West Indies v India, tri-series, Kingston July 1, 2013

When attack is the best form of defence

The best way to survive and flourish on a pitch with variable pace and bounce is to adopt a more aggressive approach

Sample this - 11 maidens out of the 97 (completed) overs and 347 dot balls (59%) out of the 586 bowled in an ODI. Those are appalling stats coming from a match played between two sides that boast of the world's most dynamic players. Was it poor batting, were there demons in the pitch, or was it simply exceptional limited-overs bowling?

If it was poor batting then what explains 46 boundaries, including as many as 11 sixes, in the interim? Who was hitting those big ones? If there were indeed demons in the pitch, then it's difficult to fathom how batsmen from both sides lasted that long. And, it wasn't the last option either: the bowling, at no stage, looked menacing enough to architect those statistics.

So, what was the mystery behind some of the better stroke-makers of the cricket ball playing an altogether different brand of cricket? Well, it was indeed the pitch that dictated a certain kind of play, at least till the batsmen chose to take a little bit of risk. While there were no apparent demons in the pitch, the variable pace and bounce off the pitch ensured that getting away was really difficult.

Believe it or not, at Sabina Park during the second ODI between India and West Indies, hitting a four or a six was a lot easier than taking a single to rotate strike. The moment the batsman tried to place the ball in the gap, he ended up either offering a dead bat because the ball either arrived a little quicker or later than he expected or he couldn't hit the ball hard enough to beat the inner ring. Also with the new laws, the mandatory extra fielder inside the 30-yard circle added to the misery.

This pitch reminded me of the one I batted on in the Dhaka Premier League, a 50-overs-a-side tournament between clubs. The team batting first struggled through their quota of overs and managed only 175 runs on a slow and sluggish pitch that offered spinners a fair amount of assistance. Still, chasing less than four-an-over might stretch us a bit but should be achieved, or so we thought.

I opened the batting with the knowledge that scoring was going to be a little tricky, yet I knew if I spent time on the pitch, batting would eventually become easier for that's what I'd been conditioned to believe. I waited for the loose balls to come my way. On a pitch that offered variable bounce and pace, the margin of error was larger for the bowler, resulting in fewer hittable balls. My plan B was to take singles and rotate strike till I gauged the pace and bounce but that didn't happen either. I kept finding the fielders instead of gaps.

Then came the trickiest bit - a first in my career. Even when the loose balls were bowled begging to be punished, I couldn't hit them for boundaries. I was playing proper cricketing shots but the rewards weren't proportional to the effort. The cover drive wasn't traveling quick enough and the cut wasn't piercing the off side field either. I scratched around for a little longer before perishing.

That innings and the subsequent chat with a few players who were regulars in the Bangladesh circuit did much to decode these sort of pitches, and of course the way to deal with them. On such batting surfaces, rotating strike is difficult because the pace and bounce off the pitch is so inconsistent that you don't know when to bring the bat down to find the right timing or control the pace and direction of the ball off the bat to hit the gaps. If you keep trying to play the ball on its merit, you'll end up hitting it directly to the fielders all the time unless it's a rank long hop or a full toss.

The only way to score on such pitches is to adopt a slightly more aggressive approach and shelve the percentages on the balls that are in your hitting zone. You ought to take the odd risk, take the aerial route and hit a few boundaries to not only release but also transfer the pressure to the bowler; just sticking around will be playing into the bowlers' hands. That's exactly what Dinesh Karthik did against Marlon Samuels.

Rohit Sharma in the first innings and Johnson Charles in the second showed that if you are willing to take calculated risks, the rewards were forthcoming. Of course, you would also need a bit of luck to succeed but taking that punt is the best and perhaps the only way to succeed on such a pitch.

The pitch for the second ODI was the same one on which the first match between West Indies and Sri Lanka was played. If the same pitch is going to be used for the last match of the series in Jamaica on Tuesday, another laborious day for batsmen is in the offing.

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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • charlie on July 2, 2013, 5:05 GMT

    Could any one explain why Narine is constantly being sent in before Tino Best in WI cricket ? From my observation , Narine is avery reluctant warrior especially against the pace and should be sent in last within the present line-up .

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2013, 13:41 GMT

    Aakash, I am afraid I have to totally disagree. The pitch changed during the course of the game. It WAS a lot easier to bat on. When WI were 5 down and needed 60 odd runs to win, they could have just rotated the strike and won it comfortably. The Indian team was hit hard after their captain was off the field. WI could have easily taken advantage of that and Sammy could have just rotated strike and tried to look to hit the odd boundaries. Instead they made a game out of it and almost lost it...

  • Donna on July 1, 2013, 13:40 GMT

    A huge part of playing cricket is analysing conditions and adapting. Cricketers must learn to think on their feet. Charles' only 'luck' came when he was in the 80s. He's just good at that kind of game!

  • Kaustav on July 1, 2013, 13:24 GMT

    Indian almost made a game out of it & should have won it. Its the failure of Indian fast bowlers who cannot even deliver a single yorker.

  • Srinivas on July 1, 2013, 13:16 GMT

    The pitch made for a very boring match yesterday. Only towards the last 10 overs did the match come alive.

  • o on July 1, 2013, 12:50 GMT

    Would love to see Charles in next IPL he hit some of the biggest sixes I've ever seen yesterday during a very mature innings under pressure really deserved another 100.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2013, 12:33 GMT

    Perfectly correct logic. But propitiate the Goddess Luck, with all your might, before you put that into practice. (Yes, Charles seems to had a deal with Her!)

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2013, 9:51 GMT

    well this is interesting in contrast 2 so many critics bashing rohit for throwing away his wicket when he was actually trying 2 up the ante & unfortunately got out. d thing for rohit is he does the right thing d wrong way. ppl dont understand that a ball meant 2 be hit should be dealt that way, no matter if u get out. ppl question his temperament when ODI & T20 is more abt momentum. what's d guarentee that if u score 50 more runs, u'll surely win. temerament is more of a thing for test matches,which he surely will display if given a chance.

  • Dummy4 on July 1, 2013, 7:58 GMT

    Windies have a long tradition of attacking, flambouyant cricketers. At Sabina Park it paid off for Charles, Sammy and Bravo. Nail biting stuff, very exciting to watch, but to be honest India was in the match to the end. Well done Windies, the team is beginning to show a combative and resolute streak.

  • James on July 1, 2013, 7:30 GMT

    Yes, understood, the right approach would have been to be a bit circumspect, and also take a few risks. However given this, I am at a loss to understand the criticism of most commentators on the dismissals of Rohit Sharma, Kohli, Jadeja etc. they were trying to take a few risks, because of the mistiming, they got out. I heard, the toss was significant, and India did quite well to get close to WI, in fact if chances like those by WK Karthik could have been taken, the match would have been closer.