Australia v England, 1st Test, Brisbane November 22, 2013

Clarke's problem

A weakness against the short ball is more serious for a batsman than other shortcomings because of the effect it can have on a player's overall game
54

A weakness of character, Ian Chappell once said memorably, is like a weakness around off stump. Turn the words around and you get one of the age-old maxims of cricket: poking around the off stump does your batting average no good. But that said, being caught off the outside edge is the most common dismissal in cricket, and even the most virtuous batsmen can't help nicking it every now and then.

Weakness against the short ball is another story. Chappell perhaps never saw it that way, because the short ball was milk and honey to him. Hooking and pulling have been among the great Australian cricket traditions. Footage and photographs of an unhelmeted Chappell - collar up, shirt unbuttoned, and moustache like a horseshoe - swatting away bouncers can still give you a rush. Three Australian batsmen lobbing tame catches off short balls on the first day of the Ashes in Brisbane wouldn't have been a pretty sight for him.

It was certainly not in the script for Australia. After being caught out on uncharacteristically dusty and dry pitches in England, Australia were meant to hustle their opponents on familiar terrain - which they have done spectacularly in their first go with the ball - and three batsmen being dismissed to short balls, it can be argued, is no different from three men being bowled or caught behind.

But Michael Clarke's dismissal was the story. It was certainly a sight. Head turned away, gloves rising to protect it, and the ball lobbing up to the man in attendance. England knew, Clarke knew, the whole ground and everyone watching on television knew, that it had been coming. And when it did, Clarke found himself paralysed, footwork non-existent, no commitment to playing or leaving, and at the moment of impact, just an instinctive and reflexive act to defend his body.

Stumps splayed in the ground might look a more comprehensive mode of dismissal, but helpless jabbing at a bouncer aimed at the body looks like total surrender. It is the worst way for a top-order batsman to get out because a big part of sport's impact is psychological, and a batsman dismissed trying to save his skin and not his wicket not only appears timid, it must feel so to the batsman himself.

But that's not the main reason why a weakness against the short ball is far more serious than some other weaknesses. It's because of the effect it can have on a player's overall game. An international batsman once told me how the dread of the short ball messed up every aspect of his batting. "It's not like leaving the ball outside the off stump. You will yourself to not be drawn into it. It's not simple, but it's about discipline. But there is no getting away from a ball aimed at your body. If you can't play it properly, it gets you in a hopeless position." And most of all, he said, it makes you bat out of character. Just as it happened with Jonathan Trott after he copped one on the gloves from Mitchell Johnson in Brisbane: a fidgety batsman replaced the normally unflappable one, and Trott succumbed to a hurried tickle down the leg side.

There are ways to play a ball aimed at your body. Hit it away with the horizontal bat, find a way to evade it, or ride it with a straight bat and play it down softly. The first and last are traditionally done off the back foot, where the batsman grants himself a fraction of a second more and a bit of space to deal with the ball. Ricky Ponting had exceptional skills and the confidence to be able to pull consistently off the front foot, but it sometimes got him into a tangle when his reflexes slowed with age.

*And there is another way. Guts and courage. Being prepared to take blows on the body. Brian Close, pushing 45, took it to the level of absurdity by taking a battering at the hands of the West Indian quicks in 1976. The modern player is, of course, better protected, but Steve Waugh and Justin Langer come to mind as players who valued their wickets above bodily hurt, and MS Dhoni in his early years fronted up to bouncers with a puffed-up chest, as if to ask the bowler: that's all you've got?

Front-footedness is the contemporary way. It's the best way to score runs on batsman-friendly pitches, and to cut down the swing against the new ball. The modern batsman is a creature of the times. Pitches have gone slower, hitting through the line with modern bats has become more rewarding, and genuine quick bowlers have been rare. Clarke's footwork down the wicket is twinkling, and when at the top of his game, he drives sensationally, but unlike Australian greats from the past, his back-foot game against quick bowling is underdeveloped.

His major scoring shot against the short ball has traditionally been a swivel-pat, where the bat gives direction to the ball rather than lashes it, but that stroke comes up only after he has a few runs under his belt. Perhaps his persistent back problems have further restricted his ability to pivot, and they might also have hampered his ability to sway or arch out of harm's way.

Old-timers will detect a degree of irony in the appointment of Graeme Hick as a batting coach by Cricket Australia. His weakness against the short ball was the only thing that kept Hick from attaining the batting greatness that had always seemed destined for him. It was his misfortune that his entire career, 1991 to 2001, coincided with one of the great eras of all-round fast bowling, and he ended up playing 18 of his 65 Tests against the West Indians - starting against Ambrose, Walsh, Marshall and Patterson, and ending while Ambrose and Walsh were still around. Lesser batsmen than Hick have averaged over 50 in the last decade.

Vinod Kambli, who can now boast a better Test batting average than his schoolmate Sachin Tendulkar, had his career put to rest in his final series against West Indies, who targeted him with the short ball, and Suresh Raina may never have the Test career he covets because bowlers around the world now know of his troubles against the short stuff.

