Victories at Lord’s: Then and Now
India’s twin peaks at Lord’s, those dual tales of humbling the host, are split by 28 years. The squads are different, one was Kapil’s Devils, and the other is M.S. Dhoni’s merry bunch. The lone continuity between 1986 and 2014 is restricted to the gene-pool. Roger Binny played then. His son Stuart is part of the eleven now.
And when we are talking methods, we are in drastically different territories, a variable further enhanced by the ploy that Dhoni employed to knock-out England on the final day of the second Test. How often do you see an Indian team employ consistent short-pitched bowling to unnerve a rival? Isn’t the boot supposed to be on the other foot with Indian batsmen allegedly trembling against the speed merchants?
Never mind the likes of Sunil Gavaskar, G.R. Viswanath, Dilip Vengsarkar, Mohinder Amarnath, Ravi Shastri, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman and Virender Sehwag, to name some across the last few generations, who have countered fast bowling. Yet, the stereotype of timid Indian batsmen remains.
To now see Ishant Sharma’s bouncers stifle and dismiss the England batsmen, must rank as one of the most effective counter queries that the Indian team has raised overseas.
There is this anecdote about Kapil Dev hustling Sadiq Mohammed and forcing the opener to don a helmet in Pakistan during 1978.
Back then, wicket-keeper Syed Kirmani and Gavaskar smiled because for them it was a rare sight. Like Kapil’s debut series effort, Ishant’s spell at a stunned Lord’s, will slip into the realm of legend.
Ishant, remembered for tormenting Ricky Pontiing at Perth in 2008, has often been inconsistent. With 174 wickets from 57 Tests but at the cost of 37.04 runs per scalp, the speedster has oscillated between a flurry of wickets and the millionaire deliveries that batsmen loved.
Now thrust into the spearhead’s role following Zaheer Khan’s injury, the Delhi lad has settled in, the rhythm is nice, the lines are closer to the stumps and when he runs in, there is a feeling that he could grab a wicket, break a partnership or just keep the batsmen honest at the crease. It is a good sign for Indian cricket.
Initially, he may have been reluctant to bounce as Dhoni revealed but he caught onto the idea and blew the England batsmen away. This was a strategy that has been in the making for a while and the Indian captain said: “At times we had this problem in South Africa and in New Zealand. We bowled the first ten overs without bowling a single bouncer and you go and ask them and they say it was swinging enough to get the batsmen out.
At times it’s not the bouncer that gets you the wicket but what happens after the bouncer, so that can actually get you wickets. At times it becomes difficult to make them understand even if you are saying it in simple words because cricket is a complex sport.
“Ishant never wanted to bowl around the wicket, he is like ‘no, it’s going that way, so I want to bowl over the wicket.’ So what happens is that when you go through that phase it opens that sector for you. Your armoury increases.”
Elaborating upon his strategy, Dhoni said: “Modern cricket has changed. Batsmen take up the challenge and they like to play short balls. Difficult shot (pull) to control always and put it in the right area and you will get out sometimes. There are quite a few journalists from olden times, and they might not have seen deep square-leg, deep fine-leg, deep mid-wicket, short-leg and mid-wicket and bouncers being bowled. Earlier, one short-leg was enough to bowl bouncers!”
The second Test witnessed resurgence and redemption from a young team. Ishant led the act while Murali Vijay, Ajinkya Rahane, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Ravindra Jadeja also played their gripping parts. India can take heart from that as it rests for a few days before gearing up for the third Test at Southampton’s Rose Bowl from July 27.