17 December 2020 21:47:58
There are a couple of questions that are frequently asked when batters struggle to take on Nathan Lyon, the Australian champion. Why don’t the batters go back and work the ball behind the square? Why don’t they push forward to dampen the spin? The answer is simple: it doesn’t allow them.
When the batters think they’re going back, the ball goes up and around inexorably. This makes them feel they can’t push him down or beat him past the palms in anticipation of the short back leg and very boxy leg that Lyon regularly deploy.
When they push forward, like Cheteshwar Pujara tried and failed on the first day of the Adelaide Test, the ball rears up on them. It triggers self-doubts about being on top of the rebound and they have to mutter under their breath: “Damn that overspin.”
How did Pujara’s degree of difficulty keep increasing?
It was fascinating to see the mood of waiting, hoping and waiting for Lyon after releasing the ball towards Pujara. Not that India’s # 3 was struggling, but the challenges he was trying to overcome were getting steeper by the minute. Pujara would later talk about how Lyon have “increased revolutions” on the ball these days, which has presented more questions for batters.
The ball that Pujara got had that extra touch. His first move to counter the ball was to try to move forward. But Lyon have the ability to control the airtime of their deliveries. He doesn’t always let the ball hang in the air for too long, especially on tracks like this one. This also dived pretty quickly.
Pujara sensed that he would not get close to the ball court, despite his initial intention to move forward. So it stopped. Now, the challenge was to keep the balance. He tried to make small stammering movements. The ball began to rise and Pujara was caught on the crease. His instinct was to somehow take his club away. He tried to put the bat between his legs and hoped the ball would come off the edge. It didn’t have to be.
Ravichandran Ashwin talked about the kind of balls that take the lead. “People think it’s the break that gets the inside edges. It is not always (so). It is the angle from which you sometimes release. The batters are trying to push or defend along the track, but the ball enters sideways and takes the inside edge. “That’s what happened here too, a sharp turn would have meant a jailbreak for Pujara.
If moving forward has its pitfalls, how about going back?
Both Pujara and Virat Kohli have tried this tactic. However, the extra bounce, aligned with the tack, didn’t allow them to ride it when they pressed back. In the past, the wrist Mohammad Azharuddin and the equally skilled Pakistani hitter Saleem Malik would retreat back, open a little, and forcefully push the ball between the short leg and the short leg back. The current generation probably lacks those flexible and security wrists. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
Why is Kohli better suited to face Lyon?
On the first day in Adelaide, Kohli was superior to Pujara in dealing with Lyon. His game is intrinsically suited to counter this difficult challenge. The angle at which the club descends helps and he also trusts that his hands float well ahead of his bearings, unlike most of his teammates. Its bottom cuff and the angle it meets at allows it to work the ball mid-center, which it does a lot.
Unlike Pujara, Kohli rarely got carried away. From time to time he has leaned forward but his game allows him to deal with the double threat of bounce and tack, especially in an opening shot of the day.
Even though the ball is going up, because Kohli lets his hands wander forward, the spot where it meets the ball isn’t alarmingly high. Obviously, there is a danger of the inside edge going into the hands of close defenders. This is why not many take the bite and someone like Pujara prefers to wait for the ball to come to him. Only those with a supple upper body like Kevin Pietersen and Younis Khan, can perhaps lean so forward and reach areas beyond reach for others.
Kohli is an extremely self-aware and ego-free hitter in this respect. And so, he continued to press forward and bring the ball in. Pujara did his thing too, and so did Lyon. The trio continued to do so. Lyon were waiting for something, looking for something, Pujara negotiating hope methodically, Kohli trusted his defensive game. It was the period of the game that spread restlessness and impatient anticipation.
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