India in South Africa 2013-14 December 6, 2013

India's bowlers struggle to adapt

If India can change their bowling philosophy during a watertight tour and deliver the results, it will be an incredible achievement. Otherwise we will be back to expecting the batsmen to clean up

Towards the end of South Africa's training session a day before the Johannesburg ODI, coach Russell Domingo asked a few volunteers to go deep into the outdoor practice facility at the Wanderers. "JP [Duminy] is going to hit long balls. We'll need somebody to retrieve them," he said. This was a pretty simple exercise. Domingo was giving Duminy throwdowns. He gave Duminy straight length balls at an average pace, Duminy opened up his front leg, and swung through the line of them. And he actually hit them long. This was all about getting the swing right, it seemed. So all he wanted was those straight length balls without much menace. It turned out to be the perfect replication of what Duminy would face from the India bowlers out in the middle come match day.

Even before India reached the stage where Duminy and AB de Villiers hit them at will, taking 100 runs in the last six overs, their bowlers had ceded the advantage of winning the toss when the pitch was green and dew was expected later in the evening. To say that the poor bowling and the consequent high total made the Indian batting look worse than they might be might sound a bit harsh on the bowlers playing their first internationals in South Africa, without any practice games, with little preparation time, but it is clear that the bigger bridge between the two sides is their bowling and not the batting. India's home success over the last year has been built on the slowness of the pitches, and their bowlers have it all to do when the bounce is true and the ball comes on.

The opening bowlers Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Mohit Sharma bowled a bit like R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha did during the home series against England last year: put the ball there, and expect the conditions to do the rest. When the half-volleys were put away, they overcompensated, and at their pace were easy to put away for runs. Mohit did make a good comeback when he produced chances from both the South African openers in one over, but that over proved to be an exception. Once the new balls had been wasted, Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were worked away easily, and the final statement from de Villiers and Duminy was emphatic.

For years the great Indian batting line-up compensated for an ordinary bowling attack, and drew all the flak when they couldn't. Now, with both departments almost starting afresh, might be time the expectations were more even. The likes of Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will be criticised much more than the bowlers because they have raised the expectations with exceptional numbers in the home season.

Thanks to them, India got away with conceding 300 nearly every time at home, but they cannot afford to go for 300 on pitches that have assistance for the quicks. "Overall it was a bad performance," said the captain MS Dhoni, not mincing words. "It started with the bowlers initially. This was not really a 350-plus wicket. We didn't start well. We were supposed to bowl it up, and the wicket would have done the rest. We didn't get the kind of start that was needed. At the same time we should have backed it up with some good batting, but we weren't able to do it."

By the time South African got hold of the two new balls, they got it to seam, swing, bounce and whiz through. Dhoni might have preferred pitching it up and expecting the pitch to do the rest because the Indian bowlers don't have the pace to bowl short, but Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were not just putting it there, they were forcing out all the assistance from the pitch. That combined with the high total left the batsmen a difficult choice between either letting the asking rate go too high or playing low-percentage shots.

"They know the conditions better than us," Dhoni said. "They know what lengths to bowl. That is one of the reasons why I want our bowlers to step up, so that you don't give away 300 runs. That puts pressure on the batsmen, because they have to go after the bowling right from the first ball, which was not easy on this wicket against bowlers like Dale Steyn. If you see how he bowled to Rohit, he didn't move away from the good areas."

Dhoni and coach Duncan Fletcher are big fans of good areas and performing within the limitations, but the answer might not lie just in the good areas. Mohammed Shami clearly hit the pitch harder than the opening bowlers, and he produced better results. South African conditions are difficult for batting, but they are not quite as overcast as England or New Zealand where the ball can do things by itself. You have to coax it out of the surfaces, otherwise the quick and small outfields can be quite unforgiving.

If India can change their bowling philosophy during a watertight tour and deliver the results, it will be an incredible achievement. Otherwise we will be back to expecting the batsmen to clean up after the bowlers.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on December 8, 2013, 13:12 GMT

    why zak is not in team india in onday ???? Ishant again why bcci why???

  • Dummy4 on December 8, 2013, 4:36 GMT

    There is no point blaming BCCI for the rut. MSD as a captain has to put his foot down and say i need good fast bowlers and I am sure there are many prospects in the domestic circuit and at MRF pace foundation. But instead he relies too much on batting and feels that his team can chase any totals. Not sure hwy Mohit sharma was selected in the first place, What happened to Dinda. Where is Varun Aron? Why does Dhoni keep persisting with Ishanth.

