The Indian batting order has been in prolific form, but if there’s one team that can be trusted to do their homework and come up with viable plans to thwart the challenge, it’s New Zealand. The Indian Express analyses the techniques and playing styles of the top seven Indian batsmen to come up with possible strategies that the Kiwi think tank can come up with as they try to stall the juggernaut.
Plan: Left-arm spinner Santner to cramp him for room
Let us keep aside Kohli’s struggles against left-arm spinners for a moment. Consider these spells from Santner, in the previous two instances when India and New Zealand faced off in the World Cup – in 2019 and this time in Dharamsala. In Manchester, Santner had figures of 10-2-34-2. In Dharamsala, it was 10-0-37-1. In a side that has world-class seamers, Santner is exceptional when it comes to tying down batsmen with his remarkable consistency. So once the first Powerplay ends, if Kohli is in the middle, expect Kane Williamson to throw the ball to Santner. With no left-handers in India’s top 6, Santner could well dictate the pace of India’s innings.
Like Ravindra Jadeja, he too doesn’t believe in beating edges, but focuses on bowling that tight line attacking the stumps, which will make it more challenging for batsmen to make room.
Other left-arm spinners have also had some success against India in this World Cup. Keshav Maharaj kept things tight after India were off to a rollicking start, and Roleof van der Merwe actually had Kohli playing on in Bengaluru. It would be interesting to see how he goes against Santner at the Wankhede.
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So far, thanks to the starts given by the openers, Kohli has had to bat only in third gear in the middle overs, which could be tested by Santner. If he manages to put Kohli in his shell, half the battle would be won as it would make the batsman at the other end take risks. So ideally, India would want Kohli to keep the tempo going provided the openers have given another good start. If they fail, the onus would be on Kohli to take the initiative and for that, his showdown with Santner will be key. The perfect scenario for India is to have Kohli and Shreyas – a fine player of spin – batting together when Santner is operating.
Plan: Speedster Lockie Ferguson to attack with head-high bouncers
Another battle in the middle overs that could well decide the war. With seam movement being at a bare minimum, New Zealand’s tactics during this phase of games has been to test opposition batsmen with short balls. The key to this plan is Ferguson. In the games that he has played, it was a tactic he has used to great effect as he seldom bowled a spell where both mid-on and mid-off were pushed back.
While Shreyas has tweaked his technique that puts him in a better place to handle short deliveries, at Ferguson’s pace he would be tested a lot. With a well- disguised yorker at his disposal as well, Ferguson is New Zealand’s trump card with the ball in the middle overs. But he would need to get his bouncers head-high, from where it would be difficult to control the hook shot. If the Indian middle-order batsman persists with the approach of taking this tactic on, it could provide an opportunity with the suitable field-placement. Apart from the bouncer itself, the perceived threat of one could also play games with a batsman’s footwork and mindset.
Anything lower, around hip- or chest-height, would be that much easier for Shreyas to negotiate or attack. With Shreyas in good form and coming into the semifinal on the back of a hundred, this battle has all the making of being a deciding factor.
Plan: Left-arm pacer Boult to bowl full, target pads
Suryakumar Yadav’s troubles with a left-arm pacer’s in-dipper – full and targeting the pads – was exploited by Aussie pacer Mitchell Starc during the bilateral series in India earlier this year. This would be reason enough for Kiwi pacer Trent Boult to test India’s big hitter early in the innings. Surya has a tendency to work straight balls to the leg-side, making him a prime LBW candidate.
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When spinners bowl to Surya, it’s imperative for them to target the stumps at all times. The type of player he is, Surya always tries to manufacture run-scoring opportunities, and the ‘You-miss-I-hit’ template can be employed by a crafty operator like Mitchell Santner. The left-arm tweaker is a master at changing pace while remaining accurate and consistently honing in on the timber. If the two face off on Wednesday, it could be an engaging battle of wits.
Lockie Ferguson, with his extra pace and aggression, can be another option for Kane Williamson. Surya’s penchant for accessing the ‘V’ behind the wicket and the temptation to target the shorter Wankhede boundaries could provide an opportunity for the Kiwi speedster, if he can hurry the batsman.
However, all these tactics are match-situation-dependent and more useful when Surya is fresh at the crease. If he has the licence to thrill with just a few overs left, New Zealand would most likely be in damage-limitation mode.
