Spending close to three months in Australia and playing hundreds of balls on faster and bouncier pitches as well as in the nets prepared this young batting unit to fire on international cricket’s biggest stage, writes Aakash Chopra
Many questions did the rounds before and during India's tour to Australia right before the World Cup. Did it make sense to play four Test matches when the rest of the world was busy fine-tuning their ODI skills? Since most tours to Australia tend to be both physically and mentally exhausting, weren't the Indian players being spent even before they were to start the title defence?
Shikhar Dhawan 224 runs @ 74.66, Virat Kohli 186 runs @ 93.00, Ajinkya Rahane 79 runs @ 39.50 and Suresh Raina 80 runs @ 40.00
Failure is a better teacher than success—yet, how much can you lose before completely losing the all-important self-belief? What about the injuries? What about the form or the lack of it for certain players? Would winning lead to peaking too early or losing too often mean not having any momentum at all?
It's always easier to join the dots when you are looking back at the sequence of events. The way India has started the World Cup all those dots of over the last two and a half months are forming a beautiful picture. It was the first time in the last 48 years that an Indian team failed to win even a single match on a full Australian tour.
While they were losing matches, they seemed to have picked some important lessons, especially on how to bat on those bouncier pitches. Rahane slapped a short of good length ball from Morkel through covers at the Melbourne Cricket Ground and in the same game Dhawan played a couple of ramp shots to Steyn. These are the shots that don't come naturally to Indian batsmen, for they play most of their cricket on low and slow Indian pitches.
Spending close to three months in Australia and playing hundreds of balls (even if most of them were in the nets for some) on faster and bouncier pitches prepared this young batting unit to find a away around it. For the first few days in Australia the ball hits at least six inches higher on the bat, for the players from the sub-continent maintain low hands to deal with the low bounce.
South Africa pace ace Dale Steyn was off-colour against India
Now, it's one thing to tell your mind to pass on the message to the hands to stay a little higher and quite another to actually do it. Now, the Indian batsmen are not only used to keeping the hands higher but also have started playing the horizontal bat shots with more control.
We all know that players from the sub-continent are peppered with short-pitched stuff and we also know that horizontal bat shots are more productive but it takes a long time to master these strokes, for pull/hook are instinctive shots and if you aren't used to swivel the moment it's short, you'd be too late.
So far, Rahane and Kohli's pull shots have been exemplary in the tournament. The same can be said about India's bowling with regards to the length you have to hit nine out of 10 times. While Indian bowling lacks discipline, the knowledge acquired over the last two months has ensured that they aren't getting carried away.
In the past, the moment an Indian fast bowler saw bounce and pace in the pitch he started digging in short. Little did he realise that short balls are effective only if they are used sparingly! Also, the golden rule of hitting the top of off-stump can be followed only if you are comfortable with the bounce on offer. In India you'd bowl a lot short to extract that much bounce but can happily bowl a yard fuller in Australia to achieve the same outcome.
United they stand
Finally, spending a lot of time together on a tough tour can either bring the side closer or completely disintegrate it. It's quite obvious that latter is the case with this team. That's where the team management and Dhoni deserve a lot of credit. India started as the defending champions and not as favorites to win the title again but that has changed in the first two weeks of the tournament. Once India's batting starts firing, like it is now, you rule them out at your own peril.
Aakash Chopra opened the batting for India on the 2003-04 tour of Australia