India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 3rd day November 8, 2008

Australia choked by 8-1 field

Cricinfo staff
India's plan was extremely defensive, but not negative. By persisting with the wide line, they were relying on a lapse in concentration from the batsmen for a wicket

Simon Katich was forced to play to India's off-side field © AFP

The third day of the final Test produced only 166 runs in 86.4 overs and yet the contest was absorbing. India showed their hand early by deploying outrageously lop-sided fields which made it clear that if Australia wanted to score, their batsmen would have to reach out for deliveries wide outside the off stump. Were India overtly defensive? Or was their tactic a necessary measure? The arguments for both cases are strong. The bottom line, however, is that the strategy worked.

Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma bowled to the left-handers - Michael Hussey and Simon Katich - with eight fielders on the off side. The only man on the leg side was at mid-on. They complemented their field by bowling a line wide outside off stump. Katich chased and edged one in the second over but the catch was dropped. Thereafter he chose to be extremely cautious. Both batsmen were wary of the two slips in place and left numerous deliveries. Their cut shots were blocked by a fielder at point who had a third man and a sweeper as back-up. The drives were stopped by short cover and those that got past failed to beat extra cover and mid-off.

The suffocating effect was enhanced by the discipline with which Zaheer and Ishant operated. Had they dropped short, the batsmen would have had enough time to cut with power; had they over-pitched, they would have been able to drive straight. But they so rarely wavered in length that you could easily count the number of deliveries that weren't outside off stump. It was like a stuck record: the bowler delivered outside off, the batsman shouldered arms, and Mahendra Singh Dhoni collected.

India's plan was extremely defensive, but not negative. By persisting with the wide line, they were relying on a lapse in concentration from the batsmen for a wicket. Zaheer bowled closer to off stump than Ishant did but the left-armer usually dismisses left-handers with the ball that swings in towards the stumps. The field, however, demanded Zaheer's aim not to be at middle stump. Unless the batsmen played on, they would not be bowled. Lbws were out of the question.

The plan was understandable. India should have shut Australia out of the game by the end of day two but they had not. They should have scored 600 after winning the toss instead of 441. They took Jason Krejza lightly and lost wickets to unnecessarily aggressive strokes against him. Sachin Tendulkar had said losing five for 311 on the first day was too many. They lost their next five for 19 on the second. Australia were still in the game and even more so after India's bowlers bowled without direction last evening. Runs flowed at four an over and Australia reached 189 for 2 at stumps.

"We tried to attack yesterday but ended up conceding some runs," Ishant said after the third day. "So our plan for today was to be defensive because this was the only way we could have come back in the game. We just stuck to our plans as our captain told us to do. We were assigned different roles, and we all bowled according to our roles."

This morning's ploy was India's attempt to regain control over the match by delaying Australia's rate of progress. It might have even been seen as an attempt to draw the game and protect a 1-0 lead. The onus was on Australia to force the pace for they need the victory to draw the series. But they didn't.

Katich and Hussey didn't even try to force a field change by improvising to hit on the leg side or by lofting over the infield. They didn't attempt to alter lengths by stepping out of the crease like Matthew Hayden or Gautam Gambhir might have done. Instead they left deliveries, blocked, and left some more. Their approach was not one of a team that needed to set the pace.

Australia were so shackled by the off-side plan that the first attempt to hit the ball on the leg side was in the 12th over of the day: Hussey tried to pull Ishant but missed. The first time the ball was hit to the leg side was in the 18th over: Hussey pushed towards Ishant at mid-on. The first run on the leg side finally came in the 21st over when Hussey swept Harbhajan Singh to long leg. By the end of the first session India had conceded only 42 runs off 24 overs. They had also dismissed Katich who kept moving across his stumps to play the wide line and was eventually struck in front by an inswinger from Zaheer. Katich scored only 10 runs off 69 balls today compared to 92 of 120 last evening.

There were large-scale field changes whenever the right-hander - Michael Clarke - was on strike. Two fielders would cross over and form a 6-3 off-side field. The two extra men on the leg side - midwicket and long leg in addition to the mid-on - allowed Zaheer and Ishant to target the stumps. Clarke scored only 8 off 44 balls (a four came from a mis-field) and he fell by edging a delivery from Ishant that seamed away from him.

Katich and Hussey didn't even try to force a field change by improvising to hit on the leg side or by lofting over the infield. They didn't attempt to alter lengths by stepping out of the crease like Matthew Hayden or Gautam Gambhir might have done. Instead they left deliveries, blocked, and left some more. Their approach was not one of a team that needed to set the pace

The modus operandi changed when Harbhajan began bowling but the intent was the same. He went over the wicket to the left-hander and bowled a leg-stump line with a 6-3 leg-side field. The absence of a fielder at point ensured that Harbhajan would not be pitching anywhere close to off stump. Hussey tried to counter by sweeping and once by reverse-sweeping but he failed to raise the run-rate.