Clarke has already built a substantial career, and he remains among the best batsmen in the world, and the fulcrum of Australia's batting. But in the last quarter of his career, he has now found a weakness exaggerated. That the short ball has accounted for him nine times out of the last 18 in the Ashes is not an odd statistic. It points to a struggle that has now become almost as big a challenge as winning back the Ashes.

*08:18:33 GMT, November 22, 2013: Paragraph added

Sambit Bal is editor-in-chief of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • lemonstealer on November 22, 2013, 9:21 GMT

    Clarke has a short-ball problem, its philosophically self evident! I reckon his stance has something to do with it, its so low down, while that helps him cover drive majestically and allows him to tackle spin bowling as well or better than most sub continent batsmen, it makes him a sitting duck for the one aimed at his throat. Also its the short ball coming from a height that seems to get him into a tangle, stuart broad's a bit of giant in his own right,against shorter guys he deals with it just fine, the swivel-pat coming to his rescue which isnt the easiest shot against somebody whose a foot taller than you,but there aren't exactly a bucket load of these towering men in world cricket, so this probably explains the runs he normally gets despite this glaring flaw in his technique!

  • on November 24, 2013, 7:57 GMT

    What the Hell are you talking about? the 100 he scored in the second innings says none of you know what your talking about.

  • swarzi on November 23, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    Sambit, I too think that Sunil Gavascar has been the most successful batsman of All Time, against really fast short-pitched bowling. And, I too, am a student of his school that says, "Every batsman is weak against fearsome short-pitched bowling"! In fact, when I listen to Mr Gavascar, I think that he's the most 'intelligent basman' to have played the game! His revelation after retirement, of how he secretly worked out all the fast bowlers is profound evidence of my claim! I don't bother with this silly deification of Tendulkar, as against the comparatively lukewarm respect shown for Mr Gavascar in India - SRT is not even close to him! In response to you and Martin Crowe, the Michael Clarke vs Stuart Broad matter is not a short ball problem - it is a genuine psychological person vs person psychological block - lots of great batsmen have experienced similar person to person enigmas. To prove my theory, you see how Clarke man-handled Broad's short balls yesterday!

  • gujratwalla on November 23, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    I have been watching cricket since 1966.Frankly the way modern batsmen play the short stuff and get hit on the helmet at such an alarming rate horrifies me.Players in the sixties and seventies more often than not never took their eyes off the ball and either ducked or hooked the ball.Seldom had we any player being hit on the head.Besides i think there was an unwritten mutual law between the teams that no bouncers were bowled at genuine tail enders!But a player of seemingly high class like Clarke and even Tendulkar being hit about the head,taking their eyes off the ball? Even Ian Chappell was done by Snow but he never took his eyes off the ball.That and get back to make room to play the short ball i believe served Ian and the great Sobers and Gavaskar well in this respect.Both were simply fantastic players of the fastest bowling.

  • CoolBarn on November 23, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    Typical of the press. Clarke gets out to one poorly played shot and suddenly he's got a major problem. Then he makes naysayers/bandwagon riders look silly by scoring a magnificent century two days later.

    Word to the wise - write off class-cricketers at your peril. And batting-wise they don't come much classier than Michael Clarke. Say what you will about his man manager skills, but when it comes to batting he's been the real deal for years. And I daresay will be for quite some time to come.

  • Cool_Jeeves on November 23, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    Clint Nelson, I think you meant Mohinder Amarnath. Lala played 80 years ago. Clarke is quite OK, and he showed everyone in the first 30 minutes of his innings itself.

  • krishna_cricketfan on November 23, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    Even as I write this, Clarke has scored a century. Any of the modern day greats, have not faced battery fast bowlers in the same match. In general, the number of really fast bowlers are few in world cricket. My comparison is with Windies pace battery and Lillie/Thompson combo. Such complete fast bowlers and that too playing in the same match is something we have not seen for last 2 decades. All of them were lethal and the first class cricket also had fast bowlers. Such lack of bowlers means batsmen are not exposed to fearsome fast bowling and so some technical issues opens up. I am sure the modern day greats would have worked out a technique if they had the practice of facing pace batteries. So, the talk of weakness against short balls or being a sitting duck etc is not correct.

  • on November 23, 2013, 4:51 GMT

    Ha ha ! Clarke making all of us eat humble pie !

  • on November 23, 2013, 0:05 GMT

    The consensus of opinion here is that the short ball from genuine fast bowlers is every batsman's Achilles heel. However, most good batsmen do work out a way to reduce its impact. Eg. Viv Richards, Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kallicharan, Desmond Haynes, Ian Chappell, Gregg Chappell, Keith Stockpool, Doug Walters, Zahia Abbas, Majid Khan, Lala Armanath, Ricky Pontin, Alistair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, AB De Villiers, Adam Gilchrist, Mat Hayden are some who fight fire with fire against it - sometimes they win and other times lose. Gary Sobers, Rohan Khani and Sunil Gavascar are the best I've seen against it - they hooked easily and swayed easily. Most of the helmet era batsmen take blows in their helmets, on their bodies or bob and weave. Michael Clarke doesn't any more problem than any other good batsman. Look at how he dealt with Steyn and Morkel, both in SA and Aus. He has a 'Broad problem' similar to the way that Tendulkar had an Anderson problem, and other batsmen have their own nemeses!

