Judicious stroke-play is the key to success in the subcontinent
When the ball turns and jumps, the men at silly point and short-leg become large, looming figures and the pressure builds with every delivery. Welcome to the subcontinental conundrum.
The shackles can be broken through brave, aggressive strokeplay.
Or, if a batsman is sure about his defensive attributes, he can wear the spinners down and eventually find a way past the maze.
Ian Chappell, brave-hearted and light-footed, countered spin greats Bishan Singh Bedi and Erapalli Prasanna in the captivating 1968-69 series with a positive mind-set.
Yet, he was sure about his defence. Judicious stroke-play is the key. This was also a quality that the Australian batsmen — Michael Clarke and Moises Henriques were glorious exceptions — lacked as the visiting side lost the first Airtel Test at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium by a mile.
Not picking the length
The Australians were not decisive about their methods. They were not picking the length well enough and this, consequently, hurt their footwork.
When Matthew Hayden notched up a phenomenal 549 runs in that epic three-Test 2001 series in India, he did so with a fine blend of attack and defence.
Strong on the sweep, he not only disrupted the length of the Indian spinners with the stroke but also kept the good deliveries out with tight defence.
It must be remembered that the sweep shot can be a double-edged sword; its execution is vital. Some of the Aussies discovered this the hard way in the first Test at Chepauk.
Calculated onslaught, Hayden’s strength, has its advantages.
All of a sudden, the ball seems to stop spinning, the close-in fielders disappear and a bowling side is forced to shift from a wicket-taking mode to a defensive one.
This is vastly different from pre-determined, and often fatal, aggression.
The manner in which left-handed opener Ed Cowan, who stepped down and took an ungainly swipe at R. Ashwin in the first innings after playing himself in (he made 29), was self-destructive.
Cowan, who has innings-building skills, perished due to an ill-advised strategy when he could have gone on to play a bigger role.
It almost seemed as if some of the Australian batsmen were unsure about their defensive skills against the turning ball. Hence, they resorted to overly attacking and often suicidal means.
Let’s travel back to Australia’s tour of India in 2004 when Adam Gilchirst — he led the side in the decisive first three Tests — and his men conquered the ‘Final Frontier.’
Damien Martyn made a critical match-saving second innings 104 on a red-soil track in Chennai when the Australians were veering towards defeat.
The technically sound Martyn played ‘back and back’ to spinners after taking an off-stump guard.
Martyn was solid off his back-foot, played the ball late, gauged the extent of turn and forced the spinners to alter their length. Once the right-hander made the spinners bowl to his strength, he scored runs off them.
Crucially, his stance — the spinners did not get a clear view of his off-stump — made the Indian bowlers extremely unsure about their line and forced the bowlers to rethink their plan.
Clarke’s methods in India — he has 847 runs in 11 Tests with three centuries — have been a wonderful mix of defence and attack.
Again, the value of the use of feet to get to the pitch of the flighted ball or using the depth of the crease to shorten the length cannot be over-emphasised.
Henriques lacks the natural gifts of Clarke but he went forward or played back in a manner that was sure-footed.
And, banishing self doubts, he struck the ball cleanly.
There is a lesson to be learnt from Henriques for some of the more reputed specialist batsmen in this Australian side.