Of obstacles and training

S. Ram Mahesh

Players go through special drill for short balls

Mumbai: Seldom have chairs been put to such innovative use. In the years gone by, they were as essential to a session of nets as the steaming cuppa prop-ups for men who had wearied of a knock. No longer; now they are props.

At the Wankhede Stadium here on Thursday, Team India warmed up, commando style, in a relay obstacle course that had as its building block the humble chair.

The course involved the following: running around chairs tipping balls off cones, and then placing them back on; an interrupted sprint that necessitated wriggling under a table, and hurdling a chair-propped banner (those less athletically inclined straddled it painfully); a return to the mark for a team member to take over.

"It's just a fun drill," said Yuvraj Singh, who once brought down the table he was supposed to go through. "We do a different one every time just for a few laughs and to warm up. It gets the mood going, and everyone focuses a 100 per cent."

The fun and games gave way to the serious business of ironing out chinks. The bounce afforded by the track in Mohali had India in trouble in the first innings before Rahul Dravid conducted his master class, and the tail applied itself commendably. Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, and M. S. Dhoni were victims of spiteful deliveries that leapt off the wicket.

Short stuff

Accordingly, at the net used for throwdowns, bio-mechanist Ian Frazer and trainer Greg King pinged in short stuff from 16 yards with a mixture of leather-lacquered cricket balls and coloured synthetic balls that bounce more. Frazer even used a step-up platform to throw down from, simulating the English bowlers' extra vertical inches.

"A lot of teams have problems with bounce, but yes we are working towards it," said Yuvraj. "We are aware of the additional bounce Flintoff can get."

The trick with this drill is not every ball is banged in - the length is mixed up and the batsman can't rest on his back foot. M. S. Dhoni, who arrived early with Piyush Chawla, was first up. Twice, the newly coiffured wicket-keeper fended off awkwardly, but a juddering pull shot later he was ducking and getting inside the line with felicity.

Tendulkar, Jaffer, and Dravid used their differing physical attributes to deal with the short ball. Tendulkar, who is set to become India's highest cap Test cricketer, chose only to play at those that rose chest-high; any higher and he went under. Once he swivelled inside the line and - in a ferocious hook - caught up with the ball as it passed him.

Jaffer stood erect, and used his wrists and the additional inches at his disposal to stop it dead. Dravid, on his quicksilver feet, manoeuvred the ball into the on-side and made room to cut. The ones at the captain's face were kept down.

The other note of some concern has been the catching the specialty of the visitor to the Indian nets. Yajurvindra Singh once took seven catches (vs. England at Bangalore in 1976/77) a world record jointly held by one of his listeners on Thursday, Greg Chappell. Yajurvindra held forth on the art of close catching to an audience that comprised Dravid, Yuvraj, Jaffer, Kaif, Kumble and Kiran More, chairman of selectors.