Low blows all around
I've just come back from a literary festival in Kovalam, Kerala. I read out a few pages from my book, and that was followed by a Q&A session on sports writing, which included Boria Majumdar and Suresh Menon as the other two panelists. It was an altogether different kind of experience. Being surrounded by all the great authors, writers, poets, etc. could be quite intimidating, and I must admit that it was so for me to begin with. But I'm glad that I not only managed to hold my own but also made a few friends.
It was refreshing to be away from the game for a couple of days, especially considering the way the match against the Australians panned out in the end. I got a start in the first innings, but couldn't capitalise. The good thing was that I batted confidently, and even though this was the first time in nearly four years that I was playing against an international attack, after initial butterflies I felt at ease. Actually I'd started enjoying my batting till that particular ball from Mitchell Johnson kept just a tad low.
Usually, I'm my biggest critic, and would always find a fault in myself whenever I get out, but in the last two seasons I've started looking at things objectively. Well, the ball wasn't a half-tracker but since Johnson's previous deliveries were regularly hitting the splice of the bat, I decided to get rooted to the crease instead of lunging forward. Going forward is a safe bet on Indian tracks, but not when the guy at the other end is bowling consistently at around 90 mph.
That particular ball was slightly short of a good length but kept a little low. The funny thing about such balls that keep low is that they skid and reach the batsman a fraction quicker and at that pace, a delay of just a fraction is all you need for your demise. The ball might have missed the off stump, but the way it looked from a distance I knew that I was doomed.
During the Australian innings, I teased Punter about the lack of bounce in the track. He'd tried to pull one ball, which was just short of a length and the ball bounced a few times before reaching the wicketkeeper. I told him sarcastically that this track wasn't like the tracks in Australia where you could trust the bounce. He laughed!
The IPL has helped bridge a few differences. Both Punter and I were in the Kolkata Knight Riders, and now share a more cordial relationship. Please don't get me wrong, we wouldn't give each other an inch on the field but off it, it's very light-hearted.
Little did I know that soon it would be Punter's turn to return the favour. Let me brief you a bit on the field placements and the tactics used by the Aussies in the second innings. The bounce was on the lower side so their bowlers bowled within the stumps with a heavy on-side field. Playing a bouncer on a track with low or uncertain bounce is a little difficult as you can't duck under the ball, trusting the bounce, and even playing any kind of shot isn't that easy either.
They had a leg slip for me because I like to go back and across on the balls pitched short to get in line with the ball and play it fine. The idea is to get on top of the bounce and just nudge it round the corner for a single or more. Stuart Clark was mixing the bouncers and full-pitched deliveries nicely, and was using his height to good effect. One such bouncer pitched halfway, but bounced only a few inches. I went back and across as usual, but instead of feeling it near my ribcage, I felt it hitting my shoe!
This was a first for me. Not that I'd never been hit on the shoe while batting, but I really can't remember being hit on the shoe off a bouncer. I could only manage a smile when the dreaded finger went up, but Punter was quick to remind me of what I'd said when he was batting… a typical Aussie track, mate! This was my turn to laugh, but laughing doesn't come naturally to me while taking the long walk back to the pavilion after getting out.
I wanted to blame myself for getting out, but however hard I tried I couldn't. My biggest match ever since I was dropped from the Indian team was over. I failed to make an impression, but there's little I could've done differently.
It was interesting to read the match report in some national newspaper the next day. It stated that I didn't do myself any favours by getting out for 6. That is true, I must admit. I, honestly, didn't do myself any favours by getting out for 6, but isn't that rather obvious? Scoring 6 in an important game against the touring side would never help my cause, all right. But astoundingly, the fact that the ball didn't bounce at all seemed to have been surprisingly neglected.
But let me assure you that this isn't the first time that such reporting has surprised a cricketer, and it probably isn't going to be the last time either.