It was staggering that Australia did not make a concerted effort to thwart India after lunch. Their run-rate during the second session was lower than the first - 49 runs in 29 overs - and they had lost three wickets. Australia had begun the day trailing by 252 runs with eight wickets in hand and a run-rate of 3.85. They added only another 166 in 85.4 overs before being bowled out with an over remaining in the day. India's tactics were neither attractive nor in the best interests of Test cricket when spectator-numbers are thinning. The bottom line, however, is the end justified India's means.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rimtu on November 11, 2008, 19:25 GMT

    Well biased article written by an aussie fan among the cricinfo staff. Anyways the thing is losers whining should really need to fall on deaf ears. It's like when India whined after losing the Sydney test by giving Clarke bunch of wickets. Aussies are the losers in this case and that's that. What India did was within the laws of the game and they had the right to use to win the game. Loser aussies can whine all they want, but at the end of the day they lost. And they would be better off not being so sore about it. It's not the end of the world, they can win against NZ next, since they'd still be better than NZ. But India is definitely a better team than Australia at the moment.

  • Raghavender on November 11, 2008, 19:16 GMT

    Helloooo people.... whats going on... just roll the reels back and see that Mr. Captain Steve Waugh had employed a tactic worse than this if would call this negative. He had 9 fielders ( that's the whole team including keeper and the bowler. So chill out Aussies......

  • Muralidharan on November 10, 2008, 10:07 GMT

    It's funny how people fault India's tactics. If Aussies put a deep cover/point it is a brilliant strategy to suffocate Indians who love to score runs through boundaries. If similar tactics are applied to stop the batsmen from rotating the strike, its defensive, huh? Gimme a break!!

  • Amit on November 10, 2008, 5:30 GMT

    India took 8 wickets in 85.4 Overs and Australia only scored 166 runs.


    These Australians always like to talk themselves up?

  • acc on November 9, 2008, 5:08 GMT

    Those who call this tactic defensive, remember it got 8 wickets for 166 runs @1.91 runs per over. Since when wicket taking tactics are defensive? Also if the way australia bowled to Laxman & Dravid on stumps with fielders leg side, can be termed "aggressive", this will be super aggressive. We are just giving them back what they have given us. And with good planning and perfect execution, it really worked.

  • pandu on November 9, 2008, 4:03 GMT

    I wish the cricinfo staffer who wrote this would tell me what he thinks of Mitchell Johnson's bowling line. Johnson only bowls wide off the off stump. Its either 1 foot out or 2 fee outside off. I am surprised that many of his deliveries are not called wide. Clearly Australia aim to get a wicket by having the batsmen chase the wide balls and nick it. That is awful cricket to watch. But when India does it, smartly in the context of the series, all journos and aussie team members whine about the defensive tactics. Even with Johnson's atrocious line, Indian batsmen have found ways of scoring off him. Gambhir walks across and whips the ball to legside. Laxman reaches across and turns it to leg using his wrists. Aussie batsmen can't do this and want to change the law to help them. Pretty soon they will demand a change in laws to prohibit walking across the stump, using wrists to place a ball, and who knows what next.

  • Ben on November 9, 2008, 3:39 GMT

    The ends justified the means? Huh?

    At a time when test match cricket is under pressure from 20/20, especially in India where the crowds to date have consisted of security plus ground staff, you have to question exactly what the ends are you are trying to achieve. Yes, the result for the day was a good one for India, they slowed the runs and bowled Australia out, but it was not a good one for the future of test cricket.

    Did the ends justify the means when Jardine threw the ball to Larwood in 1932/33?

  • Amit on November 9, 2008, 2:20 GMT

    I think it was a good and very bold decision by Dhoni and bowlers made it work exceptionally well. Aussie bolwers ( johnson and watson ) are doing this thing since the begining of this series. They are pitching it 2 feet outside off stump line. And no one dared to say it's harsh on test cricket. only difference was they didnt had 8-1 field position which complements the bowling. It's just Dhoni's way of starring in Ponting's eye and tell him " mate if you think you are the toughtest team in world then it's right time to prove it." Dhoni has specific plans for each batsman and they worked accordingly. Look at the deliveries M.Clarke got. On and around off stump line and he was still able to score 8 of 44 balls.. and aussi had deep 4-5 deep fielders since the ball one.. what you make out it..!! whose defensive ?? To sum up it was a exceptional stratergy by Dhoni..Hats off..!!!

  • Christopher on November 9, 2008, 1:52 GMT

    why is anyone surprised? India employed the same exact tactic against England during the final Test of the last series in England.

  • Jeremy on November 9, 2008, 1:48 GMT

    Whilst the anonymous author is right in saying that Katich and Hussey failed to force a fielding change to break the 8-1 field he can't have things both ways. Elementary grammar has it that the adjective "negative" derives from the verb "to negate". Ishant Sharma pinned down Ponting at the WACA and negated any scoring opportunties through his brilliant attacking bowling, not bowling two feet outside off stump all morning with Zaheer, at Dhoni's instruction. Whether you agree or not with the tactic, or have an opinion on how the game should be played, bowling for a whole session so as to force the opponent to sieze the advantage is, by definition, negative cricket, aided by unadventuresome batting and dead wickets. India have the upper hand but the match may still be drawn. If so, a 1-0 victory in a best of 4 series will say it all. Hardly a classic. India should go hard to win this test to justify any claims to being the new masters, in this Australian's opinion.

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