New Delhi, January 22
It was in July that the Indian team management hatched the plan that stifled Australian batsmen’s run-scoring on the off-side in the recent Test series.
Bharat Arun, the bowling coach, got a call from head coach Ravi Shastri in July, when the tour to Australia was four months away — and also uncertain due to the Covid pandemic! The two put their heads together. The result of the discussion was that a new leg theory was born.
We took a cue out of the NZ attack. When they bowled to Steve Smith, they had bowled bodyline to him and he felt very uncomfortable. So, Ravi called up and said — ‘I want you to make a plan where you eliminate the off-side out of the Australians’. He said we will attack straighter lines and have an on-side field so it is very difficult for batsmen to be consistently clearing the onside fields. That really worked for us. —Bharat Arun, India’s Bowling Coach
The Australian batsmen fell into the leg-side trap set for them. Not only the pacers, even the spinners attacked the stumps of Australia’s batting pillars Steve Smith and Marnus Labuschagne, with fielders at catching positions on the leg side. Smith and Labuschagne managed a 100 and two 50s each, but the Indian batsmen did manage to rein in them — especially Smith in the first two Tests. Smith had scores of 1, 1 not out, 0 and 8 in the first two Tests, before hitting back with 131, 81, 36 and 55 in
the final two Tests. Labuschagne made 426 runs at an average of 53.25, with a lowest of 7 in the second innings at Adelaide.
“Ravi called me sometime in July and we were discussing the Australia tour, that we needed to take the off-side out of the Australians,” Arun today said. “So, we had our own analysis and we felt most of the runs Smith and Labuschagne scored and most of Aussie batsmen, they had got lot of runs out of the cut, pull and on the off-side.”
Arun said they also learnt from how the New Zealand bowlers, especially Neil Wagner, troubled Smith during the series between the trans-Tasmanian rivals in the previous season. “We took a cue out of the NZ attack. When they bowled to Steve Smith, they had bowled bodyline to him and he felt very uncomfortable,” Arun said. “So, Ravi called up and said — ‘I want you to make a plan where you eliminate the off-side out of the Australians’. He said we will attack straighter lines and have an on-side field so it is very difficult for batsmen to be consistently clearing the onside fields. That really worked for us.”
The 58-year-old, who played two Tests for India in the 1980s, said the plan was subsequently communicated to skipper Virat Kohli. “The thought process started sometime in July then we had discussions with Virat,” Arun said. “He bought into the theory and we employed the same strategy in Adelaide and Ajinkya was magnificent from Melbourne onwards. The bowlers responded beautifully to that.” — TNS, agencies
The injuries the Indian bowlers suffered were a setback but at the same time, they did expose India’s solid bench strength.
“If you want India to be doing well sustainably, you need a pool of bowlers who will be rotated time and again so that they stay fresh. Now we are blessed with a great bench strength,” Arun said. “This tour has taken a lot out of the boys, but now in future when you have seven fast bowlers raring to play for the country.”
“With the number of Tests we are going to play — four against England here and five in England — it will be very handy. They will all be rotated and we will make sure the best team is put forward,” he said.
Barring the Day/Night Test at Adelaide, India played five specialist bowlers in the Tests. This has been the norm overseas under Virat Kohli’s captaincy. “…On most occasions, we play five bowlers abroad because to bowl out a team in conditions abroad demands a lot out of just four bowlers. It’s a huge task.”
The thoughts of playing an extra batsman did creep in after the Adelaide debacle but the team stuck to its beliefs, said Arun. “The guiding principle of this team is to be fearless and honest. We don’t fear losing games. They teach us a lot of lessons,” the coach added. “In the last Test there were discussions about playing an extra batsman but we felt that it would have been a negative move and all of us felt the five-bowler theory has worked for us. We knew Washington Sundar is more than a capable bat.”