'Ravi Shastri called me up in July and said I want to make a plan': How India set up traps for Smith, explains Arun
Instead of crowding the slip cordon or attacking them with short-pitched deliveries, India deployed three fielders at times four including a leg gully whenever Steve Smith and Marnush Labuschagne - Australia's two best batsmen - walked to bat in the four-match Test series. And worked wonders for them, at least for the first part of the series as both Smith and Labuschagne were out caught either fending or flicking towards the on side.
This was not a knee jerk reaction to stop two batsmen averaging well over 60 in Test cricket from scoring runs. It was actually a well thought out plan derived more than five months before the Test series began. The mastermind behind it? India head coach Ravi Shastri, who had called bowling coach Bharat Arun in July to discuss the same.
"Ravi called me sometime in July and we were discussing the Australia tour, that we needed to take the off side out of the Australians. So, we had our own analysis and we felt most of the runs Smith and Labuschagne scored and most of Aussie batsmen, they had got a lot of runs out of the cut, pull and on the off side," Bharat Arun told reporters on Friday.
Arun said they also learnt from how the New Zealand bowlers, especially Neil Wagner, troubled Smith during the series between the trans-Tasmanian rivals in the previous season."We took a cue out of the NZ attack. When they bowled to Steve Smith, they had bowled bodyline to him and he felt very uncomfortable.
"So, Ravi called up and said 'I want you to make a plan where you eliminate the off side out of the Australians'.
"He said we will attack straighter lines and have an on side field so it is very difficult for batsmen to be consistently clearing the onside fields. That really worked for us." Arun said the plan was subsequently communicated to skipper Virat Kohli.
"The thought process started sometime in July then we had discussions with Virat.
"He bought into the theory and we employed the same strategy in Adelaide and Ajinkya was magnificent from Melbourne onwards. The bowlers responded beautifully to that," said the bowling coach.
The likes of Shardul Thakur, Washington Sundar and T Natarajan were made to stay back post the limited overs leg of the tour and with India hit by a barrage of injuries during the Test series, all three ended up playing the Brisbane Test and did rather well.
"...I think it was a great move by Ravi Shastri to hold back all the bowlers who had come in as net bowlers," said Arun.
"After the ODI series most of them were supposed to go back but somehow, we thought in case anything happens to a player then it would be impossible for anyone to come because of the (quarantine) restrictions.
"So, we said we will manage with everyone here and because they were with us for a period of time, they were able to understand what it demands to be successful in Australia and work on those lines. So, them being with us helped a great deal.
"And the support staff made sure even the net bowlers like Sundar got to bat in the nets. As it turned out, he and Thakur's 123-run stand for the seventh wicket in the first innings allowed India to fight back in the game.
"Washington, though he was a net bowler, used to bat every day for half an hour. We needed to spend extra hours in the net but we needed to give each and everyone the attention. In the end it paid off," said Arun.
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