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Deadly Vaas-Murali combo

Sports Reporter


  • T.A. Sekar has helped the left-armer rectify some flaws
  • Muralitharan has been his resplendent self
  • He has added variations, grown in confidence

    NEW DELHI: Coach Greg Chappell's comments on "not reading too much" into whatever little play was stolen from the heavens during the first Test notwithstanding, eleven successive maidens, and 77 runs for eight wickets in 40.3 overs are numbers the Indians will take note of.

    The members of the Sri Lankan bowling attack in the seven ODIs could have been the cast of a long-running soap — out of sync with the plot, and never too far from tears. Not once was the Indian team dismissed, and only thrice did they finish with less than a run a ball.

    Captains from the Emerald Isle since the mid '90s have had a two-card trick: throw the ball to Chaminda Vaas and Muttiah Muralitharan as much as possible.

    Struggle

    But through the one-day series, Vaas struggled to swing the ball in to the right-hander and Muralitharan's ten were played out with respect (excluding Tendulkar) but sans risk.

    The left-armer's pace (mid 120 kph) is such that he needs to drop it on a hanky with some movement either through the air or off the wicket. Bereft of swerve, and on pitches with rolled-in straw not moist live grass during the one-day series, Vaas was hit through the line for 305 runs in the 50.3 overs he bowled.

    Before the first Test, Vaas — worried about not nipping the ball back — turned to T.A. Sekar, chief coach at the MRF pace foundation and former mentor.

    "I had a look at him in the nets and saw a few flaws," said Sekhar. "His bowling arm in the load-up position was not in alignment with his shoulder, his fingers were too close together on the seam and he was running in too straight."

    As a result, said Sekar, Vaas' upper body was "closing in" too early and he was pushing the ball across the right-hander. Accordingly, the thirty-one-year-old worked on using his non-bowling arm to pull his hips through to maximise chances of movement in the air.

    At the M.A. Chidambaram Stadium, Vaas didn't rediscover swing, but kept it at an irksome spot and allowed the track's inconsistency to prey on the batsman's mind.

    Four wickets resulted. Crucially, he managed to reverse it later on, suggesting conventional swing wasn't too far off.

    Vital consequences

    Wicketkeeper Sangakkara standing up to Vaas may not quite be Godfrey Evans's mutton chops tickling the batsman with Alec Bedser in delivery stride, but the move has vital consequences.

    It prevents the batsman from batting out of his crease, thus allowing the bowler to pitch it up and capitalise on any available swing. Also, bowlers tend to bowl fuller when they have the wicketkeeper's gloves to aim at.

    The slowness of the Chennai track drew Sangakkara up and with the pitch up north likely to assist seam movement, the move may not be repeated. But Vaas bowling cutters like Australians Damien Fleming and Michael Kasprowicz did in the sub-continent could be an interesting ploy.

    A different bowler

    Muralitharan has been his resplendent self, part whirling dervish, part able marksman. He is a different man and bowler from the one who came here in 1997-98. He has added variations, grown in confidence and taken 435 wickets in 64 Tests since.

    For long Murali has tied up with his old ally, turning the screws and running through sides.

    Bowlers are always at pains to emphasise how their art — as much as a batsman's — relies on partnerships. Vaas and Murali have been of the world's best.

    The left-armer's follow-through even obligingly scuffs the area the off-spinner lands in.

    Tussle

    Vaas, poised two short of 300 Test wickets, and Murali will threaten India's record of no Test losses to Sri Lanka at home. The Indian batsman, without being alarmist, will counter and this tussle should enliven the series after a dreary beginning sapped interest.

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