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Indians just can't hook, says Woolmer

By Ashish Magotra in Edgbaston
September 18, 2004 19:47 IST
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Bob Woolmer has been associated with coaching in some form or the other for the past 36 years. With experience has also come the wisdom that makes him one of the most sought after coaches in world cricket.

Bob WoolmerAs the new coach of Pakistan, he has to face several challenges, least of them being the language barrier. Urdu, certainly not Woolmer's language of choice, is widely spoken all over Pakistan. But, to his credit, he has learnt a few words, Shabash [well done] being a particular favourite.

So one wonders how big a problem can language be at times.

"Not really a very big problem. The thing is, when I want to get something across to the players I manage. And it never really is a problem as this is a young team that is willing to learn," says Woolmer.

Woolmer's first assignment with the Pakistan team was the Asia Cup. The tournament was Pakistan's first under the South African after it lost both the one-day and the Test series against India. Confidence was on an all-time low, but the team responded to his methods. The fielding improved, the bowlers stuck to a plan and Shoaib Malik emerged Pakistan's new star.

Woolmer is a successful coach because he is always keen to try out new things, both on and off the cricket field. Being coach of Pakistan gives him the perfect opportunity.

I spoke to John Wright, the Indian coach, just a while before speaking to Woolmer and he spoke about the need for the top three in the Indian batting order to fire for India to get a firm grip on Sunday's India-Pakistan match. But Woolmer has different ideas.

"I see cricket slightly differently. I see cricket as a team game. I mean everyone has to contribute. The top three is any team are important and their performance is vital but I believe every player has a role to perform; to win, every player has to do the task assigned to him."

Looking at the prevalent weather conditions at the Edgbaston, Woolmer feels the weather could play a huge part in the result of the crucial Group C match, the winner of which goes to the semi-finals.

"With the weather being as it is [it is overcast and drizzling virtually non-stop for the past two days], it will eventually boil down to two or three moments in the game, and, at the end of the day, the team that grabs the opportunities is the one that will win. We need to forget the past; those matches were played on different surfaces."

After the match between Australia and New Zealand, Ricky Ponting mentioned how the Aussies believe in choosing horses for courses and specific bowlers for the team. There are few who will forget the way Brett Lee intimidated the Indians with short-pitched bowling during the 2003 World Cup.

The Indians, ducking and weaving, struggled as would most batting sides.

"I remember being with the South Africa under-19 team during the World Cup in February, and they had this match against the Indians. India seemed to be progressing very smoothly and had reached 86 for no loss.

"That's when I turned around and told the coach to ask his bowlers to bowl short and into the rib-cage. India collapsed to 161 for 8 and eventually lost the match.

"The lesson was clear to all there: Indian batsmen struggle against short-pitched bowling. They just can't hook," Woolmer declared.


So where does Shoaib Akhtar come in. Does Woolmer expect him to do what Lee had accomplished for the Aussies?

"There is no batsman in the world who is comfortable against fast, short-pitched bowling, particularly when it is directed at the head. It's just not this generation of batsmen. You take any generation down the years, and they all had the same problem.

"Intimidation certainly comes in. The thing is no one likes playing short-pitched bowling -- some play it better than others, but no one is comfortable. Mohammad Sami is genuinely quick as well."

But, on the whole, Woolmer believes that one-day cricket is a completely different ball game and the result of a match will not hinge on the bowling alone. Batting, fielding and doing that tiny things, like running between wickets, well might make the difference between victory and defeat.

Considering Woolmer's contempt for the Indian batsmen's technique against short-pitched bowling one couldn't resist asking him which player has best technique against short-pitched bowling?

After a bit if hesitation, he replied: "Sachin Tendulkar."

Unfortunately for India, their greatest batsmen will not be there to blunt Shoaib Akhtar like he did during the 2003 World Cup.

Maybe, Woolmer's game plan will come out trumps tomorrow.

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Ashish Magotra in Edgbaston