At 426 runs in four innings, an average of 106.50, and a double century under the belt, the England captain is in great form. “They couldn’t have asked for a better time for Root to be in this kind of touch,” says Bharat Arun, India’s bowling coach, and the man behind India’s 72 wickets in four Tests in Australia.
“We are going to work on him,” the Chennai-based Arun told TOI as Team India arrived in the city on Wednesday.
Thankfully, barring Shami and Jadeja, the rest of the attack will be available in full force. It’ll be a good contest and since we’re playing at home, our boys will be in a far more comfortable space – after having gone through what they did in Australia,” Arun says.
Trust another strategy to fall in place, this time for Root, the way it was for Smith before the Indian team had embarked on the long journey Down Under in November last year.
It was in July last year that Arun received a call from Ravi Shastri. West Indies had landed in England to play the first cricket series after the pandemic set in, cricket was restarting and Shastri realized that India’s tour of Australia, scheduled towards the end of the year, would be a possibility after all.
“It was a lengthy chat but the long and short of it was simple. ‘Take the offside out of Australia. I want you to devise a plan where the entire attack is straighter and a field to go with it’, Shastri told me during that conversation.
“The idea was to dry-up the scoring as much as possible. And it would have to begin with the taming of Steve Smith. He was, after all, their main man – the best batsman in the world,” says Arun.
Smith would eventually go on to score a total of 313 runs in the series, of which 131 would come only in one innings (182 runs in seven innings) and Australia, for the first time in history, would end up scoring 200 or less in three consecutive innings at home.
“I got an analyst to share the data. Smith’s batting graph, the wheel, all scoring charts and where he has got the bulk of his runs. We began to look into the minute stuff – where does the ball go in the air maximum when he plays towards the on-side, etc,” says Arun. His struggle against Trent Boult in 2019 was fresh in mind.
Along those lines, strategies began to fall in place.
He adds: “Data showed 70% of Smith’s runs were on the offside. If that could be cut, set fields to restrict him from playing his shots, make him play more on the on-side, it would naturally get difficult to control the ball. Unlike most right-handers who can control the ball more effectively playing on the offside, the risk factor when playing on the on- side with a restricting field is that much more.”
Smith loves his boundaries. That was another factor. The idea was also to stop him from getting those boundaries, slow him down.
“He is someone who likes to use his hands a lot, he likes it when the ball comes faster on to the bat. So, we knew we would have to keep it slower. He hates it. He admitted as much when playing New Zealand in 2019,” says Arun.
India stopped themselves from using any of these strategies early on. They wanted to wait. “He’s a world class batsman. He wouldn’t take time figuring it out.
In the Test series, the plan was to ensure that even if Smith ended up getting a hundred, he would still have to consume 200 balls getting there, and the bowlers managed to contain him impressively.