  • on November 22, 2013, 22:43 GMT

    Clarke may be guilty of the short ball problem on this occasion, but as Atherton said, it's hard for someone with a back problem to duck or play the pull/hook shoots consistently. Especially players with a recurring lower back problem need to take care of their body well. Geniuses will eventually find a way to overcome their problems and rely on other ways to score runs, like the way Sachin did in the later half of his career. That said, Clarke has to do figure out really quickly, before everyone starts to exploit this recent analysis.

  • lemonstealer on November 22, 2013, 9:21 GMT

    Clarke has a short-ball problem, its philosophically self evident! I reckon his stance has something to do with it, its so low down, while that helps him cover drive majestically and allows him to tackle spin bowling as well or better than most sub continent batsmen, it makes him a sitting duck for the one aimed at his throat. Also its the short ball coming from a height that seems to get him into a tangle, stuart broad's a bit of giant in his own right,against shorter guys he deals with it just fine, the swivel-pat coming to his rescue which isnt the easiest shot against somebody whose a foot taller than you,but there aren't exactly a bucket load of these towering men in world cricket, so this probably explains the runs he normally gets despite this glaring flaw in his technique!

  • on November 24, 2013, 7:57 GMT

    What the Hell are you talking about? the 100 he scored in the second innings says none of you know what your talking about.

  • swarzi on November 23, 2013, 14:43 GMT

    Sambit, I too think that Sunil Gavascar has been the most successful batsman of All Time, against really fast short-pitched bowling. And, I too, am a student of his school that says, "Every batsman is weak against fearsome short-pitched bowling"! In fact, when I listen to Mr Gavascar, I think that he's the most 'intelligent basman' to have played the game! His revelation after retirement, of how he secretly worked out all the fast bowlers is profound evidence of my claim! I don't bother with this silly deification of Tendulkar, as against the comparatively lukewarm respect shown for Mr Gavascar in India - SRT is not even close to him! In response to you and Martin Crowe, the Michael Clarke vs Stuart Broad matter is not a short ball problem - it is a genuine psychological person vs person psychological block - lots of great batsmen have experienced similar person to person enigmas. To prove my theory, you see how Clarke man-handled Broad's short balls yesterday!

  • gujratwalla on November 23, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    I have been watching cricket since 1966.Frankly the way modern batsmen play the short stuff and get hit on the helmet at such an alarming rate horrifies me.Players in the sixties and seventies more often than not never took their eyes off the ball and either ducked or hooked the ball.Seldom had we any player being hit on the head.Besides i think there was an unwritten mutual law between the teams that no bouncers were bowled at genuine tail enders!But a player of seemingly high class like Clarke and even Tendulkar being hit about the head,taking their eyes off the ball? Even Ian Chappell was done by Snow but he never took his eyes off the ball.That and get back to make room to play the short ball i believe served Ian and the great Sobers and Gavaskar well in this respect.Both were simply fantastic players of the fastest bowling.

  • CoolBarn on November 23, 2013, 10:25 GMT

    Typical of the press. Clarke gets out to one poorly played shot and suddenly he's got a major problem. Then he makes naysayers/bandwagon riders look silly by scoring a magnificent century two days later.

    Word to the wise - write off class-cricketers at your peril. And batting-wise they don't come much classier than Michael Clarke. Say what you will about his man manager skills, but when it comes to batting he's been the real deal for years. And I daresay will be for quite some time to come.

  • Cool_Jeeves on November 23, 2013, 8:46 GMT

    Clint Nelson, I think you meant Mohinder Amarnath. Lala played 80 years ago. Clarke is quite OK, and he showed everyone in the first 30 minutes of his innings itself.

  • krishna_cricketfan on November 23, 2013, 7:38 GMT

    Even as I write this, Clarke has scored a century. Any of the modern day greats, have not faced battery fast bowlers in the same match. In general, the number of really fast bowlers are few in world cricket. My comparison is with Windies pace battery and Lillie/Thompson combo. Such complete fast bowlers and that too playing in the same match is something we have not seen for last 2 decades. All of them were lethal and the first class cricket also had fast bowlers. Such lack of bowlers means batsmen are not exposed to fearsome fast bowling and so some technical issues opens up. I am sure the modern day greats would have worked out a technique if they had the practice of facing pace batteries. So, the talk of weakness against short balls or being a sitting duck etc is not correct.

  • on November 23, 2013, 4:51 GMT

    Ha ha ! Clarke making all of us eat humble pie !

  • on November 23, 2013, 0:05 GMT

    The consensus of opinion here is that the short ball from genuine fast bowlers is every batsman's Achilles heel. However, most good batsmen do work out a way to reduce its impact. Eg. Viv Richards, Roy Fredericks, Alvin Kallicharan, Desmond Haynes, Ian Chappell, Gregg Chappell, Keith Stockpool, Doug Walters, Zahia Abbas, Majid Khan, Lala Armanath, Ricky Pontin, Alistair Cook, Kevin Pietersen, AB De Villiers, Adam Gilchrist, Mat Hayden are some who fight fire with fire against it - sometimes they win and other times lose. Gary Sobers, Rohan Khani and Sunil Gavascar are the best I've seen against it - they hooked easily and swayed easily. Most of the helmet era batsmen take blows in their helmets, on their bodies or bob and weave. Michael Clarke doesn't any more problem than any other good batsman. Look at how he dealt with Steyn and Morkel, both in SA and Aus. He has a 'Broad problem' similar to the way that Tendulkar had an Anderson problem, and other batsmen have their own nemeses!

