India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Hyderabad, 1st day November 12, 2010

India's recurring no-ball troubles

ESPNcricinfo staff
Even specialised net sessions haven't been able to rid the home team's bowlers of the overstepping problem

A usually rare occurrence is becoming increasingly frequent when India are fielding: opposition batsmen getting dismissed and then being called back after the bowler is found to have over-stepped. Martin Guptill was the most recent beneficiary after he nicked Sreesanth to MS Dhoni and the umpire Kumar Dharmasena, after speaking with the third umpire, called no-ball. The Indians were frustrated and their bowling coach Eric Simons said as much after play.

"It's strange, Sreesanth bowled 90-odd balls today out of which four were no-balls and one was a wicket. And that's very frustrating," Simons said. "It's very frustrating that they introduce this new system and in two Test matches we lose two wickets. It's something we're aware of and working on constantly."

This method of consultation, between the on-field umpire and the one watching replays, about whether the bowler had over-stepped or not is a recent development and India have been on the wrong end of reversed decisions three times.

In Mohali, during Australia's second innings, Michael Clarke was leaving after flicking Ishant Sharma to midwicket but Billy Bowden asked him to wait and confirmed with the third umpire that the bowler had over-stepped. In Bangalore, Tim Paine edged a slash off Sreesanth to Dhoni and was halfway off the field when he was called back by Ian Gould. Count the no-ball from Ishant in the first innings at Mohali, which was spotted by the on-field official, that Ricky Ponting nicked down legside to Dhoni and that's four batsmen let-off in as many Tests.

What hasn't been clear, though, is the process of consultation between the umpires. Does the on-field umpire take the initiative to check with the third umpire because he isn't certain? If so, why would Dharmasena allow Guptill to walk past the boundary if he was unsure about the legality of the delivery? Or does the third umpire spot the no-ball on replays and contact his colleague in the middle? And if so, does he watch for a missed no-ball on every dismissal to ensure consistency? Guptill didn't know who referred it to whom, but Simons said it was the on-field umpire who contacts the third umpire when in doubt, adding that it was "bizarre" India had been caught by the system twice.

There's a simple way to avoid being found out, though. Stop bowling so many no-balls. India have bowled 140 in 11 Tests in 2010: Ishant 56, Amit Mishra 35, Sreesanth 28, Pragyan Ojha 13, Zaheer Khan 5 and Virender Sehwag 3. Ishant's and Sreesanth's numbers are inexcusable, and for spinners - Mishra in particular - to have bowled so many is appalling. Achieving a solution, according to Simons, isn't as simple as it seems.

"The no-balls are a very strange problem. Everyone says move your mark back six inches and it should be fine, but it doesn't work like that," Simons said. "It's a really slow process. It literally comes down to re-programming a bowler's mindset in the nets."

When India practise, Simons said there was someone watching every ball for a no-ball. There were net sessions during which bowlers worked only on their landing and these were separate from ones in which they honed their lines and lengths. Simons is aware of the gravity of the problem and stressed the issue was being monitored "very carefully."

"My job as coach is to create a habit where you are right behind the line," he said. "The no-ball affects the mindset and if you are confident about where your foot is, you bowl better."

Ishant's rhythm went haywire during the Mohali Test, in which he over-stepped 15 times, and he hasn't played since because Sreesanth took his opportunity with impressive performances, barring the no-balls. Simons said Ishant was improving and was considered for selection in Hyderabad before India decided to field an unchanged XI.

"Ishant had a real problem with no-balls and I think we're getting to a point where he's solving it," Simons said. "I was very disappointed with that Australia Test because he was bowling so well going into it. There were a few problems with no-balls in the nets but we didn't expect it to be as big a problem when the Test match started. He's bowling really well in the nets and I'm pleased with where he's at."

New Zealand ended the day on 258 for 4 and Simons said they were "probably just ahead" and that India would have liked about six wickets. Had Guptill not been let off on 5, though, the day could have played out extremely differently for he went on to score 80 more. There was another moment off another Sreesanth no-ball when Tim McIntosh, batting on 35, missed a pull. The ball went off his pad towards the vicinity of the stumps and McIntosh swivelled around to check whether he needed to kick it to safety. He didn't and, for Sreesanth and India, it was perhaps just as well.