A few tips to face pacemen

India cannot expect to be a world power in cricket unless they learn to play new ball bowlers.

BY BOB SIMPSON

Rahul is not ball-shy but after a poor season in New Zealand is lacking in confidence. This was very obvious in his dismissal against Australia when he dragged a short ball, from Jason Gillespie, well wide of his stumps, trying to play a defensive shot without moving his feet. — Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN-— Pic. V. V. KRISHNAN

India cannot expect to be a world power in cricket unless they learn to play new ball bowlers.

They struggled against the moving ball on poor batting wickets in New Zealand and capitulated against Australia's pacemen in South Africa.

India have generally not handled this type of bowling well, but what is worrying me now is an apparent lack of application as to the best way to handle these bowlers.

No batsman in my experience likes playing against pace. Some may suggest they do, but I am yet to see a totally fearless batsman who has never flinched against pace.

Even the great West Indian batting line up of the Seventies and Eighties backed off against Geoff Thomson in Barbados in 1978. Undoubtedly, this was the quickest bowling I have ever seen and to this day the "bajans" will tell you it was the quickest bowling ever seen in the West Indies.

I have also seen some of the bravest batsmen, I have known, finally broken and their careers finished when they have had enough of the mental and physical rigours of facing class express bowlers.

Even today, with all the armour the batsmen wear, it is not easy against quick bowlers. Indeed in many cases pace has made them more vulnerable as they attempt misguided hooks or attempt to avoid the ball with technical flaws and turn their heads and rely on helmets to save them from disastrous injuries. In my estimate, batsmen of the helmet era get hit in the head about 10 times more than those in the pre-helmet days. Every hit will dent the confidence of the batsmen and reduce their run-making capacity. Few batsmen would get hit if they did not hook or watched the ball onto the bat or through to the `keeper.

The old boxing adage of "you never see the punch that hits you," is true also with fast bowlers' missiles. Every batsman is different physically, physiologically and mentally. No two batsmen have the same method and why should they.

All batsmen, however, must have a method of playing fast bowlers and that should be the way that is best suited to them, to enable them to score runs.

In the end, survival and scoring runs is what it is all about and it doesn't matter how you do it to achieve this result.

In the early Nineties, Steve Waugh was in trouble. He obviously did not like fast bowlers and was having trouble scoring runs even as the pacemen directed the balls to his ribs and got him caught down on the leg side. Further he was too side-on and couldn't play the ball away for singles and this put more pressure on him.

At that stage he hadn't appreciated as Bill Lawry and I did very early in our careers — that the best place against good pace bowlers was at the bowlers end. This meant rotating the strike, so that the fast bowlers got less time to put pressure on individual batsman and force them into error.

Steve Waugh accepted this advice and learned to open up his back foot defensive shots and pushed the ball away for singles. In addition, he learnt to let go the ball that was directed to his body by ducking under or swaying away from them. Not pretty, but effective and frustrating for the fast men who just hate to see batsmen easily letting the ball go.

The bowlers would rather see a batsman trying to keep the steepling ball down or trying to hook, for they know both these methods make the batsmen more likely to get out. In addition, Steve Waugh stopped looking at the ball off the pitch, but he learnt to watch it right out of the bowler's hand.

This allows a batsman at least a yard extra to pick up the length and line of the ball and gives him more time to get into the right position. Invariably, most batsmen who are having trouble with fast bowling don't watch the ball out of the bowler's hand. This is because they are looking too much for the bounce.

Their mind is concerned about their ability to handle this type of ball and because of this they invariable are late in their decision-making.

This was very obvious with the dismissals of Ganguly and Sehwag against Australia.

Ganguly is known as a batsman who is a little ball-shy, he doesn't like short pitch bowling (who does) and shows it. Ganguly tried every weird way to overcome the Australia pace bowlers' persistency, including charging and backing away to try and thrash the ball through the off side, though without success.

He was obviously not watching the ball from the hand and in the end while expecting a short ball thrashed one well up and wide enough to be called a wide. He obviously wasn't concentrating properly and when you are looking for short balls you inevitably go for something you shouldn't and at this stage you feel the ball is a magnet and you can't stop your bat from being drawn to it.

How do I know? Like every other batsman it has happened to me. With just a over or two to go one day in the 4th Test in 1961, in the great series against the West Indies, I was 80-odd not out and decided to just play out the remaining balls. I was so consciously expecting a short ball from the big fellow Wes Hall, but when it was `up' I was drawn into a terrible shot to be caught behind.

Sehwag is new to international cricket, but the news is carried quickly by cable TV. These days the message is out that he doesn't like the short stuff.

Every time he goes out to bat these days the quicks pepper him with bounces. Brett Lee upset his equilibrium with a short ball and then suckered him in with a very very wide full-length deliver. Without moving his feet and with poor concentration he was out caught behind. Like Ganguly, he was chasing for a short ball and was drawn into errors.

Rahul Dravid was out in a similar way, but for a different reason. Rahul is not ball-shy but after a poor season in New Zealand is lacking in confidence.

As a result he too is just looking to survive, rather than play each ball on its merit. And he is looking to defend every ball before it is even delivered. This was very obvious in his dismissal against Australia when he dragged a short ball from well wide of his stumps, trying to play a defensive shot without moving his feet.

Just a short time ago he would have played his favourite square cut to such a delivery. India cannot afford to go into matches with such a defensive attitude.

All batsmen must adopt a positive attitude and be looking to score runs from each ball.

If you are mentally aggressive you will move quicker, concentrate better. Right now the Indian batsmen are too passive and their body language is too negative.