  • on November 22, 2013, 22:43 GMT

    Clarke may be guilty of the short ball problem on this occasion, but as Atherton said, it's hard for someone with a back problem to duck or play the pull/hook shoots consistently. Especially players with a recurring lower back problem need to take care of their body well. Geniuses will eventually find a way to overcome their problems and rely on other ways to score runs, like the way Sachin did in the later half of his career. That said, Clarke has to do figure out really quickly, before everyone starts to exploit this recent analysis.

  • AB_DeVilliers on November 22, 2013, 22:37 GMT

    The manner in which the batsmen have dealt with the short ball in this game just makes me appreciate the efforts of Amla and Kallis at the Gabba last year. Majestic display, especially by Kallis. Best team by far are the saffers.

  • promy_cric on November 22, 2013, 18:46 GMT

    i do not think, we will have to wait longer to see Clarke's form, if he is too worse in his batting technique then it is not possible for him to score bunch of runs in sa. Also, i believe, at present SA is best bowling attack and against them his recent records have showed that he is quiet capable of playing short bowl. Many people also raised about tendulker but later he had showed again class is permanent. May be Clarke is not world class like sachin, lara but he is good batsman, whenever he gets set in the crease like to play big inning.

  • mukesh_LOVE.cricket on November 22, 2013, 18:40 GMT

    Clarke has a short ball problem ! , i don't think so , this is the same guy who not so long ago scored two consecutive double hundreds in tests , on Australian pitches against what many consider to be the best attack in the world (steyn,morkel and co) , where was his short ball problem then ? , this is in all probability due to his back problems

  • on November 22, 2013, 18:33 GMT

    this test has featured some of the worst playing of the short ball I can remember.. it makes me appreciate even more having seen the South Africans last tour of Australia where Amla and Kallis were the two best proponents of dealing with it...Kallis in particular and his cat like reflexes in evasion was a sight to behold..

  • on November 22, 2013, 18:31 GMT

    clarke was just a sitting duck against short picked bowling.broad worked him around number of times.also not to forget clarke's weakness at playing against tall pacemen such as morkel who was his nemesis. even against short piched bowling of ishant sharma clarke looked all at sea.lets see if he can overcome his shortcomings playing against short piched deliveries.

  • AltafPatel on November 22, 2013, 18:13 GMT

    Why such negative article?

  • mvcric on November 22, 2013, 17:08 GMT

    I am not a great fan of Clarke, but I strongly believe his trouble with the short ball is primarily due to his very bad back. It simply doesn't allow him the mobility or flexibility to sway out of the way, play it down softly or counter-attack.

    Notice how Sachin took more blows on his helmet and body post 2005-2006, after the tennis elbow surgery. So, injury does have an impact. And, even the very best of batsmen have fallen to well directed short balls, including Sachin and Gavaskar.

    And, Dravid was exceptionally good at dropping most short balls dead in front of him with soft hands. You guys need to check your facts before make inaccurate comments.

  • S.Jagernath on November 22, 2013, 16:15 GMT

    Suresh Raina has a techique as solid as cheese.He is barely even a batsman.He is lost against pace,swing & bounce,as well as offspin.Raina has very little balance also.

  • S.Jagernath on November 22, 2013, 16:10 GMT

    Michael Clarke is a brilliant batsman on flat pitches,he is able to play on tough pitches but he does require a weak bowling attack.He is a superbly elegant player when batting well but he is nonetheless a batsman who is weak in a vital area of batsmanship.Jacques Kallis has built a huge test average & also is easily run over by the short ball.So the issue is not exclusive to just Clarke with batsmen averaging higher than 50.@Emancipator.Rahul Dravid did not particularly have issues handling pace on quick wickets.He has plenty of big scores in Australia,a double hundred & 90s at Sydney,Melbourne & Perth.Technically Dravid is perfect.

  • Emancipator007 on November 22, 2013, 15:17 GMT

    Dravid had issues with hustling/express pacers as can be seen with his average records on pacy/hard decks; but no real weakness against short ball as he strained to watch ball uptill last min and ducked/swayed like Sunny.@Demreligion;Agree, Tendulkar wud take blows on his right shoulder /chest in case he misread the bouncer after his injury-phases returns. Agree with @SirIvor that in the course of a long innings, even the most accomplished bat can get out to a well-directed short ball (which is also a wicket taking delivery like the outswinger which gets the edge).Case :Mohinder a compulsive puller got out many times, was hit but kept playing the hook/pull with varying degrees of success.Fact Is during '70s/'80s WI pacers bouncers bombardment, only Indian batters were most courageous:Sunny,Vengsarkar,Kapil Shastri,Manjrekar,Mohinder,Gaekwad.OZ/Eng batters were reduced to wrecks (2 series whitewashes against Eng by WI)-barring Border/Wood/Gooch/Smith

