection of how things are a level below. If you look at the top 10 bowlers in Ranji Trophy over the last few years, seven of them would be pacers. It is just that they are not quick, and we get exposed to fast bowling when we go overseas. Having said that, Junaid has bowled at a decent pace and I’m quite impressed.”
Somewhere, an England team should be making notes.