IN 1990, New Zealand was my first destination outside the Indian sub-continent, travelling with the national side.
I was looking forward to playing against Richard Hadlee, one of the finest-ever fast bowlers. I never expected any special treatment from the greats of international cricket and I was on the receiving end of the hostilities just like any other batsman from my team.
So, in my first innings in New Zealand when Danny Morrison dismissed me for a golden duck, the Kiwis made sure they gave me an ‘appropriate’ send-off. Needless to say, I was utterly embarrassed!
My first tour to Australia was in 1991, just before the ICC World Cup 1992. The tour was special as it was the start of my enduring relationship with the Sydney Cricket Ground — my favourite ground outside of India.
It was also the start of my friendship with one of Australia’s favourite sons, Shane Warne. I met my batting hero Viv Richards for the first time. The meeting lasted probably three minutes but it was very exciting for me.
It was during this tour that I mastered a back-foot punch. Being vertically challenged, I took a lot of pride in staying on top of the bounce, I would instinctively get behind the line and punch with a straight bat. Of course, if there was room offered, I would still go for the cut shot, but the back-foot punch was more versatile — I could use this shot even against good-length balls and it made the bowler’s job that much more difficult.
The shot would often fetch me a couple of runs and if I timed the ball well, then it could go all the way to the fence. Even defensively, I would get up on my toes to stay on top of the ball, the approach was different than the flat-footed defensive stroke, which was more conventional.
New Zealand also holds a special place as it was in Auckland (1994) that I started opening the batting in ODIs, a position I enjoyed throughout my career.
My keenness to open batting was driven by the fact that I could naturally attack the bowlers from the start and take advantage of the field restrictions in the opening overs of the innings. In 1991-92, Mark Greatbatch, the charismatic left-hander, had successfully attacked the bowling as an opener, and I was so sure I could do a similar job for my country.
I always backed myself to attack the bowlers up front and disturb their rhythm — I remember coming down the wicket on several occasions, forcing the bowler to adjust their length and then waiting for the short ball to come!
Perth and Brisbane are renowned for their fast and bouncy wickets that will easily expose inexperience. Both, batsmen and bowlers have low margins for errors. As a batsman, if you understand the pace and bounce, then you could get on top of bowling. For the bowler, the good-length spot is smaller in area on these wickets and the batsman can capitalise if the line and length falters. But if they extract bounce from the good length areas, then it would make the batsman’s life difficult.
In New Zealand, batsmen will have to beware of the windy conditions due to the geographical locations of some of the venues. The wind sometimes can be strong enough to seriously affect a batsman’s timing, playing against the wind your back lift is faster but the down-swing is considerably slow, while the ball is coming on faster – and vice-versa from the other end.
The other peculiarity of grounds in New Zealand is that not all of them are the traditional round shape. In Australia, the Adelaide Oval, true to its name, has shorter boundaries at point and square leg but very long straight boundaries. As a visiting team, this makes a big difference because it affects the field positions and bowling strategies.
The bigger grounds in Australia also result in longer boundaries. I remember when they had full boundaries during the 1999 series, I called for a fourth run on a Ricky Ponting throw from the boundary. We ran in spite of Ricky’s strong arm, knowing that the ball would take some time to reach the wicket-keeper. Even though the boundaries have been brought in since then, they continue to be long.
For players struggling with form, the additional fielder in the circle will pose a challenge as rotating the strike will be tougher.
But at the same time, as a batsman let me say that if we have two in-form batsmen at the crease … then, God help the bowlers! —Courtesy ICC.