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Left hasn't been right for Indian batsmen

Rohit Sharma's struggles against left-arm pace continued
Rohit Sharma's struggles against left-arm pace continued © AFP
It's only been a year since New Zealand finished playing three Tests and five ODIs here in India, and honestly there are no tectonic plates that have moved under both the teams to offer anything radical. While India looked more or less the same, New Zealand have come in with nine of those 15 who had played the last time around. So to say that it will be about sticking to the same guns again will not be wrong and hence when India's ODI vice-captain Rohit Sharma talked up the battle against left-armers, it offered a mini-narrative, albeit similar to the 2016 tour. On the last tour, Trent Boult had picked up six wickets and was the second highest wicket-taker for his side while Mitchell Santner who couldn't bag too many wickets had still made himself counted with miserly spells throughout the ODI series - an economy of 4 testimony to that.
India had been without a regular left-arm pacer since Zaheer Khan's retirement in August 2012, and thus they hadn't had the opportunity to be up against such a challenge often enough. So when the hosts were to take on a team whose bowling attack is spearheaded by Trent Boult, a bowler of the same ilk, the cracks that had shown up in the recent past - against Mohammad Amir in the Champions Trophy final against Pakistan and more recently against Jason Behrendorff in the second T20I against Australia - had to be concealed carefully. India training with Arjun Tendulkar for some much-needed practice against the same gained a lot of attention. It was a specific length the Indian batsmen seemed to have troubles with, the ones angling across before cutting back off the deck. And when Rohit padded up for the first delivery of the training session on Saturday, he was pinged by a sharp indipper before being probed further in the balls that followed.
Left-arm pace has emerged much like that chewing gum on Rohit's boot, one he has picked up without knowledge and now it doesn't seem to be coming off easily. Before the start of the New Zealand series, Rohit had been dismissed 11 times, the most for any Indian batsman, in ODIs since January 2014. It wasn't any different for his opening partner Shikhar Dhawan either, who had been out nine times himself. So when Boult opened the attack for his team, he was starting that extra yard ahead of his opponents. His first ball could have had Dhawan as he went fishing outside off only for the ball to land short of first slip. Off the next four balls, he could manage just one run. The Delhi opener who relies on width early in his innings wasn't provided any of it and his unease at not being able to score fours showed. Boult got Dhawan nicking behind, a 10th time for the opening batsman to have been dismissed by a left-armer.
His next target was the local boy, Rohit who, having plundered two sixes in the previous over from Tim Southee, seemed buzzing with confidence, or a little over-confidence. He gave Boult the charge with an idea to take on the opposition's best personnel. As brave as the idea sounded, Rohit missed on an attempted heave and his back leg came to the rescue with the ball clipping it to go just past the sticks. The New Zealand spearhead was one not to shy away either as he landed the next ball at a length enticing enough for the Mumbai man to go for a mighty swing. Within the next few seconds Rohit saw his nemesis - the one that angles across and then curls back in - thudding into the stumps. His problems hadn't changed through the two practice sessions. Boult had repeated the act, two times over. Over the next few deliveries, Boult would go past Virat Kohli and Kedar Jadhav's indecisive prods, continuing to swing it viciously from unplayable channels. Between applying ice packs and wrapping himself in wet towels in very humid conditions of Mumbai, Boult had finished his opening spell with two wickets conceding just seven runs in five overs.
In grilling conditions, Boult had poured out his all and as he went off the field for a quick break, Mitchell Santner replaced him in the attack. The Black Caps didn't take the foot off the pedal as the fast-maturing left-arm spinner hurled in eight dots in his first two overs. Much like Boult, Santner too had some history behind him, going out against India. One of his first shows of brilliance was in a World T20 match when the Daniel Vettori-inspired bowler had tied down the Indian batsmen and picked wickets by creating pressure. His 4 for 11 bore testimony to that. During his previous visit to India, Santner couldn't collect wickets in gunny bags, something that every spinner aspires to do in assistive conditions. He, however, gave runs only at four an over to ensure the boundary-loving Indian batsmen were tied down from one end. He did exactly that on Sunday evening as well.
Jadhav chopped one perilously from right on his stumps to get a desperate boundary but spooned a simple return catch off the next delivery. In his first three overs, Santner had already accumulated 13 dots including a wicket. He ended his first spell for 19 runs from five overs. Later in the day as Kohli and MS Dhoni looked to open the fields in the middle overs, Boult and Santner were brought back together from opposite ends, conceding just one four in four overs. There were 10 dots at this stage too. India's edginess had begun to show with no boundaries on offer.
Over their concluding spells, there would only be just another four and a six with Boult removing Dhoni and Hardik Pandya at critical junctures of the game. On a surface that was two-paced, both Boult and Santner used the conditions to great effect. While Boult mixed the cross-seamers and seam-ups well, Santner varied his pace as the ball gripped the surface. Lengths were integral to their success too as both bowlers forced the batters to reach out to them and generate pace behind the shots.
India's worries against left-arm pace was documented well ahead of the start of the series and that the hosts didn't prepare differently conveyed that they were wary. 75 wickets since January 2014 exposed the chink in their armour, as left-arm pacers picked a wicket every 35 balls during this phase. Although left-arm spinners managed just 22 scalps, their economy of 5.31 remained the most penny-pinching among all types.
In a series of three, the sample size is too tiny to pass a judgement, yet the turnaround time is as short as well. The hosts would look to come back harder or bat wiser around these two bowlers in the forthcoming game at Pune, but in a sport where teams are constantly looking to stay one step ahead of their opposition, New Zealand would do well to move to a fresh plan, or at least supplement it. As it stands at the moment, the tourists played as well to their strengths as to their opponents' weakness. Left wasn't as right for the Indian batsmen, after all.
Tag : Cricket Info
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