"They need to play to left arm (pace bowling) a little bit better. History tells you that Shaheen Shah Afridi blew them away one evening in Dubai, Mohammad Amir blew them away one afternoon at the Oval in a final, and Reece Topley has blown them away here (at Old Trafford)," were former England captain Nasser Hussain's words during the ODI series decider match on Sunday.
Hussain's words came after India's star-studded top order of captain Rohit Sharma, Shikhar Dhawan and Virat Kohli fell to left-arm pacers for second time in as many matches during the ODI series in England. It again highlighted that India's top-order batters facing trouble and getting out to left-arm pace bowlers has been a perennial problem, which doesn't look like going away anytime soon.
Mustafizur Rahman at Bangladesh in 2015. Mohammad Amir at the 2017 Champions Trophy final in 2017 at The Oval. Jason Behrendorff in a T20I match at Guwahati in 2017. Trent Boult in 2017 and the ODI World Cup semi-final in 2019. Shaheen Shah Afridi in Dubai in 2021 T20 World Cup. Now, Reece Topley has joined his name in the list of left-hand pacers troubling the Indian top-order in white-ball cricket.
At Lord's, with England finding some nip off the pitch, Topley ran through the Indian top-order. With his tall frame of six feet and seven inches, he got some bounce as well and got a full ball on middle stump to nip back in from over the wicket and sneaked past the inner edge to rap Rohit on his back pad in front of stumps.
Topley's persistence fetched him another scalp when he strangled Shikhar Dhawan down leg with a short ball. From the other end, David Willey was accurate and was rewarded for the same when he bowled a length ball wide of off-stump and had Virat Kohli chasing it away from the body, only to nick behind.
At Old Trafford, it was Topley again who was causing issues to India's top order. He enticed Dhawan to go for a drive away from his body, which the left-hander couldn't keep it down and gave a low catch to backward point. Rohit was undone by a full delivery going across, which he nicked to slip. Kohli was also given the full and across ball from Topley, but he had committed to coming forward and gave an edge behind.
If one goes by the overall record in ODIs, then the struggle of India's top three becomes more apparent. In ODIs, Sharma has been dismissed by left-arm pacers on 28 occasions and averages 50.46 with a strike-rate of 54.4. Dhawan averages 37.5 against left-arm pace with a strike rate of 96 and has been dismissed 26 times. Kohli has been dismissed 30 times by left-arm pacers and averages 47.67 with a strike rate of 97.5.
In general, batters find it hard to face a left-arm fast bowler. One of the reasons could be that the number of left-arm pace bowlers are rare in international cricket. Also, in helpful conditions where there is movement or bounce available, especially when coming from over the wicket, they tend to be unplayable occasionally.
Another basis could be the lack of quality left-arm fast bowlers in the current Indian set-up. After retirements of Zaheer Khan, Irfan Pathan and Ashish Nehra, India have tried many left-arm pacers like Barinder Sran, Khaleel Ahmed, Jaydev Unadkat, T Natarajan and more recently, youngster Arshdeep Singh (who is currently down with a right abdominal strain). The IPL 2022 also threw in new, promising names like Mohsin Khan, Yash Dayal and Mukesh Choudhary.
But the lack of habit of facing left-arm quicks ever since the troika of Zaheer, Pathan and Nehra retired is slowly causing problem for Indian batters, especially the top-order, as they don't have a quality left-arm fast bowler who can swing the ball both ways and extract bounce to face in the nets. Not facing left-arm pacer regularly in nets means that the Indian top-order batters find it difficult to adjust their stance and movement at the crease when an actual match happens.
So, how do the Indian top-order batters solve their left-arm pace problem. The solution to it lies in a masterclass video done by England's talismanic batter Joe Root, which is available on Youtube, on how he would make adjustments to counter left-arm fast bowlers coming from over-the-wicket angle.
"Generally, I would stand on middle stump, trying to keep it quiet neutral, opening up both sides of the wicket. Maybe to a left-armer, my back foot goes slightly further across. My left foot will open up slightly and I try and just align my shoulder with where the ball is coming from."
"I want the bat to come down dead straight and following it back down the path it came. Early on in my innings, I would try and make sure that widish mid-off is where you really want to hit it to give yourself the best chance."
Root's masterclass could be a good tutorial for the Indian top-order to tackling the left-arm fast bowlers in white-ball cricket. In numerous previous occasions, India's top-order meltdown to left-arm pacers has costed them crucial matches, especially in the ICC tournaments. Hopefully, Indian top-order batters will fix this chink in their armour ahead of two crucial white-ball World Cups coming in the next 16 months.