Apart from skipper Virat Kohli, other batsmen betray lack of footwork and judgment on English strips, which they have to address
or the last two days here, dark clouds have swirled over the heads. It pelted down on Tuesday night, though clear skies broke out on Wednesday. The 22 yards still seemed dry, with grass on the surface to hold it together.
Both teams haven’t announced their final eleven, humming and hawing about the possibility of two spinners. But that can wait. The bigger picture is simple: India need to win here, else they stand the risk of getting buried in the series.
What interests one is how the batsmen hold up. India were denied a win in Edgbaston by their own hands.
“Get on to that front foot. In England, you make a living off your front foot.” No one said that explicitly but it used to be the philosophy of most Indian batsmen from earlier generations when it came to batting in this land. Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly. Even the current batting coach Sanjay Bangar, for that matter, in that famous Headingly Test. If there is one thing that has been missing in the current lot, it’s that forward stride.
Over the two days, with the opportunity to stand really close where you can almost touch the net strings, the absence of the front foot stride hit you more than ever. Barring that man Virat Kohli, of course. A short forward press later, he decides where his foot should roam, according to the needs of the ball.
Not so with the others. The likes of KL Rahul, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara, Shikhar Dhawan and even Murali Vijay – who in the past has shown a preference to get forward – like to stick around on the crease.
Not that they are stuck; in fact, if anything, it’s a treadmill kind of movement. They go forward, but hustle back at release even to length deliveries. It was all quite fascinating. Why would you do that? What’s the thought behind it? Almost as if their head was telling them to get forward but something was holding them back.
Rahul’s technique, in particular, is quite interesting. Forget the foot, it’s his hands that you notice. Not many batsmen pick up the bat the way he does. In his stance, his hands are held behind the body. Even Kohli starts off like that but he pushes it forward just before release, just as he takes that forward press. Rahul’s hands remain behind.
No wonder he tends to reach out to full deliveries outside off a touch awkwardly. His upper body is leaning forward but hands that drive the bat trail behind and when the ball is slightly away and full, his hands just go at it. Since it’s a fraction behind, it’s going to come that much late, and often, he ends up jabbing the drive, away from the body.
Vijay was very intense on Tuesday. Much would come down to him if India are to pull off something special here. He has looked in good nick and his general demeanour suggests he is desperate for a big score. He is one of the batsmen who likes getting on that front foot. He is at his best when he can lean forward.
Coming in, or going straight?
His troubles start when he isn’t sure whether the ball is coming in or holding its line. He isn’t someone who is unsure of his off- stump. But if he is unable to read the ball, he can invariably push out or like he did at Edgsbaston, shoulder arms purely based on the line of the ball.
In hindsight, it seems the South African tour where he had problems picking the action of bowlers like Vernon philander has made him a bit tentative.
That shouldering-arms-dismissal to Stuart Broad, whose stock ball cuts into right-handed batsmen, should nag him. He is better than that. India would hope he reels off a big score here: he has the talent, temperament and, it seems, a fierce desire.
Of course, every batsmen has his own technique but this one step forward, one step back routine (in England) of Indian batsmen did prick the mind. And so you ask Kohli. And his answer was wise. That every batsman has his own plans and these guys have been trying their best at the nets.
“As a batsman, it is very difficult for me to point it out. Individuals react differently to different things, variable reasons as to why a particular player is doing a certain thing on the field. How I prepare will be very different from another player,” he said.
He further observed that he can’t gauge what’s going through a batsman’s head when he walks out to the middle.
“You can’t pinpoint exactly what the mindset is when a player goes out to bat … It is about going out and being positive about every situation you are in and not about thinking what is going to happen. It is just about seeing the ball and reacting according to the ball,” he said.
Lessons from the past
He then dipped into his own past to point out the mental errors that had held him back. “Sometimes as a batsman, I have faltered in the past when I have thought maybe I will get a good ball somewhere and look to tide over at that particular time. That is something that has pulled me back. Now I am in a zone where I have to respect a good ball, back my ability and play for as long as I can.”
“ You are definitely going to get out, you just delay that. It is not that you can’t get out in cricket. You just have to try and delay that eventuality which as batsmen, we all try to achieve,” he explained.
It’s nice of him to say that, but you don’t get that feeling when you watch him bat. You don’t get the sense he is trying to survive, delay, but rather score runs.
That seems to be missing in a couple of others. As he said, it all comes down to how confident you are as a batsman when you step out. One suspects it also comes down to what’s your intent even as you are delaying that moment when you get out.