India v Australia 2008-09 / Features

India v Australia, 4th Test, Nagpur, 3rd day

Australia choked by 8-1 field

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

Cricinfo staff

November 8, 2008

Comments: 30 | Text size: A | A

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.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by r1m2 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.

Posted by raghu1985 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......

Posted by MuralidharanS 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!!

Posted by CricketAD 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?

Posted by tomorrowneverdies 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.

Posted by cricket_spirit 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.

Posted by BJ32 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?

Posted by blue_rock_00 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..!!!

Posted by Garp 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.

Posted by Jeremy68 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.

Posted by rohan2006 on (November 9, 2008, 1:33 GMT)

So what? Who the hell will go on attack in this situation? Australia are known to be attacking team, then why didn't they attack? I'm sure if Ponting had the captain, he would have followed the same tactics. And more besides, it is Australia who had started the plan in India's innings. Jhonson bowled so wide during India's inning. That was indeed a negative approach from a number one team. It's the first inning of the match and they should have gone for attack so that they could stop India on a low total, but they choose to be defensive so that India couldn't make run fast. If Dhoni did so what did he do wrong? Australia are now under pressure. Without their big names like MecGrath, Warne and Gilly, they are not looking a number one team any more. India did well to keep them silent and their plan worked in the end.

Posted by joshreid on (November 9, 2008, 1:17 GMT)

India have hardly been negative, they could have batted for three days to keep the series closed to Australia, but on the first day, they were aggressive and if Australia had a slight interest in bowling 90 overs a day, India might well have been at 350. Bowling to an 8 man leg side side with competent batsmen like Hussey is as much of a risk as a cross-batted stroke and far more of a risk than a single step to the offside & a glance to the onside, none of which we saw yesterday.

Yesterday gave great credence to any comment that Australia are not playing aggressive cricket, Katich scored 182 runs in a session under two years ago, 166 in a day is a disgusting days batting from a team that bowled India out for 450 on pitch that has retained some love for batsmen and even more lamentable for a team that needs to win to save the series. If this is the approach we will see from now on, burn these bails and make a new competition out of it, as Australian cricket has just died in Nagpur.

Posted by Brendanvio on (November 9, 2008, 0:18 GMT)

Its funny for people to say Australia have been defensive during this campaign considering that India, with the exception of Mohali, have been just as protective of thier lead.

However, this tactic worked. And worked well. To that extent I thought Ishant and Zaheer bowled beautifully and with great discipline.

In the end though, India never looked interested in winning the remaining two tests after winning at Mohali. They should have won this series 4-0 no questions asked. They had the stronger team yet did their best to flounder at the best of times.

They will need to regroup and figure out how to finish off teams after this series. And figure out how they will go the next time they meet Australia.

Posted by gzawilliam on (November 9, 2008, 0:07 GMT)

What a load of crap. As Simon katich has been quoted in todays press " You must not know anything about cricket".

Setting the pace would require playing suicidal shots to ultra defensive field placement and bowling in which the aussies would have no chance to win.

It's all well and good just saying you should do this or that. But this is world class bowling from sharma and khan.

It seems a common trend from india this series. Defensive. Defensive pitches which no-one can argue are just harming india in the long run. Wait for them to play in South Africa and see how they fare.

Posted by steveoehley on (November 8, 2008, 23:43 GMT)

In some cases, this tactic would be argued as overly defensive. However, given the position India are in this match and this series, the plan was perfect. By going so defensive they forced the most defensive of the Australian batsmen to take the attack to them and Katich and Hussey decided against it. Now India are in a position they'll struggle to lose from, so almost guaranteeing them a prized series victory against Australia. Well done Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Posted by FredSpofforth on (November 8, 2008, 22:51 GMT)

The defensive field is going to be seen as a very good tactical move. Mostly as it was employed against Hussey and Katich who are two technically correct batsmen. Like the article mentions, a more daring, inventive batsman would have taken them on. The Indians know the Aussies have their backs against the walls and the partnership could have set up an Aussie lead with little risk of losing their wickets on that pitch. So, while it's ugly to watch for session or two, and it is seen as defensive, it's ultimately a challenge thrown down by Dhoni and one that put the set batsmen out of their comfort zones.

