January 14, 2010

It's not me, it's dew

There's little fielding sides can do once the ball is wet. Pitch it on the right length, try yorkers, slower balls, bouncers? It's easier said than done

Sri Lanka needed more than 10 an over to seal the deal against India in the second match of the tri-series in Bangladesh when they decided to take the batting Powerplay. MS Dhoni brought back Ashish Nehra, who along with Zaheer Khan, is Dhoni's first choice among bowlers in the Powerplay and death overs. All Nehra had to do was find the blockhole, a few yorkers, a couple of slower ones, and bowl intelligently to put Sri Lanka in a tight spot. But instead his yorkers were too full and he was taken for runs. He tried bowling short but it made little difference; the deliveries weren't well directed and that cost India.

What happened to Nehra? Why couldn't he do what he has done so many times in the past? Was it just a bad day for him? Well, there was certainly something beyond everyone's control that was making all the difference.

Dew became the catchphrase of the series. And in this match, like in most others in the series, it set in early. Regardless of how much they tried drying the ball with towels, once it was hit to the outfield it came back soaked.

The thing about dew is, the leather of the ball takes longer to get damp than the seam does. While water takes time to seep into the leather, the seam turns wet as soon as it gets exposed to the outfield. Gripping the ball then becomes tricky. The umpires won't change the ball on the account of a wet seam. They will wait till the entire ball gets too wet to play with.

Not surprisingly, then, the focal point of most discussions during the series was not the quality of cricket or the merit of the decisions taken by the teams, but the dew. I'm not qualified enough to go into the merits of how best to refurbish dew-exposed outfields but I can tell you how the players approach playing in such conditions.

The toss, second only to dew in the list of uncontrollables, is crucial in deciding the turn of events. The captain who wins the toss will predictably choose to field first. If you happen to lose the toss and are asked to bat first, it's imperative to score 30 or 40 runs above par as a cushion to negate the impact of dew. To do that the side needs to stretch itself that extra bit.

The start becomes all the more important, but it doesn't end there. You need to capitalise on the start and maintain the momentum for the remainder of the innings, which as Bangladesh found out is not always easy.

There on, the real challenge lies in how to negate the impact of dew. The ball tends to swing more under lights and it's necessary to translate that swing into early wickets for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the ball, while dry, will be at its best to bowl with; secondly, since spinners are expected to struggle both with lack of control over the ball and lack of purchase in the surface, it's important to allow them time to settle down. The other time when the fielding team has to be on the offensive is just after the ball change, whether it's after the 34th over or whenever the umpires agree to change it.

For spinners, the challenge is in gripping the ball and imparting spin while delivering. It's like bowling with a bar of wet soap. Maintaining a good hold on the ball is relatively easier for a finger spinner than for a wrist spinner; the latter have less control to begin with, and the wet ball rules out their contribution to a large extent. The finger spinner's job isn't easy either, and the attack tends to become one-dimensional. It doesn't matter whether it's an offspinner or a left-arm spinner: the ball usually goes straight after pitching. The only difference is the angle from which the ball is bowled.

There's very little a spinner can do once the ball gets as wet, as it did in Bangladesh. As a spinner, one can only try to make the ball land on the right lengths as much as possible without thinking about too many variations. The only thing, perhaps, is to vary the pace. The wet ball, to a certain extent, allows you to bowl it a little slower or faster.

For spinners the challenge is to grip the ball and to impart spin while delivering. It's like bowling with a wet bar of soap

It's not only the spinners who struggle; fast bowlers also face similar problems. When you're bowling in the batting Powerplay and in the death overs, just putting the ball there doesn't serve the purpose. You need to constantly change the length, which includes bowling yorkers, bouncers and so on. The challenge is to hit the desired length with perfection, which isn't possible with a wet ball. A yorker can become a full-toss on more occasions than one. We saw Nehra and Zaheer bowl full tosses in the first match against Sri Lanka, and both Thissara Perera and Thilan Samaraweera made merry. The margin of error is miniscule while bowling in the Powerplay or death overs. Fast bowlers resort to bowling short in these periods, and as a batsman you expect them to.

While it's easy for batsmen to bat when the ball is wet - all you need to do is to play through the line, because of the lack of deviation after pitching - it demands that you have control over your faculties. When you see an offspinner toss it up, your natural instinct would be to go with the spin and target midwicket. But that would be playing across the line.

Also, a wet ball bounces a lot less than a regular one. So, when it is pitched short, the batsman needs to curb his instincts to play a cross-batted shot and should instead meet it with a straight bat.