  • Emancipator007 on November 22, 2013, 15:16 GMT

    @Swarzi:Thanks for HIGHLIGHTING the best Test batsman with no chinks in his armor AT ALL-peerless Sunil Gavaskar. Sunny also the ONLY Bat to fearlessly pull Holding/Marshal during his 121 & 90 in Delhi &Ahmedabad Tests '83 series.Imran totally stopped bowling bouncers (terming them waste of effort) knowing Sunny's immaculate swaying away/weaving technique.@RahulBose:Don't think Ganguly wud admit his weakness to a journo knowing it cud be made public as he was defiant that he never had probs with short-pitched bowling. Plus, Gang was not a natural left-handed bat, so never had the natural lefty "swing" of natural lefties Gilly/Anwar/Jayasuriya while playing leg side strokes,leave alone hooks/pulls. But he gutsed it out and made superb Tests comeback against hostile SA attack in '06.S.Waugh was another warrior, gutsed out against WI pacers of'80s/90s.

  • on November 22, 2013, 15:13 GMT

    Swarzi: U Missed On Sarfaraz Nawaz & Richard Hadlee Only Of That Era .. But Few More Of Making The Batsmen Hop On Their Day !!!

  • on November 22, 2013, 15:12 GMT

    He is the most over-rated Australian batsman! One good year (2012) and quick feet against spinners is all that he has. Short ball? Have you forgot the swinging bowls? Clarke b Broad, Clarke b Simon Jones! He doesn't have foot work against quick bowling. That being said, I have seen him making some good captaincy decisions off late. Other story if they work or don't but they were good tactical decisions.

  • Ozcricketwriter on November 22, 2013, 14:58 GMT

    I disagree with the notion that Clarke is vulnerable to a particular type of dismissal. If he were, then he wouldn't have scored so heavily in so many different conditions against so many different types of bowlers. It is true that England had a plan for him, and it is true that he fell for it hook, line and sinker. But that doesn't mean that there is an overall weakness in his game - just on this particular occasion. India didn't get him out through short balls - they got him out through the spin of Ravindra Jadeja. England deserve credit for out-thinking Clarke but don't think that that is the same thing as saying that Clarke has a weakness against the short ball. Clarke's only weakness is that he is human and he makes mistakes.

  • srikanths on November 22, 2013, 13:47 GMT

    Clarke's problem , I would thing is due to hos back back. You can see that he is not very comfortable in swaying away .OZ depends so much on him, just hope he finds a way out of this hole.

  • swarzi on November 22, 2013, 12:51 GMT

    Sambit, It's no crime for any batsman who is unable to MASTER 'a skill' to help him withstand the horrors of the short ball. The best at 'his skill' in my generation was the Great Sunil Gavascar. Lots of people say Viv Richards, but Viv only had to deal with Lilee and Thompson; and Imran Khan; but Sunil had to deal with those 3, in addition to any 4 that Clive Llioyd unleashed on him at any SINGLE time. But the Great little man, India's best ever, handled them all with flying colours. But the said Gavascar asked the wisest question when everybody was condemning Virat Kholi here in the Caribbean, for not being able to play the short ball: "But who is comfortable playing the short ball - show me one batsman who is comfortable playing the short ball"? (Gavascar, S, 2011). Ask Viv about a Patrick Patterson spell he faced in one of our local competitions. After Waqar Younis hit Sachin in his mouth, Sachin's method became one of ducking. Dravid method was to ride it. None is comfortable!

  • cornered_again on November 22, 2013, 12:29 GMT

    Half of this problem lies in the fact that he has a bad back

  • on November 22, 2013, 12:03 GMT

    Justanothercricketfan .... sounds like you that Clarke shouldn't play cricket.

    ps ... Ian Chappell had a shocking average at the start of his career that would not be tolerated in modern cricket.

  • JustAnotherCricketFan on November 22, 2013, 11:38 GMT

    its got nothing to do with his technique in this case, and all to do with his back. imagine having a sore back for about 10 years, and imagine having come back from the back injury jsut before ashes, and imagine having to stay fit anyhow for the rest of the ashes. Now imagine someone saying ima keep balling a fast bouncer right to your head/ribs, and you can either duck (and stuff up your back) or twist your back very fast attempting a pull (and stuff up your back) or snap your back attempting to hook (and you guessed it, stuff your back). Or you could keep your back straight, and trust your eyes and skills to defend it in order ot keep it down. (ofcourse sometimes the ball will bounce slightly unevenly to how you anticipate it and you may get out, but thats true for getting out any other way)

  • Sir_Ivor on November 22, 2013, 11:05 GMT

    Pitch curator, in the 2003 WC Sachin was in severe cramps when Shoaib finally got him. In the first part of his innings, Shoaib was flayed like a club bowler. Not just him but Waqar and Wasim as well. I am aware that age takes a toll on the speed of one's reflexes. Howsoever great he may have been. Not every one can be like Viv Richards who I think will still hit a short ball into space. Ponting was one of the best hookers with the initial movement of moving forward. then rising with the ball and hooking. It was the same with Hussey.Even great players get caught out by the short stuff. Lilee and Thomson were unplayable in the Ashes of 1974/75. Barring the late Tony Greig apart,no one else was comfortable playing Thommo. No one talks about the shortcomings of Amiss Edrich and others. England had to bring back the brave Colin Cowdrey to face those thunderbolts which he did remarkably. The point is that as Leggie Tattus say no one is comfortable against a bouncer. Not just Indians.

