Indian bowlers may rue refusal to experiment

By Henry Blofeld
Saturday 28 December 2013 03:15
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Cricketers can be rather curious creatures of habit. As India strained to bowl England out on the fourth day at Headingley, their captain, Sourav Ganguly, rang the changes using his seam bowlers and his spinners in all the combinations he could think of. He tried to upset the batsmen's concentration with different and unusual field placings, although in this aspect his imagination is not as fertile as Nasser Hussain's.

Zaheer Khan seemed likely his most dangeous fast bowler, but for most of the day it was Ajit Agarkar and Sanjay Bangar who presented the greatest threat to the batsmen's well-being. Zaher's problem was that it was not until after tea in his fourth spell that he made use of the main variation available to him. He was bowling from the Kirkstall Lane End when, suddenly, he decided to bowl round the wicket, which is an option for any bowler at any time. With two batsmen building an obdurate partnership, as Nasser Hussain and Alec Stewart were doing, it becomes an obvious ploy for a bowler in an attempt to try and unsettle the concentration of the batsmen.

It did not appear to occur to either the bowler or his captain up until this belated point. Maybe Zaheer does not like bowling round the wicket and he would not be alone in this. When at last he made the change, he bowled just about the best over of the day, beating Hussain three times outside the off stump and then producing an edged slash which flew over the slips for four.

His second and third overs from this side of the wicket were not quite as dangerous, though Hussain was still unsettled. By then, he had been in for a long time. If Zaheer had tried this angle of attack soon after Hussain had come to the wicket, it might have got him out. The thinking of captain and bowler was too inflexible.

The same criticism can be justifiably made of the off-spinner Harbhajan Singh, another who appears to dislike changing his direction of attack. The ball was turning and bouncing and although Harbhajan may feel more at ease bowling over the wicket, it was surely worth the chance to change to round in order to ask the batsmen different questions. With the bat surrounded by close fielders that elusive edge might so easily have come.

The history of the game of cricket is littered with bowlers who have resolutely refused to change their angle of attack in this way. One of the most glaring examples was the famous West Indian off-spinner of the 1960s, Lance Gibbs, who was the second bowler after Fred Trueman to take more than 300 Test wickets. His reluctance may even have cost the West Indies a Test match or two.

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