On handling short pitched bowling the Aussie way

QUIETLY slipping in and out of Sydney during the last fortnight was none other than the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly. What was he doing here you might ask? Simple really, seeking some coaching from Greg Chappell, the former Australian captain, on how to handle short pitched bowling.

BOB SIMPSON

Like Sourav Ganguly at present. — Pic. VIVEK BENDRE-

QUIETLY slipping in and out of Sydney during the last fortnight was none other than the Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly. What was he doing here you might ask? Simple really, seeking some coaching from Greg Chappell, the former Australian captain, on how to handle short pitched bowling.

Not a bad thought that, for Sourav had a terrible time against the quicks last time he was here and you can be sure he will get plenty of stick this time around.

What did he learn? I have no idea.

I hope though for India's sake it was more on the mental side than anything else for herein lies his main problem.

It is not much fun playing very quick bowlers. Contrary to what some batsmen, mainly in the past like to boast about.

Anybody who says he actually likes facing the fast stuff is mad or lying. There is a great sense of achievement and satisfaction at the end of the day when you have come through and done well, but who in the right frame of mind would actually claim to enjoy standing in front of a bloke bowling at 90 miles an hour!

The superb West Indian opening batsman of the 1950's, Roy Marshall, had a theory that there were two breeds of madmen playing cricket, the fast bowler, because he spent his life tearing 30 yards to bowl his guts out, probably on a flat pitch, and the opening batsman, because only a madman would face a madman! Roy probably got it right. I have no reason to believe that modern batsmen have more courage against fast bowlers than players of the past.

They wear more protection, so they may look a little braver. But I reckon that protective cladding can positively work against batsmen, especially when it becomes a substitute for technique.

Helmets and padding are there to protect against serious injury, not to make a batsman feel invulnerable.

There is a temptation to neglect evasive techniques and rely on the armour plating to absorb every hit.

Batsmen often take their eyes off the ball, turn their head and let the ball hit them in the knowledge they will suffer no serious damage.

All well and good as far as it goes. Yet, good batsmen wearing all the protection available have still been badly injured. However being hit still hurts and letting yourself be hit is an admission that your defensive technique is lacking.

Eventually it saps confidence and when that goes, especially against fast bowling, everything goes with it.

This is exactly where Ganguly finds himself at present and I would recommend that he takes a leaf out of Steve Waugh's book and follow the methods and thoughts he adopted, which led him to be the finest batsman in the world in the late nineties and early 2000's.

In the early to middle nineties, Steve was having a worrying time and was often out trying to fend the chest high flier. Technically he was much too side on, on short balls pitched on middle and leg stump and thus couldn't open up and play the ball down to the on side. This however, wasn't the major problem.

Like Sourav at present, Steve was uncomfortable against the short ball and was looking for it to pitch and then trying to play it from there.

This is probably the worst thing you can do, for you pick the ball up far too late and this doesn't give you the time to play a shot, defend properly or move aside and avoid the bumper.

Steve certainly didn't lack courage and didn't want anyone to think he was scared.

My advise to him was simple. Forget your ego, don't worry how you look, just survive your problem delivery to fight again. My advise on how to achieve this was simple. Watch the ball right out of the bowler's hand, because this enables you to pick up the ball at least a yard quicker than watching the general area of the bowler's hand and at least two yards sooner if you look for the ball off the pitch.

In addition I taught him to open up to balls around his chest so he could turn the delivery to fine leg for singles, get off straight and survive. If I could mention just one point as to why Bill Lawry and I were pretty good openers, I would unhesitantly say our ability to get off strike.

We worked out very quickly in our careers that it was near impossible to get out when you are at the bowler's end and if you did this well enough and consistently rotated the strike, bowlers seldom got the chance to keep you on strike and apply the pressure needed for you to make a vital mistake.

Steve was always a quick learner and put the ideas into place and while he could sometimes look awkward and uncomfortable he seldom got out to bouncers.

Steve deserved his success and became the world's most consistent batsman. I could never understand why the quicks continued to pepper him with bouncers with so little success, when the best place to get Steve out particularly early in his innings was to keep the ball up.

Perhaps Roy Marshall's theory about fast bowlers was right after all.

While Ganguly has the same problem that Steve had, he doesn't try to disguise them and this makes it easier to see his obvious distaste for the bouncers.

It takes a great deal of courage, toughness, both physically and mentally, and a desire to be successful in overcoming good pace bowlers.

Ganguly is one of the most gifted natural strikers of a cricket ball going around world cricket.

Like so many gifted natural players he relies totally on his God given gifts and instincts.

Too much natural talent can be both a Godsent and a disadvantage.

World cricket is littered with gifted players who haven't reached greater heights because they haven't appreciated the fact that it takes more than the "gifted" genes of your parents to be a true champion.

Ganguly has played some wonderfully breathtaking innings. He is a joy to watch when in full cry against bowlers he fancies. But is equally frustrating against those he doesn't fancy.

He will always prosper on the flat sub-continent surfaces, but will struggle in other areas when the ball flies.

The solution lies solely in Ganguly's heart, mind and guts. He is an intelligent young man, ambitious and with a desire to succeed.

If he takes the right advice, and is prepared to take the physical knocks needed to succeed and uses his commonsense, he will enhance his reputation.

If he is just looking for a miracle word of advice to solve his problems against the quicks, he won't find that. I wish him well.