Playing at HQ July 20, 2007

Mind the slope, boys

Aakash Chopra on the challenges cricketers face at Lord's



First the gooseflesh, then the slope - there's nothing quite like playing at Lord's © Getty Images
The very thought of playing at Lord's is intimidating to many batsmen. So the actual act of walking with your pads on, from the dressing room on the first floor, through the famous long room and onto the ground can really give you goose pimples.

Having played at a host of grounds across the world, I generally think that once you cross the white line and take guard to face the bowler, everything else fades into oblivion. The only thing that remains is the task at hand: how to face the next ball. But that's only true in general. At Lord's, it actually is a whole different ball game.

I got an opportunity to play on cricket's most famous ground in a fun game some time ago, and then again a few weeks ago for the MCC against a combined side from Europe. It wasn't a Test or even a first-class game, but I could feel the hair on the back of my neck stand up as I walked to the middle. It was almost eerie.

I had grown up hearing about the slope at the ground and how it affects playing conditions, but had never had the chance to experience it myself. And frankly, after playing a few years of league cricket in England on all sorts of grounds - some with slopes and even humps on the playing square, I really didn't think too much about it. That may have been a mistake.

The slope is very pronounced. As soon as you take guard and stand in your stance, you realise what it's all about. You're either falling backwards or falling forwards. I've exaggerated a bit - you don't actually fall, but then even a slight adjustment in real cricket can be quite a job. And it's not just your stance you have to worry about - there's almost always a world-class bowler running in to get you out.

When you finally manage to get used to the slope, you tend to play for it: when you're batting at the Pavilion End, for instance, the slope takes the ball away from the right-hander, and you tend to play outside the line to compensate. A delivery that seems to be going straight tends to shape away after pitching; and the opposite happens from the other end. So you're either playing outside the line or inside to compensate for the movement off the pitch caused by the slope. This is why, if the ball manages to hold its line after pitching, it feels like it has done a lot. But replays often show that it didn't really do that much after all.

It's essential for you as a bowler to hold your action till the very last minute, making sure that your head or front arm don't fall away, to ensure that you hit the right areas. If your wrist or shoulder drop too early, it tends to send the ball way down the leg- or off side

From what I've said so far, Lord's may seem like a bowler's paradise, but that's not really the case. I spoke to Chris Silverwood, the Middlesex fast bowler the other day, and he told me that it's quite difficult for a bowler to adjust to the slope. It's essential for you as a bowler to hold your action till the very last minute, making sure that your head or front arm don't fall away, to ensure that you hit the right areas. If your wrist or shoulder drop too early, it tends to send the ball way down the leg- or off side, depending on the slope. Silverwood said that a lot of bowlers, himself included, struggle to get through their first few overs without sending down a few wayward deliveries.

On the other hand, the good thing about the slope is that you can get something all through the day, if you hit the right areas consistently. Silverwood said that he had had a lot of batsmen lbw shouldering arms - they trusted the line of the ball and didn't take the slope into account while letting it go.

The toughest part is that you don't get to practise on the slope and master it. For bowlers that's not so much of a problem, since they get many more chances to get it right than batsmen, for whom it is a one-ball game.

When India walk out at Lord's, they'll have more to look out for than just the new portrait of Sir Vivian Richards in the Long Room. But it is a one-of-a-kind experience.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is currently playing league cricket in Staffordshire, and for the MCC and Lashings.