Several cricket enthusiasts have been taken by surprise by the nature of pitches that have been on offer at the Asia Cup in Mirpur. I didn’t expect such surfaces as well, where there has been a fair amount of grass and reasonable sideways movement.
As a former fast bowler and keen follower of the game, I have been heartened by what I have seen. For too long now, bowlers have been cannon fodder for batsmen, especially in the limited-overs format.
Scores in the region of 200 in 20-over cricket have come to be the norm, and while there might be some truth to the argument that spectators come to watch fours and sixes, I am sure those who have turned up in Mirpur would have enjoyed the hold the quicker bowlers had over the proceedings.
The scores might suggest otherwise, but I have to point out that these pitches have not been diabolical. The ball isn’t taking off from a length, the bounce is not uneven, there hasn’t been one unplayable delivery. Some might opine that the dice is loaded in favour of the quicker bowlers, but I must point out again that the quality of fast bowling has been remarkably high.
The faster bowlers have made the pitches appear spicier than they are, a tribute to their skill and versatility. Also, it is nice to see the relevance of bowlers being returned to a great extent. For too long, they have been secondary citizens and if, for once, there is some assistance for them, who can grudge them that?
Nothing to stop batsmen
After the victory against Pakistan, MS Dhoni said that these pitches weren’t ideal practice environs for the World T20. I am sure MS is correct in his way, but at the risk of sounding repetitive, I can’t see anything that is preventing the batsmen from scoring runs. These are certainly not the 83 or 125 all out pitches that teams have made them out to be. One of the great challenges of international cricket is to adapt to conditions. That calls for not just skill but also innate cricketing intelligence. Raised on batting beauties where the ball comes in a straight line, batsmen have been emboldened to hit through the line, to play cute and fancy strokes, to throw the coaching manual out of the window. That is perfectly understandable because the whole point of playing the game is to keep getting better.
At the same time, it is also imperative for batsmen to understand when they need to hold back, when they must place their faith in conventional cricket. No matter the nature of the surface, there will be loose balls on offer periodically. The trick when the pitches test you is to work the gaps, keep out the good balls but remain positive enough to put the bad ones away. On a flat surface, you can hit even an excellent delivery for a four. On a little more juicy deck, a good delivery is impossible to hit. Far too many batsmen, brought up on this steady diet of shirtfronts, have brought a similar mindset and technique to these conditions, which explains the sustained low team totals.
It is essential to keep wickets in hand, and for proper batsmen to be around when the last five overs come around. Virat Kohli produced a master class against Pakistan when even a target of 84 appeared imposing. From nine for three, he masterminded the chase with composure and a certainty about how he wanted to tackle a top-class Pakistan pace attack. He was the obvious hero and the scoreboard will say that Yuvraj Singh made only 14 off 32 balls, but this was a huge innings for Yuvraj and India.
Next up for unbeaten India are Sri Lanka, a little off the boil in this competition and again likely to be without skipper Lasith Malinga. Green tracks tend in a way to bridge the gulf in talent and experience between teams, and that may work to Sri Lanka’s advantage.
India are wary of what Sri Lanka are capable of doing with the ball in seamer-friendly conditions, as they found out the hard way in Pune last month. The bowling attack is almost entirely different now, but as a group, Sri Lanka will take confidence from that outing when India were bowled out for 101. The onus will be on the India top order to negotiate the early threat and provide a platform for an assault in the second half of the innings.