Aakash Chopra

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Former India opener Aakash Chopra is one of the best thinkers and writers on the game. Find out more at www.cricketaakash.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @cricketaakash

Time for Dhoni to shed ‘safety first’ mantra

England tied the game against India while chasing a mammoth 338. Bangladesh also managed to score nearly 300 albeit in a lost cause. If these two performances are anything to go by, it's not unreasonable to assume that India's lack of depth and quality in the bowling department has shown up.


With the tournament progressing there'll be sterner tests and better oppositions ahead, it's only wise to find ways to improve the weak link of the team. It isn't just about hitting the white round thing all over the park, but also putting the same white round thing in the right areas and more importantly, taking wickets.


Five bowler theory


India's strength lies in batting and the first two matches have shown ample evidence to validate this. We decimated the Bangladesh's spin attack which is more than a handful in their homeland. Sehwag and Kohli went berserk and tamed the Bangla tigers.


The track for the next game against England in Bengaluru wasn't the ideal batting surface in the first half. The ball wasn't coming on to the bat nicely, yet India scored a daunting 338 (despite messing up things in the final 10 overs) with Sachin notching up his 98th international ton.


The depth in batting is such that Yusuf Pathan is still to get a decent opportunity and even Yuvraj wouldn't have got his chance under the sun if he wasn't promoted against England. Aren't we playing a batsman too many in conditions favouring the batsmen? Its common sense to beef up your bowling on flat surfaces since top six batsmen should do the job.


And if the quality which India possesses in the top 6 can't do it, it's worth believing that number 7 and 8 won't either. In the sub-continental conditions it's a given that bowlers will go for plenty and hence need more support. What if Zaheer or Harbhajan have an off-day? Do we have a cushion for them like we have for our batsmen?


Playing an extra batsman is 'safety first' mindset which germinated in the years when Indian batting let the team down more often. Our overseas failures were mostly because of the inability to put enough runs on the board, since bowlers mostly gave good account of themselves. Back then, it was understandable to play an extra batsman and it did work wonders for the team. But a lot has changed since then. Our batting has grown from strength to strength and can easily afford to rest one of them.


Batting second


If we are not willing to compromise a batsman for another bowler, then doesn't it make sense to put the opposition in to bat first after winning the toss? The weaker section of the society deserves subsidy and bowlers, on flat sub-continental tracks, seem to be living below the poverty line.


It's only logical to allow the bowlers to have the first crack, for that would take a lot of pressure off them. While bowling first they won't have to keep an eye on the asking rate all the time which could intimidate and often paralyse lesser bowlers. They would find it easier to express themselves and perhaps it may just make them look like a better unit.


On top of that our fielding isn't helping them either. A good fielding unit can make a mediocre bowling unit a lot better, but ours is not the best in the world. The intent to bat first might be noble, for it's relatively easier to bowl on the back of a mammoth total, but how often can you guarantee that? In conditions where 300+ score is par for the course, providing a cushion of 30 runs for bowling means scoring over 350 every time. Would it be possible regardless of the batting prowess?


Our batting is more likely to absorb the pressure of chasing a target than our bowling of defending one.


Putting pressure on strike bowlers


Batting power-plays have shown that the moment you bring the field up, the batting unit gets restless and tries to up the ante. Teams are so used to milking the bowlers in the middle overs that the moment you block the singles and show the intent of taking wickets, they end up doing something silly. Since bowling isn't our strength, Dhoni must use Zaheer and Bhajji, his best bowlers as attacking options.


It's imperative to have 6 fielders inside the circle along with a couple of players in catching positions for these two at all times. Yes, it will put immense pressure on Zaheer and Bhajji but if they don't take wickets or create enough pressure, the lesser bowlers would look pedestrian.


Teams may have identified these two as danger men and hence play safe but if they stem the flow of runs from one end, batsmen would go after the bowler on the other end, which might work in our favour. Bowlers of lesser quality find it difficult to breach the defence but can take wickets if the batsmen go on the offensive.


These are the views of the author and not the ICC.

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