London: After Ashley Giles' much-criticised negative line, it is the intimidatiory tactics of England fast bowlers against Sachin Tendulkar in the just-concluded first Test that has set the tongues wagging among the purists of the game. Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones repeatedly came round the wicket and bowled short- pitched deliveries directed at Tendulkar's rib-cage with a packed leg-side field. Like Giles' tactics during England's tour of India earlier this year, this strategy also paid dividends as Tendulkar was not only restrained from scoring, he also threw away his wicket while attempting a wild drive in a bid to break the shackles.
And even though not everyone was amused by the tactics, coach John Wright said India would have to live with such methods throughout the series. "The battle of attrition will be the feature of this series. It will make for slow and not always entertaining cricket," Wright said. Though legal, the methods have only reinforced the belief that it was extremely difficult for the Englishmen to get Tendulkar out by conventional means. "They did it against Sir Donald Bradman and there is no easy answer to such theory," said Mike Gatting, former England captain referring to the 'Bodyline' series of the 1930s. "Bowling at that straight angle, with a bowler coming round the wicket, would leave a batsman with little option. The only good news for Tendulkar is that a bowler can't get it right all the time." Another former England captain Sir Geoffrey Boycott made his own dry observation to the situation. "The only way a batsman can tackle this is to take a single and go to the other end," he said.
Former England coach David Lloyd observed that the extra height of the two fast bowlers and the occasional inconsistent bounce of Lord's pitch were the major factors behind captain Nasser Hussain's decision to put such a theory in practice. "Indian bowlers are only 5'9"-5'10" in height. With that build they are always looking to swing and seam the ball. These two England bowlers on the other hand do not believe in swing. They just like to bang it in," Lloyd said. "With the ball coming in quickly at your body at inconsistent bounce, a batsman will avoid attack as a policy," he said. Legendary fast bowler Michael Holding said a similar line of attack by his fellow great bowlers in the West Indies team of the 70s and 80s was termed intimidation by the legislators and the laws were quickly amended. "These days such line of attacks are being called great tactics. When we did it, it was intimidation," Holding said.
"May be, if West Indies start producing fast bowlers of similar quality, they would again term it intimidation." Boycott remembers the quality of West Indian quicks of the 70s and 80s vividly and said it put a physical threat for batsmen all the time. "I remember an over by Colin Croft in a Barbados Test clearly. As many as five deliveries of an over were headed towards me." However, Gatting felt it wasn't an issue of intimidation or the fear of physical hurt with Tendulkar. "I don't think it is fear. He is too good a batsman for that. But sometimes you can't do anything for such a thing. It is like a good outswinger which gets the best batsmen out," he said. Lloyd said had he been the Indian coach, he would look Tendulkar in the eye and say "It is just fine, you would be alright for the next games. "Such theories are difficult to put in practice where wickets are bound together better than this Lord's turf," he said. Interestingly, Hussain did not use the tactics again in the second innings when India was chasing a mammoth target of 568 runs. "We did it in the first innings because we wanted to contain Tendulkar. It wasn't a job of containment in the second innings. We had plenty of runs to play with and if Sachin wanted to come out at us, we were quite happy," Hussain said. Gatting looked at Hussain's tactics in the second innings as one of the "mind games" the England captain was playing with the Indians. "He is conscious to use the tactics sparingly. He knew Tendulkar would be prepared in the second innings for such tactics and tried to upset his rhythm again by bowling conventionally." Former Indian opener Navjot Singh Sidhu said if England were to use this tactics again in the series, Tendulkar would be thumping the balls to all parts of the ground.
"I have no doubt the genius that he is, he would be ready with an answer the next time." Sidhu, however, felt Tendulkar was playing a bit away from his body these days and needed to look at this aspect of his game. Wright was not worried about the strategy being repeated and had full confidence in Tendulkar's ability to handle such bowling. "He could either attack or if he wants to, he can get inside the line of the ball and duck or sway out of the line," Wright said. Former India captain and now a commentator Ravi Shastri said Tendulkar must counter such tactics with bold methods. "He would have to pull, hook or cut and bat with that refreshing freedom which is the key to his batting." Captain Saurav Ganguly too wasn't worried a wee bit on his main batsman losing focus because of England tactics. "He has failed in just one Test and it will not bother somebody who has got runs by thousands," Ganguly said. "He will hook or cut and will surely show his answer to it."