Posted by Slysta on (November 8, 2008, 22:40 GMT)

Your suggestion that India's tactics in the morning were "defensive but not negative" is laughable. The tactics were patently negative, as the 8 fielders on the off-side will testify. The fact that India's bowlers maintained their discipline does not alter the fact that the morning session was THE MOST negative cricket we have seen all series, overtopping anything Australia have attempted. (Australia were culpable after lunch, but that is a separate issue.)

It is this sort of play (in combination with the dreadfully dead pitches that seem to get served up at least every second Test match in the subcontinent) that will kill off the game of Test cricket in our lifetimes if something is not done!

Posted by KrisKant on (November 8, 2008, 22:25 GMT)

India were defensive. Right. But Australia were??? New-age Cricket??? You can't even call it defending. I remember ozzies as a side forcing errors from the field by taking non-existent singles and thereby inducing change in the field and bowler's, captain's strategy. What the hell is wrong with them today. And setting a defensive field for Australia, particularly when they pounded Indian bowling yesterday, is not a negative tactic. Test cricket is not about aggressiveness alone. It is a major mind game. and I think MSD (I don't like him much though) have won it for India today. He's turning out to be a clever captain. And unless the Fab Four messes up seriously for India tomorrow, the game seems drifting from a draw to Indian victory. Test Rank No. 2 here we come. and watch out Australia, you might lose the throne.

Posted by Rusty_1 on (November 8, 2008, 22:01 GMT)

A well written article. I'm an Aussie fan & as much as I don't agree with the way India played, the truth of the matter is - it worked. To tell you the truth, I expected that neither Ishan or Khan could keep up the acuracy as long as they did. I expected they would tire & be punished, forcing a bowling change to the spinners. Hussey & Kato are excelent against spin & I expected they would be able to nudge singles & get the occasional boundary. Hats off to Ishant & Khan! The match is by no means lost nor are India in the clear. The Aussie attack has been below par the whole tour. They have one last chance with the coming days play to make up for it. India must be bowled out before stumps today to give the Aussies any chance. Anything under 300-350, Australia will chase down.

Posted by kingofspain on (November 8, 2008, 20:46 GMT)

I don't understand the obsession with run rates. This kind of day would not have been unusual in test cricket for most of its history. If Australia had tried to force things by being aggressive they would've been all out for far less than 355.

Test cricket can be still fascinating at 2 an over. This was certainly better than the last test. There is more to the game than mindless 20/20 style boundary hitting.

Australia can still win this match but there is nothing wrong, from an Indian perspective, in playing for a draw. That's all they need to win the series.

I think the Indian batsmen will not be so dismissive of Krejza second time around. I'm not sure if Australia have got the firepower to bowl India out as cheaply as they'll need to. Lee looks jaded and far from his best. Shane Watson is miserly but not particularly threatening. The Aussies may be looking for a new generation of quicks in addition to searching for a new spinner.

Posted by QUDSI on (November 8, 2008, 20:09 GMT)

Australia have to do something completely different now and i think they will be successful in it. for the next innings Hayden has to lead the charge with his devastating left handing abilities.

Posted by Nampally on (November 8, 2008, 19:24 GMT)

Dhoni fed Ponting his own medicine. Only addition is he did it better with 8-1 off side field. It is tough for a bowler to bowl to such a field with accuracy but Zaheer and Ishant responded brilliantly. India would have easily got 600 plus runs on this wicket if Ponting had bowled to a less defensive field with the fast bowlers bowling wide of the off stump. Since Aussies has very weak bowling they wanted to rely on batsmen falling to bad strokes. India obliged by giving Kejtza 8 wickets, at least 4 of them to bad shots and other 3 tail enders. India having fallen to the Ponting trap decided to give Aussies the same treatment on Day 3 and succeeded. If all the catches were taken Aussies would have fallen short by another 50 runs. So India have countered Aussies in batting, bowling, followed by sledging and now in defensive field play. Without this approach India will not win. Congratulations to India for beating Aussies at their own tactical games during the last 12 months of tests.

