Flat track — handicap and a possibility

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NOT AT HIS BEST: Even though Harbhajan Singh picked up two wickets, the loop was missing in his bowling.
NOT AT HIS BEST: Even though Harbhajan Singh picked up two wickets, the loop was missing in his bowling.

S. Dinakar

The Indian bowlers failed to maintain a consistent line on day one

Pacemen undone by left-right opening combination of Smith and McKenzie

Kumble was countered comfortably by the South Africans for most part

Chennai: A benign pitch such as the first-day wicket at Chepauk is both a handicap and a possibility. The nature of the surface offers the bowlers little, but they also have the opportunity to create chances.

What are the ingredients required to dent line-ups when a wicket, excessively rolled and easy, does not concede much to the bowlers?

Air speed: Speed in the air can overcome hurdles posed by the pitch. In fact, there are times when bowlers with air speed do not require assistance from the surface to strike. Those swinging toe-crushers with the older ball can hurt line-ups.

Ishant sorely missed

India missed Ishant Sharma on day one at the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium. The lanky paceman is the only Indian bowler who can, on occasion, be classified as quick.

Santhakumaran Sreesanth and, to a lesser extent, Rudra Pratap Singh, are at best sharp. Perhaps, with his height and high-arm action, Ishant could have extracted more bounce from the surface as well.

There were occasions when Sreesanth and R.P. Singh attempted swing from a fuller length, but were picked for runs since their line was awry. They also lacked that additional velocity to breach defences.

The Indian pacemen were undone by the left-right combination of Graeme Smith and Neil McKenzie. The contrasting heights of the South African pair forced the bowlers to alter their length.

The focus in the Test will be on Dale Steyn, the quickest bowler in the air on either side. Steyn can get the ball to dart away from the right-hander at great pace and bring it back equally fast.

Importantly, for the sub-continental conditions, he bowls a fuller length which indicates he relies on movement in the air.

If Pakistan was a major force, even in the sub-continental conditions in the ’90s, it was because Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram beat batsmen in the air with pace.

Of course, there were subtle variations in the angles. Precision is mandatory in this territory. An attempted yorker can so easily be a juicy full toss.

Flight and deception: If the pitch does not offer much, find other ways to send batsmen back. Give the ball air, get the batsman into an attacking mode, set him up and then deceive him in flight.

There were periods on Wednesday when Harbhajan Singh bowled with craft. He flighted the ball around the off-stump, spun it both ways.

Subtle changes

A spinner has to bring about subtle changes in his length while his line can be constant. Alterations of length will also mean he will be varying his trajectory.

Kumble, rightly, had fielders in attacking positions for most part. Perhaps, Harbhajan could have bowled more to the right-handers without a cover, luring the batsman to strike against the spin. Perhaps, he could have gone round the wicket to the right-handers, straightening the ball into the batsman or spinning it away.

Harbhajan flighted, but the dip in flight, the loop, was missing. When the batsmen stepped out, they were able to go through with their shots without finding the ball pitching shorter than they expected.

It remains to be seen whether India will be in the hunt when Harbhajan gets an opportunity to exploit the left-arm paceman’s footmarks in the second innings.

His senior spin partner and captain, Kumble, strove without quite settling into his best rhythm. The pitch, at least on day one, was not conducive to Kumble’s variety of bowling.

The Indian skipper used the crease, even gave the ball a little more air than usual, but was countered comfortably by the South Africans for most part.

Dry up runs

Strangulation: Sheer consistency can evoke mistakes. If a side lacks pace firepower or the required variety in spin, it can adopt defensive or semi-defensive tactics and create the pressure by choking the flow of runs.

However, this was a day when the Indians bowled on both sides of the wicket.

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