Plan: Pacers to target him with full-length balls nipping in
It’s an old problem that New Zealand have exploited before. A ball that lands on a full length and nips in. The way he is set up at the crease, Shubman Gill is usually a tad late in leaning forward, a touch slow in shifting his weight forward. He is on the move when the ball lands and tries to get his hands to jail-break for him, but when it’s a nip-backer, the ball threads the bat-and-pad gap to crash into the stumps. New Zealand’s Kyle Jamieson has done it before, Tim Southee too has troubled him – and to no one’s surprise, New Zealand will try it again in the semifinal.
It’s a weakness that stems from Gill’s developmental years of playing on cement tracks. He has set himself for playing on the up, or pressing back to punch, so the weight transfer can be slow. Pacers like James Anderson and Kagiso Rabada have troubled him. In this World Cup, England’s Chris Woakes bowled him with a similar ball.
Gill is aware of the issue but, understandably, doesn’t want to upset the whole applecart to fix one issue.“There are one or two important elements. Like your shoulder should be aligned towards the ball, you should be a little side-on while playing, you should be in a good position even if your feet are not moving that well. If you are positioned well in relation to the ball, you will manage,” is what he once told this newspaper.
Plan: Short balls aimed at the armpit
Undoubtedly, New Zealand will try to cramp him with a short ball aimed at the body. It’s one area where Jadeja can occasionally be awkward. He still goes for the pull, but can drag it through leg-slip. New Zealand tried it even in the 2019 semifinal, but the leg-slip region was untenanted. They tried it in this World Cup with Ferguson and Matt Henry, but twice Jadeja bunted it through fine-leg. This time around, they are bound to have a leg-slip in place and have their seamers go round the stumps to try that strategy. When it’s a short ball outside or around the off-stump, Jadeja has no issues. He whacks them over point with ease; it’s the ball that rears up towards his armpit that can cause problems.
Plan: Movement both ways early in his innings
The best way to stop Rohit Sharma is to get him out early. So far in this World Cup, only Australia and Sri Lanka have achieved this. Once when Josh Hazlewood nailed him in front of the wicket, and the other when left-handed Dilshan Madhushanka unleashed a marvellous off-cutter that uprooted his off-stick. The Madhushanka method showed that Rohit is still wary of left-arm seamers moving the ball both ways. Madhushanka had set him up with an in-swinger first up, though wayward, before slipping in the off-cutter that moved away from him. If one watches the replays, one can see that Rohit was pre-empting to play the in-swinger, the body primed to go back and defend the ball. He ended up playing the wrong line.
It means the nip-backer from the left-armer still haunts him. Trent Boult has a devious one, although he has struggled with it. But he did show glimpses of rediscovering his swing in the previous game against Sri Lanka. With the ball seaming around the twilight phase at the Wankhede, Boult could rip open old wounds. Like Madhushanka, Boult has an off-cutter too, apart from the traditional away-seamer.
The in-swinger from the right-armer too could trouble him, as Hazlewood showed. But it has to be perfectly designed — landing on the fourth stump, just a foot from the traditional good length and bending back late into the pads. Anything slightly fuller, shorter or into the body, Rohit could dispatch it to the rope. Tim Southee’s three-quarter-seam ball could pose a threat in this regard, as the ball cuts back late into the right-hander. Southee also has an out-swinger, his stock delivery, that comes into play as the set-up ball.
Plan: Ferguson testing him around the off-stump at genuine pace
Murderous on the leg-side and smooth on the off, the likeliest way to dismiss Rahul is still peppering the fourth-fifth-stump channel and induce a nick behind. He has a wide array of off-side strokes — drives, cuts, taps and glides to punish good balls, but there is a vulnerability too. He has a tendency to poke at balls outside the off-stump, away from his body, early on in his innings. So if a fast bowler can extract movement either way, he would be in business. Southee can, but his lack of brisk pace, could make him less threatening.
But if Lockie Ferguson is in his element, he could pose a considerable threat. He is not a prodigious mover of the ball, but masterly at shuffling lengths, besides purchasing a wee bit of away seam movement. His ability to hit the high 140 kph speeds makes him an even more difficult proposition for the whippy swipes through mid-wicket.
The slippery bounce he purchases from back of a length means that driving him on the rise is risk-fraught too. It was how Sri Lanka’s Dushmantha Chameera dismissed Rahul, when he played the shot a bit early and mistimed it to short extra-cover at the same Wankhede Stadium, where the odd ball tends to grip and stop at the batsman. But the lines have to be clinical because those silken hands could bail him out of the most tricky situations and allow him to pick the ball from the stumps and hit it to any part of the ground.