Posted by Khan_Afroz on (November 8, 2008, 19:07 GMT)

Dhoni again proves that he is a fantastic reader of the game. By drying up the runs completely, he made it very difficult for Aussies to get a move on which in effect means his team cannot lose and if the Aussies wanted to win the test and level the series, they had to take the initiative and score runs at a fast pace. India captaincy is in safe hands for some years to come. Greato Dhoni.

Posted by tothesummit on (November 8, 2008, 19:03 GMT)

Its interesting how two articles have been written and Ian Chappell has come out to say that the ICC needs to examine the lopsided field setting when India has employed this strategy for the 1st time in the 4th test of the series! the fact is that India employed it , and succeeded and actually taught the Aussies a lesson in doing it. Aussies have been trying so hard but havent succeeded but India employed it once, bowlers bowled successfully and they not only stopped the runflow but bowled Australia out too with an 80+ lead. Looks like an aggresive strategy given the results! Doesnt it?

Posted by thejuskrishna on (November 8, 2008, 18:21 GMT)

The thing that I cannot understand is that how in the world can you describe the strategy of India as negative. It is not fair to say that because in a pitch like the one at Nagpur which is turning but which is still good for batting certain strategies, like the one Dhoni planned, should be ployed. I felt Dhoni was attacking. It was the Australians who were defensive as they never looked to score runs. Just imagine if Sehwag was in place of Katich or Hussey. He would have murdered that bowler in such a field. Improvisation was the word that was missing in Australian batsmens dictionary!

Posted by CSKfan on (November 8, 2008, 17:23 GMT)

Its a fantastic ploy by Dhoni. You cannot call it defensive and that is test cricket. Australia the top team in the World should have pushed for quicker runs if they are so intent on winning the test and leveling the series. I would definitely say that Aussies were trapped in the tactic. The strangulation of the first session resulted in wickets in the second. Just imagine if Sehwag would ever have played defensively given the width that was offered. He would have raced to a hundred or perished. In fact Aussies were defensive and didn't push enough. Test cricket at its best.

Posted by TwitterJitter on (November 8, 2008, 17:22 GMT)

Tomorrow Vijay should try to stick at one end and not take chances. Sehwag can play his natural game. If Vijay gets out early it puts pressure on Sehwag to play defensive and he is not good at that. So, Vijay's goal should be to just stick at one end and let Sehwag play his natural game. It is anybody's game at the moment. Dravid should also try to stick to one end in what will likely be his last innings. I am crossing my fingers and hoping for the best for India.

Posted by TwitterJitter on (November 8, 2008, 16:19 GMT)

Indian cricket is in safe hands under Dhoni. The brilliance of the test match is the strategy and counter-strategy, and tactics and it is like a chess match. India lead the series 1-0. They don't need a win here to win the series while Aussies do. So, India's strategy was that if Aussies need to win they need to be aggressive and go after outside off balls with a field set for that. Ishant and Zaheer executed the strategy to perfection. Aussies were cautious and the brilliant strategy worked. Now the test match is no where decided and the Aussies no doubt will come up with their own strategy tomorrow and how the Indians will counter Aussie strategy tomorrow and the day after, and more importantly how they execute that strategy will decide who keeps the trophy. This is a chess match and test cricket at its best.

Posted by adhawan on (November 8, 2008, 16:18 GMT)

Everyone is going on about how defensive India were. When a journalist asked Katich why Aussies had been so defensive he told the guy that this was the most stupid question he had ever heard. Well let me ask Mr. Katich the same question a different way - you are the world champions, the mighty Aussies, allegedly the only team playing aggressively in the series to try and win - and your only response to India's tactics was to shoulder arm outside the off stump deliveries? No attempts to cut, pull, loft the ball, hit over the infield, try to brake the shackles, try and counter attack?? Are you only world champs when bowlers feed you length balls or fuller deliveries? The truth Mr. Katich is that you played right into India's hands and now you are fuming. Well, grow up and get over it!

Posted by adhawan on (November 8, 2008, 16:07 GMT)

Two words for Dhoni - Brilliant mate! I can assure you if Kumble were captain, Aussies would have ended the day around 500 and still batting.

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