SYDNEY:Following a few days of lull, it was business as usual for the Indian team. The players were out for their first brush with bat-ball after the quarterfinal and the sight of media gathering near the practice area with fans waiting at a distance was back. The Sydney Cricket Ground was basking in sunshine on Monday after a few days of gloom when the team trouped in after 10 am.
Beginning with a customary session of football, it was the turn to bat and bowl. In a departure from what was seen before the last few matches, the focus was on playing short-pitched bowling. If MS Dhoni smashed tennis balls with a racquet at Suresh Raina that sprang up near the ribcage for close to half an hour, concentration elsewhere also seemed to be on bounce. In the nets where Raina was having specific practice, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan were seen afterwards. Be it softer balls or regular ones, a lot of what was hurled was targeted at the batsman’s chest.
It was not surprising, given the presence of two Mitchells in the Australian XI. Starc and Johnson can make the ball jump at over 145 kmph and in these parts, Indians are considered to be weak against that variety. Kohli attacked such stuff in the Test series, where others didn’t look comfortable, and the emphasis on facing short-pitched deliveries suggested Indians are preparing for them in the semifinal.
“It can be an option, if there isn’t much deviation off the pitch. Historically, Indians haven’t been the best players of deliveries coming towards the upper part of the body at good pace. There’s no need to overdo it if you get swing or seam movement. It should be used as a weapon to push batsmen comfortable on the front foot back inside the crease. From what we’ve seen, short-pitched bowling can be used against Indians,” former Aussie quick Len Pascoe told Express. Pascoe is remembered in India for felling Sandeep Patil with a climber at SCG in 1980-81.
While that was an era when helmets were not widely used, deliveries pitched short have not lost relevance despite rules restricting the number of bouncers. Depending on the nature of surface and opposition, bowlers try this out and one doesn’t have to look beyond the Australia-Pakistan quarterfinal on March 20, when Wahab Riaz rattled the hosts with bounce and pace.
Asked what this Australian team thinks of short-pitched bowling in ODIs and whether they treat it as weapon against Asian teams, all-rounder James Faulkner didn’t rule out the possibility of using it. “It can be an option in one-day cricket, be it against India, Pakistan or any other team. A lot will depend on the pitch. If there’s bounce and carry, it depends on who you are playing. If there’s a weakness, you can try and expose it. But at the moment, we’re yet to discuss this. India can train the way they want.”
The pitch is a concern for Australia. Excluding the England-Afghanistan match, SCG helped free scoring in two games and offered turn in another. While the hosts prefer a surface that aids fast bowlers, Indians are better off on the other type. Before training, Dhoni spent 10-15 minutes at the centre of the ground with Duncan Fletcher and Ravi Shastri. It’s not hard to fathom what they examined.
In World Cups, there’s supposed to be no home advantage. Local groundsmen work under instructors appointed by the world body, who follow specific guidelines. Going by the ICC mantra of producing runs and what was seen when the cover was removed in the afternoon, the lack of greenery on the surface might not please the hosts. Effectiveness of the short theory depends significantly on that.