There’s hardly a batsman in the world who’d enjoy playing well-directed bouncers at genuine pace. While most shy away from making their discomfort to such bowling public, I can assure you that almost everyone is wary of it.
To be fair, the margin of error while facing a good bouncer is so little and consequences of not dealing with it confidently so dire that manifestation of one of the strongest emotion — fear — is quite natural.
Still, some manage to conceal it beautifully thanks to the countless hours spent in the nets preparing for bouncers — ducking, swaying, hooking, dabbing etc. But then, there are those who have looked woefully out of place at the sight of those deadly ones. While they do spend a lot of time in getting it right, they simply fail to get the technique right, or it becomes a mental issue for them, or both.
Suresh Raina falls in the category of players whose discomfort is so well known that even the medium-pacers dig in short the moment Raina is on
strike. Only when Raina dispatches them for fours and sixes through the onside that bowlers realise that the left-hander is not that inefficient against short-pitched stuff. It’s only when the ball is hurled at serious pace (over 140 kmph) or the pitch has steep bounce and pace does Raina feel the pinch.
That explains his much poorer record outside the sub-continent. Out of his three centuries and 29 half centuries, only three half centuries have come outside the sub-continent. Some of his problems are a product of his mindset in which he starts preempting a bouncer every time a fast bowler runs in to bowl on seamer-friendly pitches.
I distinctly remember Raina going deep inside the crease to balls that were pitched up during the Champions Trophy in England and the tri-series in Australia. Using the back leg to move back and across is a natural reaction to the balls that are pitched short.
The key word here is ‘reaction’, for if the ball isn’t short and you’ve gone deep inside the crease, you haven’t reacted to the ball. Such feet movement betrays a thought process that you’re expecting a bouncer every time. In a friendly game before the Champions Trophy, Clint McKay bowled Raina behind his legs, for he had gone far too across towards the off-stump to counter a bouncer. Just that it was a good length delivery within the stumps.
The other problem with Raina’s back and across movement is that he doesn’t move back, he literally jumps back and across. If both your feet are off the ground (like Raina has on most occasions) while going back, you won’t have any control on your body and hence no control on the ball. Firstly, it’s impossible to play an attacking shot while jumping back and across, and even the defensive shot won’t be in your control.
While going back and across is indeed the way to get either behind the line of the ball or going inside the line of the bouncer, it can’t be executed properly if you jump and don’t move. When Raina isn’t jumping back and across to a bouncer, he doesn’t use the depth of the crease at all. After his forward-press trigger movement, he would simply transfer the weight from the front leg to the back leg and play the pull/hook.
While this method works very well on slow sub-continental pitches, the extra pace and bounce in places like Australia and South Africa makes it difficult for him to execute horizontal bat shots with control. To balls that don’t bounce above the waist, he even opens up his front leg and flays it through his favourite mid-wicket region. But when the ball bounces more, he finds himself in an awkward position.
While controlling a cricket ball is mostly dictated by the positioning of your hands at the time of impact, it is improper to disregard the importance of having the feet in the right position at the right time, for often that is what leads to having the hands in the right position. Dale Steyn & Co have seen enough of Raina in recent years to know his most apparent shortcoming and hence are likely to pepper him with bouncers the moment he walks in to bat.
The number of half centuries Raina has scored outside the sub-continent