The Rohit Sharma-led India cricket team was at their tactical best during its opening game of Asia Cup 2022 against Pakistan as they registered a thrilling win, with their opposition having very little idea of coming out of the trap and were forced to fall prey to it.
The smart use of short balls to trouble the batters and sending the left-handed all-rounder Ravindra Jadeja at No. 4 during the run chase were the two solid tactical decisions, which brought positive results for India.
Well, it wasn't that the Indian team used some 'rocket science' or cricket hasn't seen these tactics before. But, in a high-pressure game like India vs Pakistan, these small things play a huge role in outsmarting opponents, which everyone witnessed on Sunday.
The Indian fast bowlers were the architect of India's win. It was the first time India took all 10 wickets with pace in a T20I innings, so one can definitely see the impact of pace-bowling in that very game. And what's more interesting was that five of the 10 wickets to fall in the Pakistan innings came off short balls, which generally Indian fast bowlers are not known for especially in a white-ball game.
Dubai generally has spinner-friendly wickets but since August is one of the hottest months of the year there, the pitch curators have left ample amounts of grass to sustain the tracks for a longer duration. Also, back-to-back matches at the similar grounds doesn't make their job easier either.
There was lack of movement off the pitch and in the air but the pitch had a bit of bounce on it, which guided Indian fast bowlers to bowl short or short of a good length at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Sunday.
India all-rounder Hardik Pandya led India's ploy as he kept digging in at hard Test match lengths at 140 kmph, slipping in bouncers at will that earned him all three of his wickets on short deliveries.
Hardik first dismissed Iftikhar Ahmed on a well-directed bouncer and then removed Mohammad Rizwan, who tried to ramp a short ball, but ended up hitting it straight to deep third man. Khushdil Shah also attempted the upper-cut against Pandya but only to be caught at deep point.
However, all this 'short ball tactics' started with the wily Bhuvneshwar Kumar. The experienced pacer, who is known for his swing used the short ball as a rabbit out of his hat to get rid of Pakistan skipper Babar Azam.
Babar was getting himself into driving positions against straighter and fuller lengths, so the bouncer that arrived after a succession of pitched up deliveries had the desired effect on the Pakistan captain -- the top-edge off a pull going to the short fine leg fielder. The conditions didn't set Bhuvneshwar up for the typical early breakthrough, but it came anyway for him.
The 32-year old, who has been a breath of fresh air for the present Indian side and has picked 24 wickets in 18 T20Is in 2022, explained the bowling plan.
"Before bowling the first ball, I thought it was going to swing. There was no swing but there was a bit of bounce. We knew we had to bowl wicket to wicket, so bowling short was the plan," Bhuvneshwar told Star Sports in the innings break.
After getting success against Pakistan in their opener, India must continue this 'short ball' ploy against the rest of the opponents in the ongoing Asia Cup and even in future. Notably, most of the Asian teams mostly play on flat tracks, slow or low ones, so adjusting to the quality short ball doesn't come naturally to them. But, India teams need to be careful as well because the same tactics can be used against them as well.
All the squads, at least have that one pacer, who can use these short balls effectively if not as a threat.
Moreover, Team India can also reap rewards of short bowling on the bouncy pitches and big grounds of Australia at the T20 World Cup later this year. Remember, the MS Dhoni-led India during the 2015 World Cup had also used similar successful tricks to bowl out all oppositions during the group stage matches, before batters of host Australia, countered that beautifully in the semi-final game.
But, even today, a well-directed short ball at a serious pace is one of the most effective ways to pick wickets, especially in Australia. So, Rahul Dravid and Rohit-led team management along with their quality pacers, must plan and make short balls a potent tool for themselves before the upcoming T20 World Cup.