  • on November 22, 2013, 10:26 GMT

    To me Sunil Gavaskar had one of the best techniques for playing the short ball and for most part of the time without the safety of the helmet.To play the ball with soft hands and also the technique of swaying away from the line of the ball and ducking when it is short enough.

  • tickcric on November 22, 2013, 10:24 GMT

    I think that his back problem also aggravates the case - both physically and psychologically. With the chronic back problem Clarke has it might be more dificult to duck out of it or hit a full blooded hook or pull for him than for other batsmen.

  • tickcric on November 22, 2013, 10:13 GMT

    @Gerry_the_Merry, Kambli and Raina were/are international cricketers. The formerwith twoTest match double hundreds. Anyways, Ganguly is a case in point. Ganguly in the first 4-5 years of his career was one of the most prolific batsman in world cricket, both in Tests and ODIs. From the time they started directing short balls at him his stature as a batsman changed. In his defense, in the last few years of his career he became better at managing it but the disease was never really cured. It appeared he got cramped everytime the ball was pitched short and directed at his body It was surprising to see someone with s bunch of international hundreds being so undone by a particular delivery... The ongoing Test match in Brisbane also shows very few batsman have actually mastered the short stuff. None of the Australian and English batsmen have looked comfortable playing it so far in the match.

  • Leggie on November 22, 2013, 10:04 GMT

    I hope people who talk about Indian batting being a flat-track-bully have seen what happened to both Australia and England batsmen on the first two days of the ashes test. In fact, Australia have had far spectacular collapses in the recent past (40s all out vs SA, another sub-100 vs. NZ etc.), but for some reason, it is always the Indian batsmen (not even SL or Pak) who get labelled as flat-track-bullies at the very first instance of a failure against a bouncing ball. Playing fast bowling in conditions that favour the fast men is a challenge for any batsman anywhere in the world. Let people living in glass houses not throw stones!

  • MayurM on November 22, 2013, 9:32 GMT

    everybody is talking about hiting or getting out of way...but players should learn from players like Dravid "How to defend a rising delivery with very soft hand"..he didi it effectively against some very fast bowlers of his time..

  • on November 22, 2013, 9:24 GMT

    lemonstealer- You've nailed it !

  • TATTUs on November 22, 2013, 8:30 GMT

    Anybody, i repeat - ANYBODY, who gets that type of a short ball aimed at your throat 90mph will get out. Kallis a technician couldnt prevent getting out to a Sreesanth snorter. Ponting of all people - Kemar Roach. If the short ball is not on the mark then is when the 'good players of the short ball'punish it.Bad players of the short ball still cant punish them. Thats it.

  • on November 22, 2013, 8:22 GMT

    pitch_curator. In that inn. Tendulkar had just received treatment for a hamstring injury and was the first ball he faced. He could barely walk. The point is that with certain batsmen it is a distinct "weakness". As mentioned by Bal in the article Clarke -The "short ball has accounted for him nine times out of the last 18 in the Ashes"...Many batsmen get out in many ways. But a short ball "weakness' is a potentially fatal one. In any case modern day batsmen have benefited from the helmet etc. where they can just plonk their front foot fearlessly. Otherwise it would be difficult to see many of the modern day greats inc. Lara etc do well in the prehelmet era. You cannot hook/pull every short ball. You need a good ducking/weaving technique.

  • Buggsy on November 22, 2013, 8:01 GMT

    Come on, there are very few players who can play the short ball exceptionally well these days, even those from England and Australia.

  • Sir_Ivor on November 22, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    There are two different things in regard to facing Short pitched bowling.Either you are not in a position to play a particular short ball because you do not read its length in time and be in a position to play it.Or you do not have the courage to stand on your feet when you see a short ball coming.There are many who move towards square leg when they see a short ball.One such player was a selector after he stopped playing test cricket.Mike Brearley was suspect against the short stuff. Yet he has written a book on the art of playing short pitched bowling. Dennis Compton was one of the greatest players of fast bowling ever. Yet he was struck on the face by a short ball from one of Lindwall and Miller. He was carried off the field but returned to score the famous 145.What I am saying is that you cannot brand a batsman as being chicken even if he fails against the short ball.He may lack the technique or may be caught unawares on the odd occasion.Saurav used to hook well earlier incidentally

  • Cool_Jeeves on November 22, 2013, 7:55 GMT

    Sambit, nice article till the 80% mark. Thereafter, despite this being an international website, with an international audience, and with a top-flight international batsman being discussed, why must you make reference to Indian cricketers like Kambli and Raina? If Clarke is felled, a whole team comes down. If Raina is felled, I dont think anything is lost.

