Monday, January 16, 2006

Eight and a half: A bit about Lahore pitch and Indian bowling

Movie connoisseurs may please return to other websites for there can be nothing but disappointment for them in this post if it showed up on their google search. This is not a review of the classic Fellini movie going by the same name.

That figure in the header is the simple answer to a simple question asked in various formats over the last couple of days by journalists, commentators, cricket viewers and cricketers alike:

After how many years are we seeing as batsman-friendly a cricket pitch as the one being used for the ongoing 1st Indo-Pak Test at Lahore?

As per my calculations, for the first time since that India v Sri Lanka Test match in 1997 we are witnessing bowler-killing of this magnitude. Then the Indians had batted first, battled extreme negative bowling from Sri Lankans to put up a seemingly formidable 537 after 5 sessions of play and declared late in 2nd day – only to run errands for over 3 days thereon in a trivial Sri Lankan Innings of 952/6. The 3rd and 4th days saw no fall of wicket. I repeat that incredible part – no wicket fell over 2 full days of uninterrupted cricket after Nilesh Kulkarni, the lanky, debutante left-arm spinner got a wicket with his first ball in Test cricket to end the 2nd day's proceedings.

Let us come back to Lahore 2006 & explore the reasons. The intimidating presence of great spinners and batsmen alike in the Indian contingent was always going to weigh heavy on Pakistan cricket establishment while preparing pitches. Any bias in the pitch on either direction would then need their team to depend a bit too much on the toss to capitalise on either a green top or a dustbowl.

Preparing a green top probably diminishes the advantage of the Pakistan bowling. Then, only Shoaib becomes marginally more dangerous (he always is due to his extra pace, on any pitch anywhere - even against Australia in Sharjah) while conceding some more runs. The other fast men of Pakistan are about as good as their Indian counterparts (and I exclude Pathan here), somewhat quicker but with little extra returns. [Gaurav Sabnis covers this aspect in detail on this post.] On the flip side, all Indian swing bowlers may cross the defining line if supplied with a helpful pitch and, like last time, become a handful for the often-flashy Pakistani bats.

A turning track, on the other hand, is a strict no-no in view of Kumble and Harbhajan. A curator's dilemma must have resulted from these considerations, end result being this neither-here-nor-there masterpiece.
The disappointment with the pitch notwithstanding, another aspect of the ever-critical-of-their-players Indian media prompts me to discuss the incorrect perception of the Indian bowlers’ ability. For that I would reveal a recent skeleton from my closet that would disgrace me a bit as writer of the ‘
2nd day preview’ post earlier.

Having seen these chaps bowling for India a few years now, it is time that we supporters give them more credit than the ‘Indian bowling is weak' stereotype. It is one thing bowling badly but it is another to be taken apart even on counts beyond their control.

I wrote that ‘2nd day preview’ post (and a ‘sleepwalking for 50 overs on pitch' bit in it) without seeing the game live or even the highlights package but taking a look at the end-of-day scoreboard and intermittently following online commentary. Our batsmen have now proved that assumption of a hard-work Lahore pitch to be true**, but it should be besides the point. What felt peculiar was that everyone else at office, including people I rate in the category that know their cricket, was already cursing the bowlers for a poor show by the time 1st day’s lunch was barely over.

The ‘fashionable’ lack of faith in Indian bowlers is not unlike the psychology of a parent who hands over a glass tumbler to a little child and immediately slaps him in anticipatory punishment assuming the kid will certainly break the tumbler. I mean, even a bad day’s performance by the present bowling side should perhaps have been thought worth more than 2 Pakistani wickets on a standard track but no one came out defending the Indian bowlers’ plight after the first day. Indian cricket followers need to come out of some premeditations and honestly appraise their bowlers’ worth.

There is need to respect them for what they are achieving in recent years rather than by how they are compared on TV against ‘all-star’ bowling sides. India have Pathan, Kumble and Harbhajan bowling together for them; and that is NOT a weak bowling attack by any means on any surface.
** Only I did not expect it to be this flat, and I hope that excuses my predictions there about the 2nd day’s developments for getting widely off the mark…
[cross posted at Different Strokes]

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