In their defeat to Australia in the first ODI, India’s top-order were in a genuine spot of bother against Australia’s pace attack. Most of them weren’t troubled when the ball was pitched up, but — apart from Virat Kohli — looked as if their feet were cast in lead when the length was shortened.
Mitchell Johnson, the quickest of the Australian bowlers, used the short ball liberally. With his left-arm angle, his bouncers to the left-handers, angled into their bodies and forcing them to play, were particularly incisive. Yuvraj Singh was out to one such delivery, which he fended awkwardly at without any movement of his feet. James Faulkner, another left-armer, dismissed Ravindra Jadeja with a quick, short ball that provoked a miscued pull.
Shikhar Dhawan’s footwork, meanwhile, seemed to suggest he was expecting a short ball when he edged a full, swinging delivery from Faulkner to the keeper.
Come the 2015 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, the ICC’s rule of new balls from each end — which, tellingly, faced opposition from subcontinental teams but was met with rather more enthusiasm by Australia — will certainly benefit teams blessed with fast bowlers capable of getting the ball to climb at the batsmen. If the Australian bowlers got under the skin of the Indian batters on a rather staid Pune pitch, the Indian top order should definitely be wary of the test that might await them on a surface like the WACA in Perth.
After the match, Dhoni defended India’s batsmen, saying that their performance in the Champions Trophy and on their tour of the West Indies was proof that they could handle the short stuff. But the Indians weren’t consistently tested on their ability to play the short ball on either of those tours. In the UK, the ball seamed around a touch but none of India’s opponents put in place a sustained plan to hit the back-of-a-length area for a prolonged period. In the West Indies, the wickets seemed to be of the slow and low sort. Australian wickets two years down the line might present India a very different challenge that they will do well to start preparing for immediately.
Chinmay is a correspondent based in Pune