On exploiting the middle overs


The primary cause for concern during the one-day leg of India's tour of West Indies was the inability of the middle-order to step it up on tracks of torpor. Rahul Dravid said India needed to find men with "the power and the creativity" requisite to best exploit the middle overs on such pitches: accordingly, Virender Sehwag, opener, was pushed down the order in three of the league games in Malaysia. He was, subsequently, squished back to the top in the final league game and in the Champions Trophy. But, the middle-overs woes haven't gone away. It is the most striking symptom — and one of the causes — of India's recent trouble in the instant format.

During the glory days — Sri Lanka's tour in October last year to the first game at Kingston, Jamaica — India averaged over five runs an over between overs 20 and 40; during a particularly heady period in Pakistan, India's batsmen actually pillaged middle-over runs at over six an over! That in the phase usually devoted to snooze fests. Since Jamaica, however, runs in overs 20 to 40 have trickled in at a run rate of 4.6. Worryingly, India has, on most occasions recently, hit the slog with half its side back in the hut — a compromising situation.

Former Australian middle-order maven, Darren Lehmann , shared his blueprint for middle-overs success with Sportstar.

On planning the innings:

I suppose it depends on the situation of the game and what a side needs. If your side needs quick runs, there isn't much choice except being positive. If you're trying to chase a total down, it might be getting it down to what is manageable, and that maybe ones and twos. You might need to take a few risks early; you might need to take a few later. It really is about thinking on your feet out there and not getting too caught up in the pressure. The expectations are obviously high — especially here in India with all the fans — but you try not to panic. You play each ball — that's all you can do.

On compartmentalising the middle overs into smaller blocks:

That's right — you compartmentalise it into two overs, three overs. And then reassess, see how that went. If you need to take a risk, you might take it then, or you may decide you don't need to take a risk. You can get anything off the last 10 overs.

On the change in strategy for the smaller grounds in West Indies:

Ones and twos are still important — you're not going to get the threes like you would in Australia. Running between wickets and turning over the strike is still key. Probably in the West Indies, with the smaller grounds, the blokes will be able to hit a lot more fours and sixes as well.

On the increased importance of athleticism (Lehmann says he's the last of the ones that drank, smoked, and tipped the scales at an obscene number):

The game has evolved into this fast, athletic game. Everyone has improved their running, and there is so much more attention to detail such as how they prepare, what they feed themselves, what they drink, what they relax with.

On the need for improvisation in stroke selection:

I think you are allowed to do that because there are a lot more gaps. There's normally a third-man, a fine-leg, a deep square-leg. You hit the ball to third-man you get one straight away, you get the ball to square leg, you get one as well. The thing there is you can always get one every ball pretty much. But, also you need not complicate it too much. If a bowler bowls a good ball, you've got to respect it.

S. Ram Mahesh