December 25, 2011

Australia: the opening batsman's guide

There's a fair bit of bounce on wickets down under, but that's not as bad as it may seem if you're walking out to bat first up

Opening is the key to success in Australia, as elsewhere in the world. If you give Australians an inch, they are sure to take a mile. Give them an opening and they'll walk straight in. Here are a few things you need to remember as an opening batsman to succeed in Australia.

Trust the bounce
Whether you like or not, you'll be forced to leave a lot of balls alone in order to survive the new Kookaburra, especially on day one of a Test match. Most surfaces down under are slightly damp on the opening day and provide fast bowlers lateral movement off the surface. If you try to play every delivery, you're doomed. You need to allow lots of balls to go safely through to the wicketkeeper, and to choose the right ones to play judiciously.

On most surfaces you have to gauge the lines to judge the balls to leave; in Australia it is a little easier because you can always trust the bounce to take the ball over the stumps, provided it has pitched far enough back. So even if you get the lines wrong sometimes, it doesn't harm you as much.

Also, it's much better to leave the ball when batting in Australia than to offer a dead bat for no run if it can be avoided.

Look for the full ball
It may be advisable to work on your horizontal bat shots to score runs on hard and bouncy Australian pitches, but it's equally important to remember that plenty of dismissals in Australia are caught behind. And most of those occur when the batsman plays a shot off the front foot. Rarely do you see a batsman get caught in slips off the back foot. So, much as you are tempted to stay on the back foot to increase your chances of scoring, you shouldn't forget to keep looking for balls that are pitched up. Short-of-length deliveries are a tool bowlers use to push the batsman back before slipping in a teasing full ball, inducing an edge. In order to pitch the ball fuller, the bowler will have to release the ball early, so it is the first eventuality you are prepared for. If he delays the release in order to bowl a short ball, the body can always adjust.

Beware the shiny Kookaburra
The new Kookaburra ball is twice as dangerous and tricky to handle as its older counterpart. The pronounced seam on the new ball makes it dart around considerably after pitching, and it moves appreciably in the air too. It's important to curb your natural aggressive instincts till the ball loses its sheen, for exposing the middle order to the new ball can spell doom. You may have to resist the temptation of playing on the up and through the line in the first session, but if you manage that, life will become a lot easier after lunch.

Since there's more bounce in Australia than elsewhere, it's advisable to avoid playing the square-cut early, for getting on top of the bounce to keep the ball down isn't easy. Of course, there's the option of undercutting the ball to play it over the slip/gully region. It's a myth that scoring runs in Australia isn't possible if you don't play the square-cut - Matthew Hayden scored thousands of runs without peppering the point region.

Make the starts count
Justin Langer told me after the last Test match on India's 2003-04 tour, in Sydney, that as an opener you must accept that you'll encounter wicket-taking deliveries often, because the ball is new, bowlers are fresh and the wicket untested. Since you won't get a start every time you bat, it's important to make the starts count when you do get in. Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag would do well to remember these words when they find themselves batting together past 20 overs.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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  • Dummy4 on December 27, 2011, 1:40 GMT

    A Sehwag wouldn't give these lines a flying duck even if they came from someone like Sunil Gavaskar. I wonder what he'd make of .. (uh, whats his name again?) - Akash Chopra

  • Krish on December 26, 2011, 8:28 GMT

    Aakash Your comments are insightful and great. And yes your batting in that 2003-04 Aus tour was a key part of Indias success on that tour. You snuffed out the new ball attack time and again

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 21:20 GMT

    Aakash Chopra, thanks. You give lots of great insight to a cricket purist

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 21:13 GMT

    Time has stood still...5 am IST just aint coming...come the illusory mother.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 20:15 GMT

    I want to become an opener now.....Lolz good guide. I wish gauti is hearing....

  • ashiq on December 25, 2011, 18:12 GMT

    it only makes unintresting reading..Sorry Aakash but with only 2 fifties in 10 tests ,u have left too many deliveries..Sehwaq is a batting genious ..he has a style n he backs it up..thts what makes him a batting great..thts how he makes triple hundreds in tests .....thts how he has played and believe me ..thts how he ll always play...

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 17:47 GMT

    @ Capt Murugan or are you shot gun Murugan??? Akash Chopra is decent batsman and has not done too badly when he got the chances. I think he was unlucky not to get more chances. Shot selection is important and so is the decision to leave balls. Sehwag would do well to leave a few in the first half hour or so. Getting used to the swing and bounce is done better if you learn to leave a few in the beginning.Nothing frustrates a bowler more than a ball which is not played at all. Obviously you are a t-20 fan and think test cricket can be played where you attack every ball. This is five day cricket and there are two innings per side. And Akash writes well as he is good student of the game. He is not preaching here, he is imparting some common sense points.

  • shiva on December 25, 2011, 17:07 GMT

    well, once again this guy comes up with cliched suggestion. Thank God people like sehwag n gauti dont pay much attention to excruciating details. Its all about skill and instincts. Anybody can write technical articles with textbook fundamentals, only a very few (of cozz aakash has never been part of the elite club) have what it takes to perform on the stage. Sorry Aakash, somehow your articles come off as preachy. And for somebody who never had a shot to play and never took the game forward, it's a little rich to be indulging in these types of articles. peace out man.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 15:47 GMT

    Gautam Gambhir isnt a smasher, remember Napier 2009....the best thing about Gauti is he can pace his innings according to the format. Not many people an do that.

  • Dummy4 on December 25, 2011, 15:07 GMT

    givin all this gyan to someone like Sehwag is all but futile. You cannot stop him from playing the cut shot. That's his way of playing.Remember the last time he played in MCG. Akash Chopra will know better.

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