Breaking down Kaneria
Danish Kaneria is benefitting more from Shoaib Akhtar's absence than he realises. Had the Rawalpindi Express been on this tour, he would have hogged the headlines irrespective of the number of wickets he took. Now, Kaneria is basking in the limelight, as well he should, having been the best Pakistani bowler on display by some way in the opener at Mohali.
India's batsmen took note of Kaneria, giving him far more respect than any other bowler. And Laxman Sivaramakrishnan, the former India legspinner, who was commentating on television during the first Test, believes it was well earned. "I thought he bowled really well and that's why he got the respect he did," he told Cricinfo, ahead of the second Test in Kolkata.
LS, as Sivaramakrishnan is known, was a purveyor of the high art of legspin bowling, and easily cut through the dross and pinpointed the reasons for Kaneria's success against a batting line-up that regularly chews up legspinners and spits them out. "He was bowling quicker through the air and did not give batsmen the time to come down the pitch, or use their feet to him. Also, not too many spinners can generate that kind of turn at that pace - whether it was the legbreaks or the googlies. He also made sure he bowled a length where the batsmen were in two minds whether to lunge forward or go onto the back foot. We must give him credit - he bowled exceptionally well on a good batting pitch. The only things he needs to keep in mind is to use the crease a bit more and vary his pace. With the control he has got over line and length, if he does that, he'll be a very tough bowler to face."
Intikhab Alam, the former Pakistan captain, who was also good enough to take 125 wickets in 47 Tests, was equally effusive in his praise but admitted that before the series began he thought Kumble would be the more effective bowler for a variety of reasons. "Kaneria was marvellous at Mohali. But he was not really tested. The Indian batsmen have not gone after him, they were a bit cautious and did not take risks as they were focused on taking the lead," he says, but gives credit where it is due. "He will be even more effective when there are runs on the board. Then he can bowl more freely."
When asked to compare Anil Kumble and Kaneria, Intikhab said, "They are two different bowlers. Kumble is more experienced, does not turn a great deal, has a front-on action; Kaneria is side-on, spins more. But Kumble knows how to bowl under pressure, is very disciplined, has great attitude and has the advantage of home conditions."
LS believes that Kaneria could well be the man to break the legspinners' jinx against India. "He could well be the exception in terms of the results he gets. As it is he is the first Pakistani legspinner to take five or more wickets against India in an innings. In that sense he's already made his presence felt. [Abdul] Qadir was an exceptional bowler, it's wrong to compare Kaneria with Qadir at this stage, because he's still a work in progress. But he does have the makings of a complete legspinner in the long run."
When pressed, LS spells out why Kaneria could build on his success in the first Test. "I think he will continue to do well. He is by far their best bowler. He is not as quick through the air as Kumble, but is faster than Warne. And because he is a tall man and has a leap in his action, his trajectory is not as high as a traditional legspinner. Batsmen have a fraction less time to gauge the length of the ball."
Gauging Kaneria has certainly been a tricky affair so far. Whether India's batsmen will get his measure in the second Test, and nullify the advantage he has gained, remains to be seen.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.