… and suspicions that I (and some others) made clear just after the Champions Trophy are starting to become increasingly obvious. These suspicions are that people singling out sub-continental batsman as the only ones that struggle against movement (whether seam or swing) and extra bounce in modern day cricket were pretty much wrong.
Following the Champions Trophy there were all sorts of articles and comments by so called experts (with Sanjay Manjrekar leading the way) as well as posts by CW members claiming that the results of the CT, and the fact that no Asian team made it to the semis, was further proof that they still couldn’t handle pitches which had bounce and/or seam. These cries came from people from various corners, including fans of India, SL and Pakistan themselves.
Yet the enthralling test cricket I’ve just watched over the weekend (I’m mainly talking of NZ vs. SL and SA vs. Ind, not necessarily the Ashes) points to something completely different, something that I and others argued to counter this point. I distinctly remember SJS having a real crack at the Asian teams after the CT in an article on CW, and Sanz and I heavily disagreed with his points. I believe (and its pretty clear tbh) that its not just Asian batsmen which are struggling with bowler friendly wickets more-so then before, it’s the majority of batsmen. Yes batsman have obviously always struggled when the pitch favours the fast bowlers, but players’ techniques are being further exposed nowadays for reasons we’ve already gone into many many times (flat tracks, decline in bowler quality etc.)
Sri Lanka and India are much maligned cricket teams often because of their poor test records away from home. Yet in the past few days Sri Lanka have just well and truly thrashed New Zealand on their home soil by over 200 runs to level the 2 test series 1-1, and perhaps even more shocking due to what took place during the ODI series, India have just embarrassed South Africa on their home soil by 123 runs.
The amazing thing about these wins is that the NZ and SA have been completely demolished by impressive fast bowling (yeah Murali and Kumble played parts in the wins, but Malinga for SL and Sreesanth and Zaheer for India were the main instigators). South Africa was embarrassingly dismissed in the 1st innings for only 84 by India on a track which was greatly helping the fast bowlers, and NZ themselves only made 130 on wickets they should be very used to by now. On top of that, its not like the fast bowlers were all-time greats; Malinga and Sreesanth are hardly your McGrath, Flintoff or Pollock (not yet anyway hey SilentStriker ), hell they’re not even as good or as experienced as Ntini, Nel, Akhtar and other very good fast bowlers around ATM. Yet they ran through the NZ and SA batting sides, with genuine pace and swing on helpful pitches for fast bowling.
These aren’t just fluke wins either, because you can only go back a few months earlier to see Sri Lanka draw a 3 test series with England 1-1 only one season after Australia lost the Ashes to them. India too only a few months ago defeated the WI away from home 1-0, with the only test victory happening on the most juicy bowler friendly track of the 4 test series.
I’m not going to argue that these sub-continental batsman are any good at playing the moving ball all of a sudden (hell after Sri Lanka’s poor batting performance in the 1st innings of the 1st test, I criticised them heavily), what I’m arguing is that they aren’t too much worse (if at all worse) at playing it then most batsman in world cricket. Its not an Asian problem like some like to conveniently point out (whether it be self-loathing sub-continent fans who like to stick the boots into their team at all times, or other fans who conveniently use the “flat track bully” comment to denigrate any Asian batsman’s accomplishments).
The first evidence to me was the way South Africa handled Stuart Clark and the other Australian fast bowlers on their own turf which aided seam movement. They were simply woeful. They weren’t much better in the ODI vs. Pakistan at Mohali in the Champions Trophy (which they happened to win due to Pakistan being even worse and having to bat in even tougher conditions). Umar Gul and Iftikhar made them look like fools (they were lucky they didn’t face Asif and Akhtar).
This isn’t an overreaction from an excited Indian fan after a rare overseas victory either, because even if the results didn’t occur (say NZ and SA miraculously chased down those huge targets they were set as the pitches flattened out) the evidence was already there when NZ and SA (a) struggled on their own home grounds against teams not known for their fast bowling, and then (b) couldn’t bowl out their Asian counterparts despite having vastly superior pace attacks who are used to these conditions. Nor is it a case of an Asian vs. non-Asian debate (Lord knows we’ve had too much of that lately), or a hyperbolic “international cricket is in its worst case ever, all batsman suck and are overrated etc.” (Had too much of that as well). We’ve gone over the batting friendly era arguments over and over. My major contention is that the misconception of if you throw any Asian batsmen (other than a Dravid or Inzy) on a track with bounce of seam movement, they suddenly suck. Well they may often suck, but they’re not alone.
The best examples of this fallacy I can think of, other than the massive overreaction after the CT (honestly has Sanjay Manjrekar ever not taken an opportunity to take a swipe at Asian teams) were the SA commentators during the India vs. SA test. They’ve been accused of bias before, particularly by many Australian fans during the last tour there, but some of them were pretty stupid much of the time during this test. They made it seem like Laxman couldn’t hold a bat the right way, yet he scored vital runs and outplayed Kallis, Gibbs and Smith who are apparently SA’s best batsman. Whenever an Indian batsman fails away from home on a juicy pitch it’s their technique that’s at fault and they’re flat track bullies who can’t handle pace, however if a South African batsman fails they’re just “out of form.” Not buying that at all, Gibbs and Smith in particular simply have obvious technical flaws which have been exposed countless times, and will be again if they ever have to bat on a pitch like at Johannesburg against good fast bowling. Obviously you have your Wasim Jaffer, Upul Tharanga, Shoaib Malik and Imran Farhat etc. who often get shown up when there is either extra bounce or movement, and that may be due to domestic cricket not having enough pitches with these characteristics (though India have already taken steps to change this, and Pakistan clearly have it as on of their priorities), but then what does it say about SA and NZ cricket when they produce these wiickets for domestic cricket, and their batsmen still struggle? For every Jaffer there is an Amla, for ever Tharanga there is a Jamie How etc.
Just some thoughts that have been circling around in my head the last couple of days which particularly came to the fore over the weekend’s occurrences. Here's hoping there could be some good discussion surrounding it.