I’m writing this after watching the first day’s play in the first Test between Sri Lanka and New Zealand at Dunedin. New Zealand scored a mammoth 409/8 off 90 overs.
At the start of the third session New Zealand were racing towards 250 for the loss of only two wickets and it was painful watching the Sri Lankan bowlers getting thrashed all over the park. However, Sri Lanka picked up six wickets in the final session, albeit leaking 180 runs, and redeemed themselves to an extent.
In the morning and afternoon sessions the New Zealanders feasted on the Lankan bowlers who were nothing but cannon fodder. The New Zealand opener Guptill had been in very poor form going into this match and averaged around 15 over his previous 12 innings. New Zealand persisted with him, not because he’s a particularly good Test batsman, but only because they haven’t got a suitable replacement. However, today was his day and he scored 156.
Brendon McCallum is highly rated but he’s not exactly a technically proficient batsman. He hasn’t been in good nick this year but the way he toyed with our bowling made him look like a superstar. He scored 75 off 57 and reached his 50 off 39 – a T20 strike rate.
More worryingly New Zealand scored 60 boundaries with a six in their allotted 90 overs. Boundaries were scored freely, often in succession. This contributed to their very healthy 4.54 runs per over, an ODI rate.
Apart from Kane Williamson (who scored 88) and Ross Taylor the New Zealand batsmen are an average bunch and would struggle to walk into most top-eight Test sides. It's no wonder our bowling ‘attack’ is ridiculed every time we go abroad because international has-beens and also-rans lick their lips at the prospect of facing us. There’s certainly some truth to the ‘worse than a county bowling attack’ statement. This leads me to my point – our fast bowlers seemed lost for most parts of the day. They weren’t bowling to a plan, and even if they were it wasn’t obvious.
Setting attacking fields and bowling a tight offside line is of paramount importance when playing in New Zealand. Its a simple formula but it works. Due to the atmospheric conditions being conducive to conventional swing a good fast bowler will often be able to find the edge.
Lakmal has neither the pace or control but he seemed to have a vague idea of bowling just outside the off-stump. However, his opening bowling partner Pradeep bowled with a scrambled seam from the other end. It made me wonder why. Did Pradeep not realize that by bowling with a scrambled seam the ball would scuff up very quickly and the chances of the other fast bowlers finding some swing and picking wickets considerably reduced?
Speaking of the other fast bowlers, Chameera ended the day with a century; his bowling figures read thus – 17-1-101-2. But his figures do not do justice to how he bowled. Yes, he bowled some utter rubbish but thrown in with the utter rubbish were a few very good deliveries. He ran in hard and maintained speeds of 140km/h throughout the day.
However, Chameera could have avoided bowling short balls. McCullum helped himself to the short-pitched bowling as if it were early Christmas presents. Chameera got the length terribly wrong. With the bounce on offer if only he’d bowled on a fuller length with a slip cordon outside off instead of bowling short he could’ve had a few more to his name. He could’ve mixed his deliveries too – a few yorkers, slower deliveries, slower ball bouncers and off-cutters would’ve taken the marauding New Zealanders by surprise.
In addition, our fast bowlers as a bunch didn’t bowl from around the wicket as much as I would’ve liked them to. They didn’t use the crease to their advantage either. A right arm bowler coming from around the wicket to a right-handed batsman well wide of the crease can increase the chances of the batsmen nicking it behind. The variety and killer instinct among our fast bowlers is lacking.
I have repeatedly said in the past that our fast bowlers are only effective in subcontinental conditions, their actions are home-spun and they pose a wicket-taking threat only when used in shorter spells. For them to be successful overseas they need to find the right length and need to bowl to set-fields and tactics. They would need to run in the whole day. A gameplan suited for Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka will not fetch success in New Zealand and vice versa.
That said, if only Prasad hadn't been injured our fast bowlers may have performed better as a collective whole. Prasad’s absence has hurt the team a lot. He has had a wonderful year and possesses a diehard attitude and a few tricks up his sleeve. He understands that fast bowling is not always about macho posturing, its about brains too, its about adapting to the conditions and mixing things up a bit to keep batsmen guessing. Infact his remarkable improvement is a result of fine-tuning his game, amongst other things.
If not for Mathews taking control this morning as a first-change bowler New Zealand would’ve raced away with the game even more. Its a shame he can’t bowl more as he bowled quite well.
Despite the subcontinent being known as a graveyard for fast bowlers some of the finest exponents of the art come from the region. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Chaminda Vaas could make the ball talk, even more so than fast bowlers from outside the non-subcontinent. Wasim et al. used guile, variation and focused on the technical aspects of fast bowling to reap rewards. It is unlikely our current crop will ever reach the dizzy heights reached by this trio but doing what they did will not hurt our chances of success overseas.