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Can't afford to drop the guard this time

cricket Updated: Jan 09, 2013 02:55 IST
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Sanjjeev K Samyal
Hindustan Times
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They are dazzling when they connect their strokes but when the equation changes a bit and they are needed to negotiate a period relying on their defensive game, the same India batsmen suddenly look like cats on a hot tin roof.

The one-day series against Pakistan was another case in point, of the India batsmen's fortunes plumbing when the bowlers asked questions with pace and movement. Their fans watched in disbelief at the ease with which the visiting team's pacers hit the timber of India's top and middle-order men.

As the home team start assembling at Rajkot today for the ODI series against England, Gautam Gambhir and Co will again be under the microscope. Against Pakistan, Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh averaged 11.33, Virat Kohli 4.33, Rohit Sharma 4 (one match) and Suresh Raina 30.66.

Fresh Test
Against the Englishmen, the home batting stars will be up against similarly skilful bowlers who can test their defensive play. For long used to having it easy in the limited overs format, where in most conditions they could hit through the line with minimal footwork, the current India line-up is struggling to come to grips with the recent rule changes. The two-ball rule, one for each end, means the ball remains relatively new and hence offers movement for longer periods.

"The batsmen now have to be a little more careful early on as you need wickets in hand if you have to capitalise in the second half of the game," said India A coach Lalchand Rajput, who guided his team to a comprehensive victory over England XI in the first warm-up game in Delhi on Sunday. It means that the sheet-anchor's role becomes vital, as proved by Pakistan opener Nasir Jamshed. The team needs someone to shore one end up, and in this line-up Gambhir would have been ideally suited for the job. His failure has naturally upset the game plan.

Weak area
Of late, the left-hander has looked uncomfortable outside off-stump, his tendency to jab at the ball has got the better of him quite often and he has got out caught in the close-in cordon or dragged the ball on to his stumps. The England bowlers will be trying the same tactics against the Delhi batsman and how the opener copes with it will be crucial to the outcome of the contests.

The big surprise of the just concluded series was the below-par showing of Kohli. He came into the season riding high on confidence following a string of high scores but struggled against the seam bowling of Junaid Khan and Mohammad Irfan. Raina, Yuvraj and Rohit Sharma's issues against the moving ball are well documented and all three will again be under pressure.

Former India player and selection committee chairman, Kiran More, agreed that defence was the chink which Pakistan's pacers easily exploited. "They are great stroke players but defence is a concern for most of our middle-order batsmen. They were getting out pushing at the ball. All of them need to work on this aspect of their game. If they tighten their defence they will do well against this type of bowling too."

As for Gambhir, he said: "He used to be a very positive player and needs to stick to his original style, which gave him success. Surprisingly, he was stuck to his crease. He needs to take his chances."