Aakash Chopra
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Aakash Chopra looks at various aspects of cricket from a player's perspective

Keep it outside off

England's bowlers need to be more aware of the lines they bowl at different stages of an innings in India

Aakash Chopra

November 22, 2012

Comments: 26 | Text size: A | A

James Anderson is frustated, England v South Africa, 2nd Investec Test, Headingley, 2nd day, August 3, 2012
You can't afford to be square-cut and flicked off the legs in the same over, like some of the England bowlers were in Ahmedabad © Getty Images
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As the Indian batsmen put the English fast bowlers to the sword at Motera, one couldn't help feel sorry for the visitors. They made for a rather depressing sight: when the outcome is inversely proportional to the input, you tend to feel for the player.

The ball (especially the new ball on day one) did not swing in the air or move off the surface. The faster they bowled, the quicker it went off the bat. Whenever they bowled a bouncer, it either didn't bounce above chest height or bounced twice before reaching Matt Prior.

While the odds were stacked heavily against them because of the conditions, their predicament was also a result of a few technical slip-ups. Here's a look at a few things England may want to consider while preparing for the second Test match. If the pitch in Mumbai is remotely similar to the one in Ahmedabad, they'll need every bit of help they can get.

Vary lengths, stick to one line
Every fast bowler with a new red ball in his hand is tuned to look for early swing or lateral movement off the surface. But in India the new SG Test ball doesn't move much in the air, and so the tried-and-tested formula of keeping it in the air for as long as possible doesn't quite work. If you pitch the ball full, hoping for swing, you will most likely see the batsman safely play through the line.

I'm not suggesting bowlers avoid bowling full, but in India, full balls should mostly be outside the off stump. An outside-off-stump line forces the batsman to play square of the wicket, and that could possibly provide a window of opportunity for the bowler if the batsman is a shade late on the ball.

On the dry but not very abrasive pitches of India, the ball doesn't dart around after pitching either. So it's important to change your length while keeping the line of operation about six inches outside off stump. If there's no deception in the air or off the surface, you need to ensure the batsman is kept guessing about the length at least.

The odd bouncer - dug in really short to ensure that it rises above shoulder height - can also be a handy tool.

There's nothing wrong with being defensive
However tempting it may be to bowl straight at the batsman (hoping he'll miss and you'll hit), it's worth remembering that quality players aren't likely to miss straight balls, unless they're bowled at extremely high speeds.

 
 
In India the new SG Test ball doesn't move much in the air, and so the tried-and-tested formula of keeping it in the air for as long as possible doesn't quite work
 

Since there's little movement in the air in India, and hardly any off the surface, straight lines will not only give the opposition easy runs, they will also make it more difficult for the fielding side to create chances.

While the ball is new - that is, till it hasn't started to reverse - it's better to pack the off-side field and bowl an outside-off-stump line consistently. Many would consider this defensive, but in India defence is interpreted as patience and is often the biggest weapon. With the new ball, it's almost impossible to contain, and so it's better to make sure that you're hit only on one side of the pitch.

The art of the old ball
This is the real deal, more so for the faster bowlers. It's no surprise that Zaheer Khan regularly bowls with a scrambled seam to scuff up one half of the ball, for that's when the SG Test ball starts moving a little in the air. The earlier you can reach that stage, the fresher your fast bowlers will be to bowl quicker in the air, and hence more effectively.

Once the ball starts reversing, you must start targeting the stumps. Now you can pack the on-side field, and have at least one man catching in the midwicket region for an uppish stroke off the legs.

But these tactics are effective only if every ball you bowl finishes within the stumps and does not drift too far down the leg side - which would result in easy singles for batsmen with supple wrists. And if you err towards the off side, be prepared to fetch the ball from the fence. You simply can't (like the English bowlers were regularly in Ahmedabad) get square-cut and flicked off the legs in the same over.

Don't let them score easily
While fast bowlers are likely to have a bigger say when the ball starts reversing, spinners, at times, find it tough going once the ball has lost its hardness (which means there is less bite off the surface).

Once that happens, it's important to find other ways to bring the batsmen out of their comfort zone. Drying up the flow of runs works wonders in India. Not that it's easy to stop uninhibited Indian batsmen from scoring, but going around the wicket to bowl into the rough for a while could work as an attacking option.

In-out fields work best on slow Indian pitches, where there isn't enough pace off the surface for the batsmen to work the ball into the gaps for easy singles. Mostly it's either attacking shots, in search of the boundary, or defensive prods to keep the bowler at bay. If you sit back and wait for things to happen, you're doomed.

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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Posted by Edassery on (November 23, 2012, 3:32 GMT)

While other authors write a lot of diplomatic pieces - with already available statistics and history - to cheer up the average Indian fan, Aakash Chopra almost always brings in freshness in his thoughts. Excellent post again...