  • Ashok on December 8, 2013, 0:31 GMT

    @Vilander: Your suggestion for changes to XI for ODI #2 are right on. Why Dhoni kept Shami from opening the bowling in the first ODI is No brainer!. Yadev & shami need to open the bowling. India has to capture early wkts. with the new ball in the first 8 overs, to restrict the total. Yuvraj's days of facing fast bowlers are over. The OZ ODI series proved it convincingly. Pujara who was with the team in Johannesburg is the ideal replacement for Yuvi. But MSD has been strongly opposed to Pujara in ODI's. Hopefully he will get Rahane or Rayudu in. Playing yuvraj is like batting with 10. Personally I would have identical Test batting line up for top 5 even for ODI's. Does India need 2 spinners in SA or 4 seamers? Dhoni has fixed plans & goes with them rightly or wrongly irrespective of the conditions. They may work in India but on overseas trips they are disasterous! He needs someone else picking the best XI for him. Time for talking is over - India needs to walk the talk now!

  • Peter on December 7, 2013, 22:55 GMT

    I have seen a couple of promising Indian pace bowlers but seriously as long as the Indian authorities give their bowlers flat pitches that make them do back breaking work, no quick bowler will prosper. Where is the incentive for Indian quick bowlers to develop? How is this good for Indian cricket when they don't allow their quicks to develop like those from other countries? I feel for Umesh, who showed great promise when he toured here last time. He has had to bowl on flat pitches with no help at all. As long as this continues, the void of pace will forever linger IMHO.

  • Babu on December 7, 2013, 21:42 GMT

    Lovely to have Yadav Ishant and Shami bowling 140k+ and as SA commentators mentioning let things happen with fast bowling with bowling right lengths rather than bowling with experiments that India did with BKumar and MSharma. Let the ball talk by Indian pace trio Y I S. All the best India team and God bless you India!!!!

  • Par on December 7, 2013, 21:27 GMT

    @anurag and Harmony. Are you kidding yourself ? SA has prepared similar wickets and lost to India (in tests), AUs (in tests) and I suppose recently against Pak in ODI. In meantime they were even outdone by SL fast bowlers once at home all due to preparing true SA wickets. So please keep this commenting away. Its similar to india lost toEngland, everyone complained about English condtions. remember what happened when england toured india ??

  • Muthuvel on December 7, 2013, 19:37 GMT

    Two catches dropped two runouts poor opening bowling , no yadav. Make these errors go away Dhoni, there is chance to win the next two games just take it.

  • Muthuvel on December 7, 2013, 19:35 GMT

    Get Umesh in not Ishant Ishant will spray it short outside off and get carded all around, Bhuvnesh if he can get his line and length corrected for bouncy SA surfaces should play ahead of Mohit and Ishant. But Yadav has to play, and open with Shami. And please let Yuvi sit out for Rahane ( but wont happen bloody Steyn took care of that by stating his name and now Dhoni wont drop him to give Yuvi a chance at Steyn- but the whole world knows who will win that bout in SA). Rayudu might be a better bet that Jadeja, Ashwin cant be dropped as he is probably our best batsman in middle order after Dhoni.

  • Monif on December 7, 2013, 18:10 GMT

    Harmony_not_Discord, Are you joking, It was always Imran, Botham, Kapil and Hadlee. You missed Botham man. And Hadlee was not an Allrounder, he was best bowler among them. Imran was best as a leader.

  • Harmon on December 7, 2013, 16:13 GMT

    This also shows what a profound waste of a talent Ishant Sharma is. He has got stamina, he has got pace, he has got a very good incoming ball but he does not have what is needed the most -- the brains. Had he learnt to bowl in these 5yrs then imagine what lovely attack we would have had --- Ishant Sharma, Umesh Yadav & Mohd Shami -- all bowling 140+. Not only would this attack have kept any batting team on backfoot but the very presence of this attack would have meant that the home team would not have dared to make fast wickets. Thus, India are doubly disadvantaged here. Our batsmen have to score more runs in more challenging situations against much superior attacks and when they fail they get labelled as Flat Track Bullies. It is another matter that the other teams can't score even half of what we score on flat tracks.

    I am hopeful that Bhuvi & Mohit will show marked improvement from now on & will make the Indian bowling tougher.