Bowling dry – not a cure-all

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Who are the batsmen who have really troubled England in home Tests in recent years? Rahul Dravid, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Marlon Samuels. And what characterises those three batsmen? An unhurried method, we’d say – they don’t go chasing after the ball. Is this a coincidence?

When the ball doesn’t swing, England’s policy is to ‘bowl dry’ (or ‘bowl defensively’ as we like to put it). The theory is that modern batsmen like to feel bat on ball and will overreach and get themselves out. Generally, this works, but it doesn’t work for some batsmen and what do you do then?

For all their strengths, we think this is a big flaw with England’s bowling attack and it is one that has been exposed by a batting line-up featuring Graeme Smith, Hashim Amla and Jacques Kallis. Don’t blame the conditions – bowlers have to deal with whatever conditions arise; they have to find a way. If nothing changes, those batsmen are liable to do this again.

Bowling dry is Plan B and it is a very good plan. However, in certain circumstances you also need access to a Plan C and we’re not sure England do.


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  1. Plan C has to involve strobe lights mounted on the sightscreen to dazzle the batsman at the crucial moment. On a dead flat track against batsmen who aren’t pressured by scoring rates, there is literally no alternative.

    The reason England are behind in this match isn’t because of a lack of Plan C, it’s because the middle order of Englishmen allowed Plan B to work against them. When Plan B fails, the match should be an inevitable draw. On this pitch, it was the collective failure of KP, Bopara and Bell that mattered. If England had scored the 500 they should have done, the draw would have been a formality, and that would have required only 40 more from each of the middle order.

    Not that this makes England a bad team suddenly. But I do think it illustrates why they are the second best test team in the world. The batting is not quite right yet.

    1. I think it’s very harsh to knock Bell who left poorly rather than chased a loose delivery.

      In fact, Cook and Trott were two of the worst for throwing away a very strong partnership with loose shots. If they had put together 300 rather than 170 we’d be looking at a solidly drawn match. Uncharacteristic and very poor play from those two.

    2. I don’t buy that argument about batsmen who are in. If it is true, it makes every batsmen who scores a century a completely useless duffer for ever getting out. All batsmen eventually make a mistake and get out – the definition of good batting is to do that on 120 odd, and not on 0 after 4 balls.

      But I’m not really knocking the others either – anyone can have a bad day. I guess I’m just saying that Plan C should be to bat out the draw, and in this test that is where SA have demonstrated their superiority.

      If you look at the English batting, you’d say that Cook, Trott, KP and Bell (and Prior, probably) are as good as we could expect. But while we have a genuinely world-class attack plus some superb reserves, we are two batsmen short of a full hand.

    1. It’s funny you should say that, but this article was originally a lot longer. We deleted loads of stuff about a time when Australia were afflicted by a similar problem.

      It was after Gillespie lost pace. They went through a spell where they favoured really conservative bowling with McGrath, Gillespie and Kasprowicz the seamers. Even with Warne in the side, they still had days where they struggled to break certain partnerships. The addition of Lee compromised the overall consistency a bit, but at least they had a good option when ‘dry’ didn’t do the job.

    2. Swann was disappointing in the last couple of days. Dry pitch, hot weather, unpredictable bounce, he should have had more of an impact. But I suppose everyone has bad days.

  2. In mentioning the features of their batting lineup you neglected to mention A.B.deVilliers. He’s the guy that comes out if you manage to take a third wicket.
    You may have to leave a little grass on the wicket if you want to see him bat.

    1. We weren’t naming the best batsmen. We were naming the batsmen most similar to those who have troubled England in the past.

  3. I disagree. I dont think England needs a Plan C as much as they need a bowler who, when things aren’t going according to plan, will step up, get hostile, and back himself to get a wicket or bloody well die trying. Like Steyn did for South Africa on the morning of Day 2, or like Flintoff used to. Thats another thing teams england have beaten recently have had in common – they all had leaderless attacks without a bowler to stamp his authority on the game.

    1. I thought it was disappointing that Broad didn’t do that. His second new ball spell was averaging about 79 miles an hour!

  4. Plan D. The umpires accuse the Saffers of ball tampering and watch the story unfold – the insulted visitors refuse to come out after the next interval and as a result lose the match to England.

    This is not unprecedented as a winning method for England at the Oval under Strauss, although it has not previously been tried against those rather dull and un-erratic Saffers.

    1. Wouldn’t work against Smith. He would play, win, and then respond to allegations. Rather than stick to an out-dated notion of honour and forfeit the game.

    2. Ged’s plan has the makings of a winning Plan D – the trick is to find the area of weakness of each captain. This can be found by establishing what is most likely to be true, and therefore what will bring on a vehemently defensive strop (cf. Inzamam).

      In Graeme Smith’s case, ball tampering is too easy for him to ignore (as DC says). However, if he were to be accused of encouraging Amla and Kallis’s epic stand just to create a distraction so he could steal all the KitKats from the England dressing room, that might hit closer to the mark. Throw in a Wagon Wheels accusation as well and I reckon he’d flip.

    3. A better plan would be to not turn up for the next two games (it could be suggested they didn’t turn up for this one either) to save anyone the bother of watching them get humiliated twice more. At least they could on a nice holiday somewhere instead or something.

  5. Ah, 90s quality cricket from England. I’ve missed you. This feels more familiar – that sense of impotent anger and frustration.

    Must. Resist. Desire. To. Abuse. England. Players. On. Twitter…

  6. “the definition of good batting is to do that on 120 odd, and not on 0 after 4 balls.”

    I’d go one step further and say that’s not bad batting either. It’s the 20 after 60 balls that’s even worse.

  7. Going by how Strauss talks lovingly of stopping batsmen scoring, I think bowling dry counts as plan A; it’s just that sometimes it swings and they keep the runs down by bowling jaffas. They need to think more about how to turn attacking shots into weaknesses (well, the batting’s already figured this) and also learn to catch.

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