June 14, 2013

Why India have had success in this Champions Trophy

The unexpected conditions in England have favoured India's adventurous batting

In the build-up to the Champions Trophy when everyone was debating the ideal composition of the Indian team, the effect of possible early-summer conditions in England dominated conversation. The picture being painted was one of grassy, even damp pitches, the ball was expected to swing and seam a great deal, and, with good reason, there was concern over India's batting, which was expected to be flamboyant but not quite resilient enough. With two new balls, we thought it would swing throughout the innings and that old-fashioned Test match batting would be the way to go.

We are just halfway past the league phase as I write this and while teams have preferred to bat like in Test cricket for a major part and like in T20 thereafter, and while it has been cloudy and cold, everything else has been quite contrary to expectations. The pitches have been dry, the ball isn't exactly nipping away in all directions, and teams are checking out their spin-bowling options. A traditional swing-and-seam team like New Zealand are using three spinners to deliver half their overs, and even South Africa have, after initial hesitation, resorted to Aaron Phangiso, Robin Peterson and JP Duminy. The new ball hasn't swung: from release to batsman, it has produced straight lines, not wicked arcs like you think you might see in England. Add the two factors and you can see why India's batsmen have enjoyed themselves so far.

Indeed, India's refreshingly stroke-filled approach has been one of two talking points, with England's ability to reverse the ball rather early being the other. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have batted with freedom, they have hit on the rise, they have hit in the air, and they have used their feet delightfully. And they haven't been alone. In doing so, India's batsmen have reignited the debate about whether the IPL is scaling up batsmanship in the 50-over game or diminishing generally accepted skills.

While in India it has become fashionable to look upon the IPL as a cauldron of evil, there has been relatively less debate on the impact it has had on playing the game. I suspect batsmanship is undergoing a change in respect to what is considered risky and what no longer is. Where classical batsmanship, as embodied by the English top three of Cook, Bell and Trott, would nudge the ball, place it in the gaps, continue to put a price on a wicket, India's batsmen are happy to hit through the line, search for boundaries even after the Powerplay overs are gone, and hit the ball in the air quite consistently. I think it is likely that T20 is showing that the risk associated with certain shots was overestimated, that hitting over cover, for example, may actually be a percentage shot if the surface is conducive.

The IPL may have become a laboratory for testing out new shots - certainly it seems AB de Villiers has used it that way, but it is not alone, because two outstanding young players haven't been part of it, which leads me to think it is a more global trend.

Just before the Champions Trophy began, Martin Guptill produced two stroke-filled hundreds, and his shot-making during his 189 in Southampton was, by all accounts, breathtaking. Young Jos Buttler, even if he is currently batting down the order, is showing the way for a new generation of English batsmen. It seems there is a fresh air blowing across the cricket world and we must respect it.

The other interesting cricketing issue has been the ability of the England bowlers to get the ball to reverse so early in the game against Australia, and indeed in the last one-day game against New Zealand. Now, reverse swing has always been looked at with a lot of suspicion, like the black sheep in the family, and so every time it pops up when it isn't expected to, tongues start wagging. So there is a conspiracy theory, the presence of a particular player, for example, but also an interesting cricketing aspect.

Against Australia, England's bowlers bowled a lot of deliveries cross-seam. It could be because word is that this batch of white Kookaburra balls isn't swinging at all, so roughening up one side becomes more important. It would require the bowlers to land the ball consistently on the same side, because the two halves have to become dissimilar. If that is indeed the case, we are seeing another very interesting development, one that could play a major role in the Ashes later this year.

For these two reasons alone, this has been an excellent tournament so far. I won't be surprised at all if it isn't the last of its kind.

Harsha Bhogle is a television presenter, writer, and a commentator on IPL and other cricket. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Steve on June 17, 2013, 9:57 GMT

    I think it is too early to call this a successful transformation of Indian team. One welcome change that is likely to stay regardless of conditions is the fielding. This could arguably the best fielding side India ever had. As for batting, I don't think India had been tested as well as they could be under England conditions. As for bowling, Indian pace bowling still has not looked consistent. There is positives to take especially in the team morale, but I would wait and watch. Indian fans gets to idolizing mode so soon and can change to cursing and witch hunting in no time; just like Pakistan is doing now.

