CHENNAI: A day before the Champions Trophy final, as a host of net bowlers arrived for India’s practice, the support staff were instructed to single out left-arm pacers. They found one. Although a few yards slower than what Mohammad Amir would send down next afternoon, he was the only option that India had, as compared to asking some of their own right-arm pacers to bowl around the wicket.
This has been a recurring theme in India’s net sessions when there is a left-arm pacer in the opposition’s ranks. Prior to the Border-Gavaskar Trophy, to get accustomed to Mitchell Starc’s angles, they roped in Aniket Choudhary.
Recently, ahead of the limited-overs leg of Australia’s tour, Kulwant Khejroliya was called in due to James Faulkner’s inclusion.
All this may seem like preparation with a measure of diligence. But a deeper look reveals much more, as India’s batsmen have been exposed by left-arm pacers, especially by those who bring the ball back into right-handers. In the current season alone, apart from being jolted by Amir at the Oval, Australia’s Jason Behrendorff created all sorts of problems in Guwahati. Last fortnight was Trent Boult’s turn.
If one narrows stats down to limited-overs, Rohit Sharma’s struggle against them assumes significance. In ODIs, he has been dismissed by left-arm pacers on 19 occasions and averages 24.73. Against right-arm pacers, though, he collects a credible 31.42. In T20Is, he has fallen six times to them. Rohit has company in his struggles. His opening partner Shikhar Dhawan averages 1.50 in T20Is against left-arm pacers, though he has been dismissed only twice.
Pace isn’t the reason behind this problem; a conjecture supported by the fact that those who find lateral movement are the ones who have made India’s batsmen appear clueless.
“You don’t get to face as many left-arm pacers these days, and you don’t have one in the team. So, when you are facing a world-class bowler like Boult or Amir, it becomes an altogether different story. You need time to adjust to their angles. Net bowlers are an option, but they’re not comparable to what you get in the middle. And if he can bring the ball back into right-handers, even the best struggle,” former India coach Lalchand Rajput said.
In the past, India batsmen had Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, and Irfan Pathan to get used to such variety. But without a regular of late, their numbers against left-arm pacers have taken a dip. Virat Kohli is perhaps the only exception, considering his terrific record against them in Tests: an average of 49.50 as compared to right-arm pacers, who dismiss him for every 37.56 runs.
But, unlike the rest of his teammates, the India skipper doesn’t have a forward press, which has helped him retain balance to incoming deliveries. In fact, Kohli has been out lbw to a left-arm pacer only once across all formats, but he has been bowled four times. Rohit, on the other hand, has been castled five times.
Ajinkya Rahane too fares highly in this context. He has been bowled only once by left-arm pacers, and his average is far higher than against right-arm pacers. Rajput observes a similarity behind why Kohli and his deputy have reaped better rewards.
“They don’t commit themselves to the front-foot all the time, and play a bit late. Most of their trouble happens only when the ball is moving, because our batsmen have shown against Starc and (Mitchell) Johnson that they can take on pace.”