    But it would have been better to talk about many batsmen who dont hook, but are successful against the short balls, against attacks including South Africans, Australia, West Indies and not long ago, Pakistan. Steve Waugh and Mark Waugh were very successful despite not being natural hookers. They adopted the third method - pat the ball down at the feet. See youtube of Donald vs Waugh.

  • on November 22, 2013, 7:53 GMT

    Sambit,your article makes me revisit those days when the infallible sachin began to get casteled by incoming deliveried of a good or just short of a good length delivery.To me the greatest weakness of sachin in later parts of his career remained to be his tentative foot movement which gave the impression that he wanted to play as well as leave the ball and eventually misjudged the length and movement to get bowled.There is no room for confusion for cricketers playing at this level.I think Clarke should understand it.

  • pitch_curator on November 22, 2013, 7:51 GMT

    I believe the problem for Hick was that because of his height he could not duck under the bouncers which meant that he had to play at them. A quick well directed short pitched ball is a problem for ANY batsman in world cricket. Havent we seen the likes of Rahul Dravid or Tendulkar get out to short pitched balls? We only need to look at the way Tendulkar got out in the 2003 world cup against Pak after a brilliant innings. Despite being in top gear he had no answer to the perfect quick bouncer from Shoaib. The problem in Clarke's case I suspect is that because of his back, he is not finding it easy to quickly duck under the ball and therefore is compelled to play it. If he does not find a workaround, this could be the end of his career as he plays more than 50% of his cricket on bouncy pitches.

  • Shaggy076 on November 22, 2013, 7:44 GMT

    It is a lot of times to get out and he seems to be struggling with it recently, but he had no issues with quality bowlers like Steyn and Morkel last summer so I think it is a temporary issue or a movement issue.

  • NumberXI on November 22, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    Several batsmen developed their own ways of coping with the short ball, but the way that Gavaskr, Tendulkar and Dravid did it - by getting out of the way - seems the most effective.

  • jimbond on November 22, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    I suppose it is not a "permanent' problem with Clarke. He has play all his life in Australian pitches and knows to handle short bowling. Getting out to a short ball is okay after you have scored a few runs against short bowling. @Ramaya Ramachandra: India's left handed duo will not face much of a problem during the WC in Australia. Yuvraj is pretty happy on tracks with a consistent bounce- he began his international career there. And there are all kinds of fielding and bowling restrictions in ODIs- due to which bowlers can bowl only bowl one short ball in an over, and given the restrictions can only realistically place only one fielder in the deep for the mistimed shot. Reasonably talented guys (which Raina and Yuvraj are), they can easily avoid that fielder.

  • ODI_BestFormOfCricket on November 22, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    so, many players around the world doesnot know how to play short balls. Then why many points indian players only?

  • The_Swing_Bowler on November 22, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    While I agree that the dismissal did not look good I feel that it was more due to Clarke reading the length of the ball poorly as he had committed to moving forward and then couldn't get back in time to play the ball properly, and also if he had thought the ball would get as high as it did he would never have been attempting that shot. He never really had any problems with the short ball before his back problems in the last series, once he gets his confidence and rhythm back I am sure he will be fine.

    Then again Ponting struggled against the short ball late in his career particularly after copping a few on the helmet (I think Kemar Roach might have been the first), so maybe that blow that struck Clark on the badge in England has rattled him and he still hasn't got his nerve back.

    England will definitely target him with it all series so we should know by the end of the summer whether he has a real problem with it or if it was only momentary.

  • loks07 on November 22, 2013, 7:23 GMT

    I just remembered Rahul Dravid perfectly riding the bounce of any short ball and playing it down softly and ball dying on his feet. Also his way of removing his head out of the way by leaning backwards and always keeping eye on the ball till last minute. Just giving him credit for coming from land of slow and low pitches and never getting to face quality fast bowling in domestic cricket.

  • Rahulbose on November 22, 2013, 6:47 GMT

    I suspect the cricketer you referenced was none other than Ganguly.

  • on November 22, 2013, 6:39 GMT

    Nice article. I am more worried for India against SA, Aussie series. Any of our under -19 would have got the same result against WI.The way Johnson is bowling even England is trembling all over! We haven't learnt the lessons after last disastrous tour to England and Australia. For WC too Yuvraj and Raina will be misfits on bouncy tracks even in ODIs.The present team won't even make it to playoffs.Our Administrators are busy filling coffers and arrange only inconsequential series.

  • on November 22, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    Sambit, nice article but not necessarily true. Steve Waugh never mastered hooking the bouncers and was successful against all attacks (including WI series when Ambrose and Walsh were on prime form) and had an average of 50+ in test cricket when he retired. It's just temperament and patience. He'd just leave alone short balls.

  • Sir_Ivor on November 22, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    I believe that being weak in any aspect of batting should be seen in the same way. It is a specific form of bowling that causes a batsman to be brought into a zone of discomfort. No-one for instance talks about Ricky Ponting's failures against a rampaging Harbhajan in the 2001 series against India. I mean no one talks against Ricky in a disparaging manner.For some strange reason, not being able to play short pitched bowling has been tacitly seen as an inadequacy of manliness.And because one has this image of,as Sambit says, an Ian Chappell swatting bouncers as 'men' are required to do.It is another matter that Ian's brother Greg was once said to be suspect to the short stuff.Graeme Hick was like anyone else against an arsenal made up of Marshall,Ambrose and Walsh.It is just that Graeme got out to the short balls. And so he was labelled suspect and his career was over.Saurav was said to be suspect like Raina and Yuvraj have been seen to be.The point is that they also have strong points.

