December 15, 2013

A trial by pace for England and India

One way to deal with bouncy pitches and drive intimidating fast bowlers to distraction is to play controlled pull and cut shots

England are currently being discomfited by it and India are about to be confronted by a batsman's greatest challenge: the trial by pace. It's a challenge that most dread and very few relish.

When umpire Max O'Connell once warned Australian fast bowler Lennie Pascoe at Adelaide Oval: "That'll be enough bouncers for this over, Len," a voice piped up from the other end: "Don't stop him, Max." That intimidating response put West Indies master blaster Viv Richards in the minority. He relished pace, never wore a helmet or took a serious blow to the noggin, and was, in the words of Pakistan's revered allrounder Imran Khan, "an intimidating batsman".

Unlike Richards, many batsmen can empathise with England's current crop. Having been bounced into submission at the Gabba, they then failed to quell the uprising in Adelaide. Now England face the daunting task of trying to get on top of Mitchell Johnson on the bouncy WACA pitch.

This is no easy task, but it has to be achieved if England hope to save this Ashes series. Their batsmen might take heart from some of Dennis Lillee's experiences on his home patch. I've seen batsmen who shouldn't have made Lillee raise a sweat drive him to distraction, because he got so carried away with the WACA bounce that it seemed he was more interested in physically harming his opponent rather than getting him out. He would usually rectify his mistake, but not before the batsman had cut and top-edged more than his ration against such a skilled and fearsome competitor.

That is what England have to do - drive, or cut and pull Johnson to distraction. They have to push him to the point where he becomes angry and stops thinking rationally. That will take a lot of judicious strokeplay and mental courage rather than becoming involved in slanging matches.

If England need a blueprint for how to dispatch the short-pitched delivery, they only had to watch closely as the ebullient Steven Smith dispensed a timely lesson in playing horizontal bat shots. There's a distinct difference in the England attack's pace and ability to intimidate compared to Johnson in his current form, but Smith dealt their Ashes hopes blow after blow with his confident and controlled pull shots. Most of them went straight to ground, via a technically efficient roll of the wrists, and the bulk finished up skipping over the boundary rope before any England fieldsman could move into top gear.

England's hopes of retaining the Ashes plummeted with each successful Smith pull shot, while Johnson looked on with mounting glee from the other end. Thanks to Smith, Johnson had a total to work with.

India's talented young batsmen face a slightly different challenge in South Africa. They are confronted by the toughest task in cricket: adjusting from low-bouncing pitches to strips that encourage fast bowlers to try their luck by banging a few in their half of the wicket. India will be comforted by the fact that there's no bowler of Johnson's pace, but they'll be facing the highly skilful Dale Steyn, the canny accuracy of Vernon Philander, and the steep bounce of Morne Morkel. This is an extremely difficult challenge, and they won't have Sachin Tendulkar to show the way.

Nevertheless, they do have Virat Kohli, who has experienced success at the WACA, and some young comrades in Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara and Shikhar Dhawan, who all play the horizontal bat shots.

Trial by pace isn't a lot of fun for batsmen while it's occurring, but when the challenge is met, the afterglow does provide a lot of satisfaction. In the case of England, success would mean staving off the Ashes death throes, and for India it would be an enormous boost to their post-Tendulkar endeavours.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator for Channel 9, and a columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Ryan on December 19, 2013, 3:40 GMT

    Yes Jay, SA absolutely smashed Australia in 1970 but your comments about Chappell and McKenzie are far from fair. Chappell was one of the all-time great hookers and pullers and Garth had little support in SA and was exhausted after a long campaign on the sub-continent.

  • Dummy4 on December 18, 2013, 22:14 GMT

    @Jay57870, Ian Chappell may have had a bad tou of South Africar in 1970 but he was one of the best hookers and pullers in memory. You need to check your facts before putting such remarks on Cricinfo. It was Chappelli's very strength throughout his career.