Posted by maddy20 on (November 22, 2012, 23:02 GMT)

Bowl outside off? Bowling coaches would get crucified for saying something like this. The channel outside off with a heavily packed offside fields is only the last option to frustrate the batsmen. I have only seen one instance of it being properly executed. remember the 8-1 field Dhoni set to Aussies when they cam here in 2008 or something 68 overs produced 130 runs and 7 wickets. It only worked because Ishant and Zaheer were at the top of their game(Ishant was bowling 140+) and because Katich and Hussey are orthodox batsmen . Had the Aussies tried something like that against Sehwag, he will complete a century in each session. English bowlers do not have the pace or accuracy of those two and anything marginally off target will be whipped and flicked to leg side.

Posted by NanoTechnology on (November 22, 2012, 21:26 GMT)

It's interesting that this article even needs to be written, because either Aakash or others have already said many of these things. Maybe there is an element or arrogance in the English team that what has worked for them before will work now? I think their success in Australia was a magnificent achievement (look at the pasting Steyn and co are currently getting, and they're all good bowlers), but the formula they used there can't be applied everywhere. I'm sure Flower and Co know that, but it doesn't always look like it. I recall Aaskash (maybe?) saying that in India cover becomes an attacking position, because a ball outside off that loses a little extra pace will often go in the air. Always fascinating to hear the experts discuss such matters though.

Posted by sensible-indian-fan on (November 22, 2012, 17:16 GMT)

I think some guys have misunderstood Akash. He is saying that since a new ball in dry Indian conditions doesn't swing or seam AT ALL, its better to bowl an extremely tight offside line till the ball gets scruffed up, AFTER which one can go for a stump to stump line (trusting the reverse swing to do the job). He ain't suggesting that we shouldn't ball a stump to stump line. Moreover, what's wrong in posting such articles. The English guys know what's their issue so they ain't gonna look at this article and take notes. Akash is writing for fans like us. I personally think Akash produces some of the coolest technical articles about cricket.

Posted by rajpan on (November 22, 2012, 16:34 GMT)

Scene One: England think tank reads this article, bowlers bowl to this plan and Sehwag decides to celebrate the 100th Test by scoring a century before lunch. Result : Chopra is a great Patriot who confused the Englishmen with his article. Scene Two: England think tank reads this article, bowlers bowl to this plan and Sehwag gets out in the first over. Result : Chopra's reputation as a great cricket analyser goes skyhigh. Scene Three: England think tank doesn't read the article or reads but ignores it. Result:(still) Either of the two above. This is called a'win-win' situation !!

Posted by Smithie on (November 22, 2012, 16:06 GMT)

Take note Aussie bowlers if ever we can get the BCCI to announce a schedule for the supposed Test series in three months time !

Posted by yorkshirematt on (November 22, 2012, 15:07 GMT)

@Dravid Gravitas etc @Varunsporty I doubt the english players will be logging on to cricinfo every day thinking "I wonder if those nice indians have written an article that will help us and tell us how to bowl over here". And even if they do they'll be more likely to take the advice of their coaches than some former indian player/journalist. Why not write about this. it's called being IMPARTIAL. Something a journalist is meant to be

Posted by sensible-indian-fan on (November 22, 2012, 14:54 GMT)

I think some guys have misunderstood Akash. He is saying that since a new ball in dry Indian conditions doesn't swing or seam AT ALL, its better to bowl an extremely tight offside line till the ball gets scruffed up, AFTER which one can go for a stump to stump line (trusting the reverse swing to do the job). He ain't suggesting that we shouldn't ball a stump to stump line. Moreover, what's wrong in posting such articles. The English guys know what's their issue so they ain't gonna look at this article and take notes. Akash is writing for fans like us. Cmon guys, stop taking such things too seriously. I personally think Akash produces some of the coolest technical articles about cricket. Nest example - check out his article about Sehwag. Its just spot on.

Posted by csr11 on (November 22, 2012, 14:52 GMT)

@Kaptaan .. agree with you.. here we do take the idea of being nice, self deprecating and self critical a bit too far.. and this is not just in context of Akash Chopras article but also in the tone of some so called 'sensible' comments, media reports and general attitudes.. there is no need to sound cocky, or demean the opposition, but hey, we are here for the love of the game and to support our team - to win.. nothing wrong with that.. its no coincidence that india seldom does a whitewash even at home.. I do believe that the 8-0 defeat overseas, is perhaps a good thing to happen to indian cricket, i hope deep down, the pride is hurt, and it rankles - and motivates the team to 'try' to win 4-0 at home, and not merely be satisfied by 2-1 outcome...

Posted by moBlue on (November 22, 2012, 14:04 GMT)

y'all, aakash can give advice to whomever he wants to give advice to! what is your problem?!? yes, i too want to see ENG badly beaten, but i don't have the right to tell aakash not to do something! :) moreover... be honest now... those of you from IND who don't like PAK... do you have problems with wasim akram helping out irfan pathan with advice? once even when irfan was touring PAK? :) i didn't think so...

let's beat ENG fair and square in the field - after aakash gives them tips! that will be even more satisfying!!! :) besides... i wanna understand how a test opener "sees" all aspects of the game, and aakash is great at that!!!

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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