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Smart strokeplay the best way to tackle intimidating quicks

ht view Updated: Dec 14, 2013 23:57 IST
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England are currently being discomforted by it and India are about to be confronted by a batsman's greatest challenge; the trial by pace. It's a challenge most dread and very few relish.

When umpire Max O'Connell warned Australia fast bowler Lennie Pascoe at the Adelaide Oval; "That'll be enough bouncers for this over Len," a voice piped up from the other end: "Don't stop him Max."

That intimidating response put West Indies Master Blaster Viv Richards in a minority. He relished pace, never wore a helmet or took a serious blow to the noggin and was, in the words of Imran Khan, "an intimidating batsman".

Batting smart
Unlike Richards, many batsmen can empathise with England's current crop. Having been bounced into submission at the Gabba, they failed to quell the uprising in Adelaide and England now face the daunting task of trying to get on top of Mitchell Johnson on the WACA pitch.

This is no easy task but it has to be achieved if England hope to remain competitive in this Ashes series. The England batsmen might take heart from some of Lillee's experiences on his home patch. I've seen batsmen who shouldn't have made Lillee raise a sweat drive him to distraction because he got so carried away with the WACA bounce it seemed he was more interested in physically harming his opponent rather than getting him out. He would usually rectify his mistake quickly but not before the batsman had cut and top-edged more than his ration against such a skilled and fearsome competitor.

Counter bounce
That is what England have to do - drive (or cut and pull) Johnson to distraction. They have to push him to the point where he becomes angry and stops thinking rationally. That will take a lot of judicious strokeplay and mental courage.

If England need a blueprint for how to dispatch the short-pitched delivery, they only had to watch closely as the ebullient Steve Smith dispensed a lesson in playing horizontal bat shots. There's a distinct difference in the pace and intimidatory level of England's attack when compared with Johnson in his current form but Smith dealt their Ashes hopes blow after blow with his confident and controlled pull shots. Most of them went straight to ground via a technically efficient roll of the wrists and the bulk finished up skipping over the boundary rope. England's hopes of retaining the Ashes plummeted with each successful Smith pull shot, while Johnson looked on with mounting glee from the other end.

Tough job
India's talented young batsmen face a different challenge. They are confronted by the toughest task in cricket; adjusting from low bouncing pitches to strips that encourage the faster bowlers to try their luck by banging a few in their half of the wicket. India will be comforted by the fact that there's no bowler of Johnson's pace but they'll be facing the highly skillful Dale Steyn, the accuracy of Vernon Philander and bounce of Morne Morkel. And they won't have Sachin Tendulkar to show the way. Nevertheless, they do have Virat Kohli, who has experienced success at the WACA.