Short Pitched Bowling

New Zealand defeated Pakistan at Mohali to become the first team to enter the semi final stage and Pakistan (on whose winning all three matches Sri Lanka had been counting for a this ray of hope of qualifying) are facing a do and die last game against South Africa to qualify themselves!

The difference between the two sides was short pitched bowling. Seriously, that’s all it was. It WAS short pitched bowling – the bowling of it and the handling of it by Pakistan.

In the last 10 or so overs, when they should have been bowling yorkers, Pakistani bowlers kept bowling short, ridiculously short, and allowed the Kiwis, who had batted most of the time at a sub-four run rate, to score at ten runs an over with ease – and this with the lower half of their batting! Then when it was the Pakistanis’ turn to bat, six of the nine batsmen who fell to bowlers fell to short pitched deliveries that they handled badly. The exceptions were Yousuf, Malik and Akmal – coincidentally all relatively better players of the short pitched stuff.

The much raved about supermen – Afridi and Razzaq – were made complete monkeys of by the Kiwi fast bowlers. They looked totally inept and finally got out hitting rank short deliveries off the front foot – the only way they know how to hit a cricket ball unless it happens to be short as well as wide.

One has always maintained and often written that the batsmen and bowlers from India Pakistan and Sri Lanka have a problem with short pitched deliveries. The batsmen, with the exception of the absolute top notch ones, are unable to handle nasty short pitched stuff and the quicker bowlers seem to be determined to ‘terrorise’ the opposition into ‘submission’ by bowling the most exasperatingly short pitched stuff that has their captains tearing out their hair and the opposition grinning as the ball keeps ringing the boundary rails.

Look at the condition of not just the hapless Ganguly but even the Yuvraj Singhs and the Sehwags of the Indian team, all the half a dozen (or so it seems) openers Pakistan keeps shuffling around and the much lauded Afridis and Razzaqs. The tendency to go on to the front foot or stay rooted to the crease means that unless there is plenty of room provided by the line and/or time, all of them are found out by the fast and not so fast bowlers of the world. The fact that they still score enough runs against fellow sub-continentals, minnows and, on placid home wickets, even against the better endowed sides, means that they still have averages for them to gloat about and for the fans to be kept in self induced stupor.

The bowlers on the other hand don’t seem to understand that the Australian, the South African or other top class batsmen of the world are not as inept at handling the short pitched stuff as their own countrymen and keep pounding the ball closer to their own toes when they should be aiming for those of the batsmen.. The Razzaqs, Ranas, Naved-ul-Hasans of Pakistan and the Fernandos of our part of the world are not going to get it till it is close to the end of their careers if at all. This is what Srinath did for most of his career and ended up with much inferior figures than a bowler of his caliber should have.


Is it only because the sub continental batsmen are used to playing on placid wickets with low bounce while the Aussies, Kiwis and Proteas are used to playing on faster bouncier tracks? If so, how does one account for such lovely players of the short pitched delivery as Dravid, Laxman and Sachin (and I am talking of pulling and hooking here not driving) in the current Indian team and players like Mohinder before them. Same for Pakistan. They too have great role models in Inzemam and Mohammad Yousuf who can play or leave the short pitched rising delivery with time to spare.

It is said that the difference between the good and the great players is that the latter are excellent players off the back foot. One can easily divide the batsmen in a team or International cricket as a whole into those who are great players off the back foot (with a straight as well as horizontal bat) and those who are not and you will get two remarkably different caliber of players. This is not a coincidence.

Our problem is that a majority (if not all) of the youngsters coming up in the subcontinent are essentially front foot players who can treat the occasional short pitched delivery by hitting it on the rise, pull it off the front foot or even without moving. All thanks to placid wickets. The spread of the limited overs game and the flatter tracks associated with it makes it worse. But the question remains, how come some of them still good at it?

One can only think that it has to do with coaching and training besides the lack of thinking about his own game on the part of the cricketer.

In the sixties and seventies, even when practicing in the nets, invariably on matting wickets with their higher bounce, the coaches would discourage excessive horizontal bat strokes in the nets. Insisting that the batsmen master straight bat driving and defense (off both feet mind you) because not only did it teach you the aspect of batting that would increase longevity at the crease but it also made movement of the feet a vital aspect of the training. Once one got into the habit of automatically moving back and across to the short pitched delivery, the option to pull (or hook) the ball, if and when it was short enough and the line justified it, was exercised automatically ? almost subconsciously. Today that footwork is missing and whatever footwork is seen at the crease is seen in playing off the front foot.

This lack of appropriate footwork to the short pitched delivery is the problem of the sub-continental batsmen of the modern generation.

And what, pray. is the problem with most of the quick bowlers? Why cant they learn that unless you are a Shoaib (and even he cant keep bowling short stuff) you are asking for trouble by allowing the batsman the luxury of going back, watching the ball and deciding what to do with it? Why cant they learn from the Chamindas Vaas?s, Mohammad Asifs and the Munafs Patels in their own sides?

One can only think that they are too dumb ? which one suspects most are anyway. That they don?t listen to their coaches (surely Waqar must be hammering into them not to bowl short since he was a past master of the toe crusher). That their captains have no control over them and/or are too dumb themselves to realize what’s happening. Maybe it’s a combination of these factors.

As the Pakistani batsmen were digging the graves of the hopes of millions of Pakistani fans, Younis was shouting words of encouragement from his position in the field and Akmal was shouting ?shabash, shabash? from behind the stumps. I wish someone, anyone, had walked upto the bowlers and given them a piece of his mind or at least glared at them for bowling such a horribly wrong length.

This keeping the morale high and maintaining team spirit is fine and one can understand that Younis wants the boys on his side in the current state of affairs in Pakistan cricket but surely his smiles and his words at the presentation sounded worse than hollow.

Sri Lankan players did the same against South Africa the other day. Fernando was upto his usual tricks. Although he did not bowl his full quota he did try hard to land one on his own leading foot. But what did them in was the fact that Pollock had Ntini and Kallis in support while Sri Lanka had only Vaas. Vaas was probably the best of the seven or eight medium pacers on view but his team mates made sure his efforts weren?t enough. on that day.

Sri Lanka are out of the tournament and one fervently hopes the Pakistani bowlers haven?t already ensured that Pakistan too is going to take an early flight home. I do hope their bowlers will learn the lesson and improve the length against the South Africans. I am not, however, counting on Pakistani batsmen to learn anything for that will take much longer than the few days left between now and the next game. I do hope, nevertheless, that they will rectify the silly batting order where oafishness is rewarded and bat Malik and Akmal before Afridi. One thing that you can surely count upon is that the South Africans will be sending the balls buzzing around the ears of both the openers, Afridi, Razaaq and company.

Post Script : The above was written on the same night that Pakistan lost to New Zealand but couldn’t be put up due to network problems. Since then Pakistan have played South Africa. Their bowlers did bowl a better line but the batting, as expected, came a cropper on a bouncy track. Top three fell to short pitched deliveries one of the openers to an exact replica of his dismissal in the previous game and went out shaking his head as if the worst luck in the world had befallen him. Yes, Afridi managed to hit a short pitched delivery for six and guess what he hit it off the front foot!

The skipper was in great form declaring at the presentation that he was happy with the way his boys performed and that they tried their best. If being 26 for 6 and 42 for 7, within the power-play period, makes the skipper happy the Pakistani boys have much to feel morose about in the flight back home, do they?

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