The circumstances in Bangladesh were certainly not ideal for playing cricket; it was the conditions and not the opposition that the teams were up against.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season. His website is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sivali on January 15, 2010, 9:13 GMT

    If we know that dew is going to be a major factor in deciding a match - recent ODIs in India and Bangladesh - the answer is to play day matches? The need for prime time TV viewing should not make a farce of the cricket. After all, an extended highlights package or even the whole match can be shown immediately afterwards to cover prime time viewing. ICC - please note.


  • param on January 15, 2010, 2:51 GMT

    however, the ball would swing more under lights than during the afternoon during the first 15 overs. Thats the best chance a fielding side would really have under such conditions , take 3 or4 early wickets and hope that the chasing side would crumble uncer the sheer weight of runs and hold on to the CATCHES!

  • Chamara on January 14, 2010, 22:29 GMT

    I am baffled as to why no country out there (at least that I know of) looked at investing in an artificial turf for the outfield. The Americans have done this with American Football and I'm sure Rugby and Football can attest to the advantages of artificial turf and negating the effects of Rain and Dew. The expense you have to fork over to maintaining a regular grass outfield itself justifies the onetime investment in artificial turn. Specially in the rain/dew heavy subcontinent stadiums.

  • Ayyo on January 14, 2010, 18:49 GMT

    I bowl legspin for a couple of clubs and from experience I can tell that its not all that hard to bowl with a wet ball. Off-spinners struggle because they squeeze the ball between (mostly) two fingers. A lot more can go wrong for them. As a legspinner, if you dont have a very tense, firm grip on the ball you'll be fine with the accuracy.

    Another thing I'd like to suggest is the intelligent use of the odd beamer because there's a very good excuse for it. Yeah its against the 'spirit of the game' and all that but I'm sure Zaheer or Nehra wouldnt have thought so when Perera was smashing them everywhere..

  • Raqeeb on January 14, 2010, 18:17 GMT

    @ V.GOMES, admittedly it was india's poor batting rather than the dew which gave sri lanka the match, i dont really see many indians here claiming otherwise. on the other hand, you seem to have forgotten that india won the last 4 series/tournaments it played against sri lanka. the sri lankans on this site were all too eager to blame that on the tosses. the comments by you and shen_mark simply reveal your typical sri lankan bigotry

  • Anthony on January 14, 2010, 17:45 GMT

    I agree with V Gomes and Shen Mark. India are chokers when it comes to one day finals against SL. Also we have come to accept that Sivaramakrishnan is not impartial in his commentating but what was surprising was to hear Shastri declare that the match should be abandoned if there is dew when SL bat. And this was when India were five wickets down. Did Mr Shastri have a stake in the outcome, we wonder? Would he have made the same suggestion if SL had batted first and were five wickets down? Why are'nt they generous to their opponents in defeat? I am glad that the dew factor was absent in the final match- so no reason to moan! Going back would they agree that the absence of the Review System (RS) cost SL at least 500 runs and possibly the test series as Sangakkara suggested. The ICC should have the RS across the board in order to produce a level playing field. It is shame that the Review System was not applied in SL/India Tests as demonstrated in the other matches currently taking place.

  • Giridharan on January 14, 2010, 17:06 GMT

    India did not walk away citing playing conditions. One could see players slipping and even chasing gingerly. So there was no dew but a lake of water! India bowled so well in the finals. They just needed a few more runs.

    Srilanka did well.

    India should have picked Tyagi.

    The best solution is to build artificial water resistant grass. Or use oil on seam!

  • V on January 14, 2010, 15:05 GMT

    There was no dew in the final of the Idea Cup. So what's the excuse now. I look forward to your next editorial - "India gets outplayed and looses a final, AGAIN".

  • Sriram on January 14, 2010, 14:18 GMT

    I would agree with your comments about dew but not about Nehra. Dew or no dew his bowling has been erratic. His body language and fielding are not to the international standard.

  • peter on January 14, 2010, 13:19 GMT

    With great respect, obviously Shen Mark has never had to bowl with a wet ball. It's a constant problem in England in evening leagues, sometimes due to dew, sometimes following rain. Not only do you (as a bowler) lose the benefits of any seam or swing movement around, but unless you've got hands like the proverbial bricklayer, you cannot grip properly to put the ball where you want to. And in most leagues theres no ball change either. As for drying the ball, this takes time and slows the over rate - a problem if you batting last (virtually in the dark). All the bowlers in the Tri-series with this problem have my sympathy. It's not a moan but a genuine problem. Not that the batter friendly authorities will do anything about it.

  • No featured comments at the moment.