  • Rahul on June 17, 2013, 8:25 GMT

    This Indian team has a similar feel to the side that won the inaugural T20 World cup. Good aggressive opening combination. Great fielding and a certain fearlessness about the aporach to batting. This doesnt of course necessarily mean that they will win the tournament. The weather has turned and on a given day anything can happen. Having said that, Bhuvaneshwar will play a key role and Umesh, if he can swing it at pace. But he must land it right

  • Sayed Azharuddin on June 17, 2013, 8:12 GMT

    I think this tournament has been the best performance of Indians ever from all three departments of the game.

    Each mach they have played witnessed at least one run out and that tells you the seriousness they have in fielding. Each match they have played first scored above 300 and where chased took less than the allocated overs, that tells you a lot about the batting which has been the strongest part of India anyway. The bowling unit has had success if not in all the matches but with the big teams like Australia and Pakistan.

    If they keep this up and keep it consistent, then we might be there at the top of ICC ranking in all the formats very soon. Currently we are top in only ODIs..

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    @king_dhoni : DRAVID make batting look difficult in english conditions??????? are you serious ??? for god's sake he got 3 centuries in last tour where non was able to stay for 10 overs..... for god's sake his average is 68 in english conditions in tests....and 40 in odis.... and manjrekars average is 42 in england in odis and 37 in tests.....

    check stats dude...

  • PeterJerome on June 17, 2013, 7:52 GMT

    @SLSup Very well commented bro. Now start preparing some new excuses for when the truth finally hits you. All the Best to SL minus Sanga.

  • Dummy4 on June 17, 2013, 7:44 GMT

    what exactly is the point of this article...??? is author trying to criticize the team, that they can win because of helpful conditions????

    i dont agree with harsha..... india are winning because they are playing good game....ofcourse the pitches are assisting batting somewhat.... its the same in every country for ODIs..... and its the same here for every other team.... we have seen some low scoring games, in fact PAK was not able to score more than 175 in any innings they played ( do you call that batting friendly ) , srilanka newzeland match was low scoring too...and remember indians don't have bowlers to take 10 wickets in BATTING friendly conditions... and they have taken all 10 wickets in all matches ( that proves the conditions are not quite batting friendly )

    and i agree with many saying india doing good because of retirement of senior players..... senior players like VIRU, GAMBIR, ZAHEER, HARBAJAN would have been burden for the team in this tour.....

  • c on June 17, 2013, 6:18 GMT

    Karthik301: the fact that India has not been beaten in 4 games is a given. The point I make is considering a) India didn't have to experience a wash-out and b) the playing up of their current standing in the Champion's Trophy is not as unique as the attempted hype over it by the author and some who've commented here.

    As for your references to WI and young blood and not having rested (an advantage coming out of IPL) are not requisites for what Harsha has said or I've commented on.

    I think the point I made was quite clear and succinct. Unless one takes offense!

  • Karthik on June 17, 2013, 3:25 GMT

    @SLSup, The main purpose of this article as I can understand is the unbeaten session India has this season in spite of making drastic changes like omission of Sehwag/Gambhir/Zaheer/Harbhajan/Yuvraj and Sachin's retirement, who were the architects of India's success more often. You may argue that these guys were in bad form/ their best was over. But don't take credit away from the present team which has very less experience overseas. One good "away" series from India cannot make them the West Indies of the 70s or Aussies of the 99-00s, but it is a start given that they have virtually no rest and play more matches than any other team in an year.

  • c on June 17, 2013, 2:22 GMT

    India made it to semis, so has England and South Africa and soon NZ or SL. So what is the point of this article? They will ALL have succeeded in reaching the semis by end of Aus/SL game tomorrow. There is a difference between winning battles and winning the war. There are many examples of those who've won more battles but ended up losing the war.

    Then, of course, there is the following: Aus could beat SL by the huge required margin to make it to semis, then meet India in finals and beat them and win the trophy with 4 overall wins over India's five by then. SL could do something similar if not identical - SL could win next three games and beat India in finals AND win the trophy with 4 wings over India's 5 to get to finals. Also, there is the possibility India could be beaten in semis and not make it to the finals.

    India has not achieved anything unduly unique here to warrant the claims made. They have also being fortunate to have not had a game washed out.

  • tuffto on June 16, 2013, 9:48 GMT

    india can be succesful anwhere if their bowling ameliorates a bit more.....no doubt it is good....they can conquer all over the globe....batting is just awesome....no team is better than india especially in odis...they are beating everyside like as it is zimbabwe....fielding is looking better than even proteas and kiwis...hats off to them for just giving quality entertainment to the fans all over the globe....i am not astounded by their success...

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