With the Monday morning sun beating down, the India team gathered at the Sher-e-Bangla stadium’s academy ground. Under the unflinching gaze of people standing on the terraces of the old and fragile buildings that surrounded the venue, the players commenced their first practice session of the Bangladesh trip.
Had the team gone through the motions on the first day of the Asia Cup sojourn, with famous Bollywood numbers played in the background, it could have been forgiven. For the initial 20 minutes, the players appeared relaxed as they indulged in the usual team banter.
In the meanwhile, a net was set up around the centre wicket. Within minutes, a dummy batsman had been placed at the batting end of the 22 yards. Was it a mistake, was it a promotional activity or were the Indians actually executing a plan?
Bhuvneshwar Kumar marked his run-up and dispelled the doubts. The team had a plan which would be followed with intensity in the next couple of hours.
In the previous five ODIs in New Zealand, of which India lost four apart from the tie, the games were lost in the final overs of the visitors’ bowling -- 90, 110, 81 and 91 runs respectively were amassed in the last ten overs by New Zealand in games where they took first strike. And they raced from 212 for three to the target of 279 with one over to spare in the fourth ODI.
Death bowling is a problem that has grown over the last few months. It troubled them against Australia and West Indies at home and haunted them in South Africa and New Zealand. It is also an issue the team is desperate to get rid of. Although they had tried the dummy batsman earlier, the tactic was an integral part of Monday’s session.
The dummy would be placed in line of different stumps, ensuring that the bowlers could focus on consistently landing it at a spot. It was a different version of target practice, an improvised version of Sri Lanka’s Lasith Malinga aiming at his shoe. The men with the leather had been given two simple instructions: bowl a yorker or a bouncer.
After all, it is the inconsistency bowling the two deliveries that has cost India the most in the death overs.
Kumar and Mohammed Shami relentlessly fired deliveries under the dummy’s feet. Soon, the bowling coach, Joe Dawes, walked up to Ishwar Pandey and Stuart Binny and asked them to follow the same drill.
Once the pacers were confident they had a hang of the toe-crushers and bouncers, they would repeat the routine to the batsmen practicing in the nets at another corner of the ground.
Expectedly, the batsmen were served stuff that was more lethal. The Indian camp would now pray that all the hard work bears fruit in their opener against Bangladesh on Wednesday.
For, the slightest error in line and length will be punished on the kind of belters the hosts are known to offer.