India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 2nd day February 15, 2010

Harris' leg-side line punished

N Hunter

Paul Harris was a completely different bowler today. In Nagpur his sole aim, especially in the second innings, was to clamp down on India's batsmen. He went about doing so by pitching consistently on leg stump or outside and turning the ball into the right-handers from the rough. The Indian batsmen played him conservatively from the crease. They played into Harris's hands and he succeeded in stemming the run flow. His attempt today had drastically different results.

On a harder pitch, which didn't take much turn from the rough, Harris tried to apply the same leg-side suffocation but was punished by Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar, as well as umpire Ian Gould.

Umpires have taken flak for not taking a firmer stand on the indiscretions of the players but Gould exercised his power and penalised Harris each time he bowled a straighter delivery behind the batsman's legs. Harris, however, refused to change his line and forced Gould into calling the ball wide on 12 occasions.

Corrie van Zyl, the South African coach, accepted Gould's decision but said his spinner suffered only because the ball was not turning. "You can see it as a negative line and the umpire did think so, too, and obviously those were called wides," he said.

About five years ago, the standard playing regulations for Test matches were amended in an effort to prevent negative leg-side bowling. Law 25.1 - Judging a Wide - states: "For bowlers whom umpires consider to be bowling down the leg side as a negative tactic, the strict limited-over wide interpretation shall be applied."

An ICC spokesperson admitted that in order to prevent bowlers from easily adopting leg-theory to stem the run-flow, the law needed to be updated. "Some bowlers like Shane Warne used leg-side bowling as an attacking option, while some have used it negatively to frustrate batsmen and stem scoring-rates. It's usually pretty obvious when it is attacking because there is a short-leg in place and the ball is turning, so it becomes difficult for batsmen to survive, let alone score runs."

Another factor that thwarted Harris' plan was the way Sehwag and Tendulkar dealt with him. They were happy to deflect him to the on side whenever there was no fielder at short leg. Otherwise they let the straighter ones go, confident the ball would not turn. Sehwag even slog-swept for a six over deep midwicket and then reverse swept when Harris tried to cram him.

van Zyl said Harris could have been more diligent in his approach. "Some of them did turn out of the rough and some of them didn't. But Harry [Harris] did a good job for the team, but it was a lot tougher than it was in Nagpur, where there was some assistance."