Indians struggle with hook and pull
To pull and hook or refrain from doing so — that is the great non-subcontinental conundrum.
The Indians decided to go for it here on Sunday and the results were disastrous. Four batsmen — Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan, Suresh Raina and Mahenda Singh Dhoni — fell as a consequence.
The temptation was there. The square boundaries were short and there was bounce to draw the stroke. And the Kiwi pacemen set the trap. The short-pitched deliveries were deliberate; and the resultant top-edges anticipated.
The Indians did not either pick the right delivery for the stroke or roll their wrists over it to keep it down.
There is a subtle difference between the hook and the pull. The hook is generally played against a quick bowler where the batsman actually uses the pace of the ball to direct it behind square. It’s more about reflexes and instinct than power.
There is more power involved in pull. Here the batsman imparts real force on the ball, rockets it in front of square. If the bounce is high, the hook — and not the pull — is the answer. Several sub-continental batsmen do not make this distinction.
When one watched the replays of the first ODI here, it became apparent that the Indians were not in control of these strokes. The head was not steady and the back foot did not quite move towards the ideal middle and leg stump.
Again, batsmen brought on the sub-continental tracks are bound to have difficulties in pulling off the shot.
You have to keep your eye on the ball, judge the extent of bounce. Even if you seek to hit it in the air in a bid to clear the ropes, you have got to pick your spot — Shane Watson does this exceptionally well.
There have been Indians too who have played the shot really well. Rahul Dravid might have had the reputation of being a defence-oriented batsman but possessed a rasping pull. Sachin Tendulkar’s pulls were of such quality that Sir Donald Bradman took notice.
Virat Kohli is someone in the present team who is a confident puller if not a hooker. He picks the length early and his transfer of weight is brilliant.
With this series and the No.1 slot in the ODI rankings at stake, and the ICC ODI World Cup in Australia and New Zealand looming, India has to find quick answers. Aggressive short-pitched bowling has worked against India in major competitions.
In successive World Twenty20s, in England and the West Indies, the Indians were done in by relentless short-pitched stuff. Actually, these deliveries were not above the shoulder level; it was with lifting chest high balls that the pacemen pinned the Indian batsmen down.
In the abbreviated forms of the game, the asking rate mounts with every delivery, and there is a need to keep the scoreboard moving. It is not just about the two bouncers allowed, it is also about coping with balls aimed at the rib-cage.
You may need to play the hook and the pull, but pick the right ball and be decisive.
Then, there is the rather sub-continental response too — directing the short-pitched flier over the slip cordon by harnessing the pace. Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag mastered this shot which unsettles a quick bowler’s length. Yet, this is a stroke high on the scale of difficulty.