  • Jay on December 17, 2013, 13:51 GMT

    Ian - Memory lapses? Where were Chappelli's "pull & cut shots" when Bill Lawry's 1970 team got shellacked by SA in 4 Tests by a humiliating 170, 129 (inng), 307 & 323 runs? Ian's contribution: a measly 92 runs @ 11.5 with 3 ducks! Isolated by apartheid, the Test-starved hosts were raring to go. Led by Ali Bacher, SA had the firepower - G Pollock, B Richards, E Barlow & Co - to gain total domination. Oz failed collectively - abject fielding & dropped catches, awful batting & inept pace bowling by Graham McKenzie. In the end they were totally demoralised, fatigued & divided. The players revolted (led by Ian) & opted out of the 5th Test to force a showdown with ACB (for poor pay & shabby treatment). SA wanted to play, offered extra money but to no avail. They waited 21 years - till the great Madiba was freed - to play Tests again. He was there at the Johannesburg Test vs India in 1992. Look, it goes far beyond "a trial by pace for England & India". Bad memories are awfully painful, Ian?

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2013, 20:06 GMT

    On the Ashes: As I write, England has effectively lost the Ashes. What has let them down so badly has been not just the bowling of Mitchell Johnson, but the woeful captaincy of Alastair Cooke.

    Time and again Cooke's captaincy has been passive when attacking cricket has been needed. Really, the whole contest for the Ashes has been Cooke vs Clarke. Clarke has won by miles! Australia never believes it has the opposing side out until the last batman is gone. Cooke gives all the batsmen a get out of jail card because he never puts the pressure on. No wonder they've lost.

    All opposing teams which play Australia should take a leaf out of their book: play attacking cricket and force mistakes, not wait until the batsmen make them. All this series long I've been looking for a contest. I haven't found one.

  • Bernard on December 16, 2013, 13:35 GMT

    While it is certainly true that the Indian batsmen will be in for a trial by pace in South Africa, I fancy their chances a great deal more than the Indian bowlers bowling out South Africa even once. They have no hope against Amla and co.

  • Android on December 16, 2013, 12:55 GMT

    Its my personal feeling that as a game cricket has not evolved upto a level where the outcome of a match is less predictable from the perspective of a visiting team playing against so called odds created by alien conditions which the player's mind perceives to be hostile in a spontaneous manner.For example you visit Australia,you are likely to be genuflected into submission by pace that would otherwise be nondescript altogether in subcontinental visit India and you are bound to come a cropper against spin which would be abysmally ineffective in conditions down under.So this is or has been the usual trend with a few honourable exceptions,a few standout individual performances here and there.Now the question is whether skill has a defining impact or the mind games rule the roost.Why Aswin and Anderson fail to deliver away from home?Isn't skill is the preseve of a chosen few like Viv,Sachin and Waugh unable to impede the usual trend when a team's cause abroad is concerned?

  • Sriram on December 16, 2013, 11:59 GMT

    With so much of India bashing, just want to add the the positives for Indian batsmen who are new to Tes cricket (yet) is that the attack of Styen, Morkel and Phil on SA soil is the best they could get as a stepping stone. Infact Dhawan, Kholi, Rohit and Pujara are lucky coz they will get a lot of games on such tough hostile conditions in SA, NZ, England and Aus whcih can only make them better cricketers. I guess selectors will persist with these 4 or atleast 3 in all these 13 Tests within 14 months. So can look forward for more India bashing and in end if Indian batsmen benefit from such a tough ardous tour scheudle good for thier cricket.

  • Inam on December 16, 2013, 1:27 GMT

    Indian team will be slaughtered by Steyn and Co. the Test pitch will be very tough to negotiate, Indian batting looks so much out of comfort zone on very easy pitch. I am not sure how they will handle, only men who could survive is Pujara and may be Dhoni. Any one who can play on back foot better will survive. Good luck Pujara.

  • Ralph on December 16, 2013, 0:58 GMT

    @ Shailendra - they were great. but I wonder how they would go if they had to bowl 90 overs a day not 75 against batsmen with helmets and protection and were limited to 2 bouncers an over.

    I think they would still be number 1 but not by so much as they couldn't afford to play 4 pacemen every test.

    I think India will struggle if their performance against SA resembles their performance against Aus in Aus 2 summers ago.

  • Vikram on December 15, 2013, 22:55 GMT

    They won't have Sachin Tendulkar to show the way? He surely showed the way in Australia and England in his last series, didn't he?

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