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!!!

Posted by Gizza on (November 22, 2012, 12:56 GMT)

I think Aakash has a ploy to give the English bad advice. As others have said, a stump to stump line is better on subcontinental tracks. The famous bowlers from the region get more LBW's and bowled's rather than slip catches for example. If you bowl at the stumps and batsman misses it will hit the pad or stumps low enough because of the lower bounce. It doesn't go over like what happened to Imran Tahir's attempted LBW of Michael Clarke today. Also reverse swing goes into the pads (for right-handed batsman which are the majority) while conventional swing goes away and only exists for 5 overs on Indian pitches max. Still goes can't too legside because the flicks to square come into play but instead of just outside off, off stump or off-middle is perfect. But he makes a interesting point about spinners preferring the hard ball and fast bowlers preferring the soft ball which is the opposite on non-Asian pitches. I agree with that at least to some extent.

Posted by   on (November 22, 2012, 12:29 GMT)

remember when holding took 14 wickets and dismantled the english at oval in 1976 . It was a wasteland with nothing in it for fast bowlers .Holding bowled straight and full he took 8 wickets in first innings and all were either bowled or lbw. so this is the way you bowl on flat heartless subcontinent tracks rather than bowling it outside offstump line. I do agree that english pacemen are not as fast as holding but they can do this in short bursts.

Posted by paps123 on (November 22, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

Good article Akash, you have written about something that is almost impossible to advice on in Indian pitches for seamers. I just don't agree with the outside off stump with the new ball. It it does not bounce as in Motera, that would be a ball fetching exercise. I suggest a Sweeper from Ball 1 for Sehwag and sincerely hope that at least the ball carries to the wicket keeper this time around.Would like to see a fair contest.

Posted by 100_rabh on (November 22, 2012, 10:17 GMT)

I believe there cant be a single formula on how to bowl in a particular country. Few of the things like bowling full mixed with bouncers as surprise balls hold truth for anywhere in the world, unless its good-bounce, no-swing wicket. Length and line should differ from batsman to batsman. Line suggested by Aakash is what Sehwag would exactly want! For all the fans moaning about Aakash helping England, stop the press please. Of all the people, they dont need Aakash Chopra to suggest their bowlers how to bowl in India and not on a forum like cricinfo for sure.

Posted by kashankhan on (November 22, 2012, 9:50 GMT)

I believe it shows big heart of Akash Chopra on his part. As far as bowling tips are concerned england should follow Ian Botham's style of bowling. Botham took 22 wickets in 2 test matches played at Mumbai. Ian Botham simply bowls full and straight with little leg cutters as his stock delivery.

Posted by pitch_curator on (November 22, 2012, 9:39 GMT)

Agree with Aditya. In India most fast bowlers get wickets through bowled or lbw. Havent seen many wickets to fast bowlers caught cover or point in test matches. Better to keep the ball on the stumps and keep a straight field with short cover and short mid wicket. Changing pace would also be useful just to prevent the batsmen's flow.

Posted by Nutcutlet on (November 22, 2012, 8:55 GMT)

It's always interesting to read or hear others' opinions & ideas, whether they come from opponents, well-wishers or die-hard supporters. In the end, after all the advice & tips flying around, a team will do what a team will do, under the generalship of the captain. Every team assesses the conditions, picks the team it believes give it the best chance of winning, then plays to its perceived strengths, adapts its strategy as the match develops & tries to find a way to win the game - and if that's not possible, at least, not to lose it. So, my friends, I think that there is too much store put on pre-match chatter. If a side is scratching around for ideas from those outside the set up, then it is at a novice level - and no professional international side is that; it makes its own calls & takes the flak if things go awry & the plaudits if things work out well. That's the fun of it all & so long as the game is competitive & played in the best spirit, then high-class entertainment is assured.

Posted by   on (November 22, 2012, 8:05 GMT)

I'm surprised a player of the quality of Aakash Chopra would come up with such drivel. Aditya, you got it absolutely right; the line to bowl in subcontinental conditions is stump-to-stump on a full length. Yes, you have little margin for error, because straying onto leg stump means you're likely to go for four, but you should really be aiming 3/4 of the way up middle as your ideal delivery.

Bowling outside off on a slow pitch allows the batsman all the time in the world to play off the back foot, even to balls that are good length. Anything fuller can be comfortably square-drive off the front foot because of the lack of swing or seam movement. We saw Sehwag and Pujara exploit these mechanics abundantly in the first Test.

For a good example of how to bowl in subcontinental conditions, see Shane Watson's effort vs. Sri Lanka at Galle in 2011 (all 3 wickets were LBWs, similar to the Indian seamers in this first Test): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eht5LfVUgKg

Posted by iluvtest on (November 22, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

@ Dravid_Gravitas_Statchin_Selfishkar, Be sportive my friend.If you use the same yardstick Our coach should not be having a job now as he is coach for England for many years and knows the team inside out.

Posted by kunderan on (November 22, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

Well done Akash! For the first test the England team followed Shane Warne's pearls of wisdom and it obviously worked very well. Now they can follow your advice and succeed even more!

With all the think tank that England have, they must be really dumb if they have to wait for geniuses like you to tell them how to play! Mark my words, Swan will be completely mastered in the second test and Sachin and Virat will fire and oh, Dhoni will add insult to injury! If Umesh Yadav is fully fit and Finn doesn't play, England will find it more difficult.

Please give the England team some credit for their own intelligence and the Indian team a lot more for bouncing back from 8 disastrous test defeats!

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on (November 22, 2012, 7:03 GMT)

I really don't understand the need for Aakash to come up with these tips for the visitors. Very unhappy with this article.

Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (November 22, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

COME ON Aakash ! You don't have to help these guys out. Did you ever see an English journalist 'help' Indian players out last year ? Why should we do any favours to them ? I don't mean to sound mean (no pun intended), but I think we, the Indian supporters feel 'guilty' of being TOO GOOD in our home conditions. Let me tell you, we don't have to be. The English are good in their conditions, and so are the Aussies down under. They are proud of their record and so should we. In fact, our home record is even BETTER than those two. In fact our record is also better than SA's at home. How about you try and help our young Indian bowlers and batsmen out hmm ?

Posted by varunsporty on (November 22, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

Aakash bhai, I am a big fan of your blogs basically I am addicted to them. I have my reservations about this one though. Why are you trying to help the English at this point of time? Remember Monty was not allowed to bowl at Sachin in 2011 tour. Please as an Indian and big cricket nut I want to see the English suffer and in a bad way.

Posted by L4zybugg3r on (November 22, 2012, 4:39 GMT)

Interesting, you seem to be saying that pace bowlers should be going for reverse rather than conventional swing and spinners can have an easier time with a harder ball. Is this why we see 1 spinner opening the attack for India sometimes? I have to agree about bowling straighter when the ball gets softer. Also short cover and midwicket become catching positions. I'd also consider a leg slip but perhaps more as a defensive position to cover deliveries that are a bit off target down the leg side.

Posted by   on (November 22, 2012, 4:37 GMT)

I disagree. I saw Zak trying to hit the stumps most of the time. I think a wicket-to-wicket line is more suitable on the slow tracks in India.

Posted by guptahitesh4u on (November 22, 2012, 3:42 GMT)

Aakash , are you trying to get the job of bowling coach for England? Very well written article and I wish English team management read this so that we can have a competitive series

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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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