Australia had a tough time dealing with the new ball in the match against the West Indies. This had little to do with the quality of bowling and more instead, because of the nature of the track.
It made a second-string Windies attack look quite impressive. The ball hitting the gloves, body and the splice of the bat was a common sight. Australia managed to see through the new ball but must’ve sent up a prayer of thanks that they weren’t facing Fidel Edwards & Co on this particular track.
It wasn’t just the extra bounce that troubled the Aussies, it was, at times, even the lack of it. Basically, the track had uneven bounce. So that set me thinking on the ways you deal with tracks that offer variable bounce.
If the bounce is on the lower side, you can deal with it by getting onto the front foot and playing with a straight bat on almost every occasion. The only time a batsman struggles on such surfaces is when the ball is pitched very short, because the body and mind are conditioned to play a horizontal bat shot.
On pitches where the variable bounce is on the higher side, you prefer to wait on the back foot and play with a horizontal bat. But then, since it isn’t possible to play every ball off the back foot, your feet movement becomes crucial. Whenever the ball is slightly fuller, you must try to get to the pitch of the ball to negate the extra bounce but as Ponting and Paine realised, that isn’t exactly easy. There’s always an area, just short of a full length, where the body moves forward since it’s conditioned to do so but the mind tries to hold it back.
On such surfaces, balls pitched up are areas of concern. So the batsman’s endeavor is to make the bowler bowl shorter at him and hence you’ll see them throwing their bat at everything, trying to hit out of the park whenever the ball is pitched up, to discourage the bowler from bowling fuller. But the Wanderers was a different track, one where the ball not only bounced higher than expected but also stayed low quite often, making batting a painful task (quite literally!).
Good form and a bit of luck are both imperatives in these conditions. You also have to forget, however difficult that might be, what happened on the previous ball because you tend to avoid getting onto the front foot on the ball after you’re hit on the gloves. The feet movement need to be decisive and the shot selection a little brave.
Ponting, even after getting hit on the hands and body a few times, had a long stride every time the ball pitched up. He showed great judgment of length as he cut and pulled the moment the ball was short enough to play with the horizontal bat. Again, he showed why he’s considered one of the world’s best batsmen but this time it was by mastering conditions rather than the opposition.