  • on November 22, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    You need Guts. Not "Bravado"...Recall Tendulkar just getting into "comeback" mode after injuries in 2007 against England willing to take blow after blow to his body. Making sure bat and gloves were out of their way. In his pomp Tendulkar would hook or later weave/duck with aplomb and plenty of time on hand. But - even when struggling he would still be willing to take the bat/gloves out of the way and take it on the body.

  • on November 22, 2013, 5:44 GMT

    You need Guts. Not "Bravado"...Recall Tendulkar just getting into "comeback" mode after injuries in 2007 against England willing to take blow after blow to his body. Making sure bat and gloves were out of their way. In his pomp Tendulkar would hook or later weave/duck with aplomb and plenty of time on hand. But - even when struggling he would still be willing to take the bat/gloves out of the way and take it on the body.

  • Sir_Ivor on November 22, 2013, 5:47 GMT

    I believe that being weak in any aspect of batting should be seen in the same way. It is a specific form of bowling that causes a batsman to be brought into a zone of discomfort. No-one for instance talks about Ricky Ponting's failures against a rampaging Harbhajan in the 2001 series against India. I mean no one talks against Ricky in a disparaging manner.For some strange reason, not being able to play short pitched bowling has been tacitly seen as an inadequacy of manliness.And because one has this image of,as Sambit says, an Ian Chappell swatting bouncers as 'men' are required to do.It is another matter that Ian's brother Greg was once said to be suspect to the short stuff.Graeme Hick was like anyone else against an arsenal made up of Marshall,Ambrose and Walsh.It is just that Graeme got out to the short balls. And so he was labelled suspect and his career was over.Saurav was said to be suspect like Raina and Yuvraj have been seen to be.The point is that they also have strong points.

  • on November 22, 2013, 5:48 GMT

    Sambit, nice article but not necessarily true. Steve Waugh never mastered hooking the bouncers and was successful against all attacks (including WI series when Ambrose and Walsh were on prime form) and had an average of 50+ in test cricket when he retired. It's just temperament and patience. He'd just leave alone short balls.

  • on November 22, 2013, 6:39 GMT

    Nice article. I am more worried for India against SA, Aussie series. Any of our under -19 would have got the same result against WI.The way Johnson is bowling even England is trembling all over! We haven't learnt the lessons after last disastrous tour to England and Australia. For WC too Yuvraj and Raina will be misfits on bouncy tracks even in ODIs.The present team won't even make it to playoffs.Our Administrators are busy filling coffers and arrange only inconsequential series.

  • Rahulbose on November 22, 2013, 6:47 GMT

    I suspect the cricketer you referenced was none other than Ganguly.

  • loks07 on November 22, 2013, 7:23 GMT

    I just remembered Rahul Dravid perfectly riding the bounce of any short ball and playing it down softly and ball dying on his feet. Also his way of removing his head out of the way by leaning backwards and always keeping eye on the ball till last minute. Just giving him credit for coming from land of slow and low pitches and never getting to face quality fast bowling in domestic cricket.

  • The_Swing_Bowler on November 22, 2013, 7:28 GMT

    While I agree that the dismissal did not look good I feel that it was more due to Clarke reading the length of the ball poorly as he had committed to moving forward and then couldn't get back in time to play the ball properly, and also if he had thought the ball would get as high as it did he would never have been attempting that shot. He never really had any problems with the short ball before his back problems in the last series, once he gets his confidence and rhythm back I am sure he will be fine.

    Then again Ponting struggled against the short ball late in his career particularly after copping a few on the helmet (I think Kemar Roach might have been the first), so maybe that blow that struck Clark on the badge in England has rattled him and he still hasn't got his nerve back.

    England will definitely target him with it all series so we should know by the end of the summer whether he has a real problem with it or if it was only momentary.

  • ODI_BestFormOfCricket on November 22, 2013, 7:33 GMT

    so, many players around the world doesnot know how to play short balls. Then why many points indian players only?

  • jimbond on November 22, 2013, 7:34 GMT

    I suppose it is not a "permanent' problem with Clarke. He has play all his life in Australian pitches and knows to handle short bowling. Getting out to a short ball is okay after you have scored a few runs against short bowling. @Ramaya Ramachandra: India's left handed duo will not face much of a problem during the WC in Australia. Yuvraj is pretty happy on tracks with a consistent bounce- he began his international career there. And there are all kinds of fielding and bowling restrictions in ODIs- due to which bowlers can bowl only bowl one short ball in an over, and given the restrictions can only realistically place only one fielder in the deep for the mistimed shot. Reasonably talented guys (which Raina and Yuvraj are), they can easily avoid that fielder.

  • NumberXI on November 22, 2013, 7:42 GMT

    Several batsmen developed their own ways of coping with the short ball, but the way that Gavaskr, Tendulkar and Dravid did it - by getting out of the way - seems the most effective.