On paper, today's match in Ahmedabad is a clash of India's big bats against Australia's pace attack. For Australia, a lot rests on how Brett Lee performs. Lee has been the best so far because he's been consistent with his line and length.
He's got the experience and he's been around for a long time so Lee knows his game inside out. Shaun Tait and Mitchell Johnson, however, have struggled with consistency throughout their careers because of their respective bowling actions.
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Lee has been consistent because he has a repetitive bowling action and trusts his action. He doesn't need to worry much about how he's bowling because of his action. With him, if you were to take images of two or three deliveries in an over at the start and then compare those to similar images taken later in the innings, you won't see any difference in Lee's action.
But that's not the case with Tait and Johnson and that's one reason why they have not been as successful as Lee. We all know that those two can spray the ball around; in JohnsonÃ¢Â€Â™s case, specifically, we've seen him sometimes struggle to locate the wicket.
Johnson has spoken about targeting Virender Sehwag with the short stuff and that's a good tactic because it has worked earlier for Australia, and Sehwag does struggle with deliveries into his ribs and chest. If a batsman struggles genuinely with good short pitched bowling, you can actually tell him before you bowl that short-pitched delivery and if it's a good delivery, he will still struggle.
It is very important to be consistent with your line and length which means you need good control, but at the same time you've got to find variation in your bowling, either with variation of pace or variation of movement as a fast bowler. So often we have seen Johnson and Tait struggle with their control and that then leads to inconsistency in line and length. Both can be match-winners, no doubt about that, but they need to be consistent.
It's a mental thing as well. They need to sort themselves out in the head too. Unlike Lee, they may be thinking Ã¢Â€Â˜is my action going to work?Ã¢Â€Â™ For them, it's about having a plan and having the confidence and the control to execute it. Lee is very sorted in his own mind and that leads to him having less to think about and so he can concentrate on executing the plan and he becomes AustraliaÃ¢Â€Â™s trump card.
Similarly, Zaheer Khan for India is a great asset. Like Lee, he has a repetitive action and doesn't waver in how he delivers the ball. India look to him for early breakthroughs, but Zaheer is more effective when the ball is old and he gets that lovely reverse swing. If he doesn't start well, I would pull him out and bring him back after say 30 or 32 overs, because he is very effective then.
Zaheer is successful because, like Lee, he has very good control. Towards the end of an innings, and in particular during the batting Powerplay, players look to accelerate but they have found Zaheer hard to score off because of his control. He is India's biggest hope with the ball and much rests on his shoulders.
Harbhajan Singh is also very important for India. He hasn't been at his best of late and though we saw him bowl with control and get some bounce to trouble West Indies on Sunday, I wouldn't look too much into that performance because it came against a very shaky batting line-up. Harbhajan has a lot of experience and needs to really lift his game against Australia, because India cannot afford to for him to have another off day.
As for India's batting, I have said before that I rate their chances of winning highly when they chase. They know they don't have the bowling to constantly be defending scores against good batting line-ups and that prompts them to bat first and try and put up a huge total.
We saw after the tied match against England, after India had posted 338 and failed to win, how MS Dhoni questioned how many India needed to get to win. The batsmen are aiming too high and, as we've seen thrice now, India have struggled during the batting Powerplay.
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If I were part of the management, I would sit down all the players and discuss the batting Powerplay as a tactic - how to approach it, when to take it, how to be more selective with their strokeplay. That is what is hurting India, the inability to be selective.
Because they know their bowlers aren't dynamic enough to bowl teams out, the batsmen try to get too many runs during the batting Powerplay. That hasn't worked so far, and it certainly won't work against Australia in a knock-out match of the World Cup. Think smart, bat smart is the key for India.
Professional Management Group