November 27, 2008

What about the spinners?

There's a common belief that only the tracks that assist the quicker bowlers are good tracks for cricket

Dear readers

We have just finished a game against Gujarat in Valsad. So far it has been a disappointing season for Delhi. We've been so close and yet so far. This match, too, followed the familiar script: we field first, the opposition score in the vicinity of 350, we get extremely close, and fail to cross the hurdle. And then they bat till the match is called off before the mandatory overs are bowled. This is the first time in my 11 years in first-class cricket that I have been involved in four consecutive games that have followed much the same pattern. I am not complaining, just contemplating.

Anyhow, this blog was never meant to focus on Delhi alone, so I'll move on. Valsad is a small centre, but hosts at least one first-class game every season. The facilities are not top notch, but they are not bad either. The best thing about the venue is the quality of the track, and that means more to us cricketers more than all the other peripherals. It is made of red soil like most tracks in the West Zone, and it has enough for everyone right through the match. The track for our match had uniform bounce - a bit on the higher side as compared to the tracks in the North - which assisted both the pacers and the spinners. It provided enough lateral movement after pitching, to keep the fast bowlers interested even until the last day, the ball spun appreciably but not dangerously, and diligent batting fetched you runs.

One look at the scorecard at the end of the tame draw that our match was would make you wonder whether it was the same track as the one I just described. The reason for this disparity was that we dropped nearly 10 catches in the first innings, and then consumed far too many overs before getting bowled out 37 runs short of getting that elusive first-innings lead. From there on only one team could have brought about a result. Gujarat, though, chose to shut shop and play for the draw. I won't blame them as their bowlers were in the same boat as every other team’s, and would have bowled far too many overs already. With another match starting in two days, why risk an injury or unnecessary fatigue?

It also boils down to the resources at one's disposal, and the situation one is in at that point in time. Gujarat are third in the table with three games to play, and they know they don’t desperately need a win to qualify for quarter-finals or save themselves from relegation. Hence they can afford to play it safe.

The point system, too, encourages such play, and I will discuss this in greater detail in future blogs. Right now I want to focus on the pitches in India. Firstly, there are different kinds of soils in various parts of the country, and each behaves in its own peculiar manner. For example, the pitches made of red soil always offer more bounce, while the pitches made with black soil tends to stay low, with the ball skidding off the surface. There are also some old and worn-out tracks, which are too painstakingly slow. One can't really change the nature of the way a particular track behaves, but one can definitely make the most of it. It's the staging associations’ responsibility, and not the BCCI's, to prepare the track for every match.

The curator in Hyderabad shaved off every single strand of grass off the pitch for our game, and rolled it so much so as to ensure a batting paradise. Orissa went to the other extreme, leaving more than enough in the track in the recently concluded match against Punjab: they bowled Punjab out for a paltry 60. We might be doing the same for our next game. The venues in the North have a major handicap in terms of bounce, yet there is some lateral movement on offer, and the teams from the North have to bank on that to get a result.

There's a common belief that only the tracks that assist the quicker bowlers are good tracks for cricket. But that's a gross misconception in today's game. Such tracks are good and test the skills of the batsmen, but what about the spinners and the art of playing spin bowling? We're traditionally better players of spin, but that's not because we are born with a talent to read the spin even before it leaves the bowler's hand, instead it is because we play quality spin day in and day out. Playing quality spin is also an art that needs to be mastered, and that can only happen if we play on surfaces that assist the slow bowlers as well.

Hence we must get over this obsession of considering only the green tracks as good for cricket. I am not suggesting that we play on rank turners, but even if that's the case, it isn't too bad once in a while.

I must here also mention the terror strikes that have rocked Mumbai, and have left us terribly despairing. I have been following and tracking all the events, as most of you have been doing as well, and I feel deeply for the victims. It's a time where everything needs to take a back-seat while we aim to drive out terrorism from our country, and make it a safe place to live in. It's a national tragedy, and one that we will never forget. At this time of trouble and distress, we must stand behind the nation and unite to make sure such a living nightmare is never experienced again.

God bless

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here