Former captain supports Dravid's decision to play safe August 15, 2007

India could have won last Test with second spinner

Ajit Wadekar



"Alan Knott ... was out second ball, caught brilliantly by Eknath Solkar off Venkat. And this was a very crucial wicket." © Getty Images

There is a lot of debate on whether Rahul Dravid did the right thing in not enforcing the follow-on in the third Test against England but I feel it was the correct decision under the circumstances.

Winning a series in England is always a difficult preposition and Dravid must have kept India's past record in mind while taking the decision. It is not often that India win a series in England and to have played it safe was quite understandable.

A 2-0 margin would have been definitely better and I think Indian team could have won the last Test at the Oval with one extra bowler - spinner Ramesh Powar. If with seven batsmen they could make 664, I feel with one less they could have still made 600.

Powar would have utilised the turn on the pitch. Sachin Tendulkar was turning the ball a mile with his off breaks, and Kevin Pietersen too was able to turn the ball. India certainly missed a second spinner. But to win against England in England is a difficult proposition and that is the reason I rate this Test series victory by the Indian team quite high on my card.

The difficulty of winning in England is because their players are capable of exploiting the conditions better than the visitors. The victory is doubly sweet because Test cricket is the genuine form of cricket and it's a game of thinkers. You have to think before every ball and from session to session with constantly changing conditions - weatherwise and pitchwise.

Obviously, there will be a comparison between this 1-0 series victory and ours in 1971 by the same margin. Ours was obtained basically through spin bowling while this has come about due to swing and seam bowling though Anil [Kumble] also performed admirably.

Compared to this team, which I feel needs to pep up in the fielding department, ours was a better fielding outfit. We hardly dropped a catch. Dravid's team, however, is much stronger in batting with the fab four - the captain, Tendulkar, Sourav [Ganguly] and [VVS] Laxman - forming the fulcrum who guided youngsters [Dinesh] Karthik and the rest.

In one area this team was blessed - in the opening partnerships between Karthik and Wasim Jaffer - as compared to ours in 1971. Harking back to our triumph in 1971 I must say that when we set out to the West Indies we were considered the weakest team and even when we won people said it was a flash in the pan, and the real test awaited us in England.

The then Test series win over England was also remarkable in that almost every team member contributed to it, unlike in the West Indies when Sunil [Gavaskar] and Dilip [Sardesai] played lead roles.

The present victory, in the middle part of the English summer as compared to ours in the most dry part, too can be attributed to the team playing as one unit with almost every member contributing to it. They showed tremendous team spirit and single-mindedness.

The weather gods were kind to us in the build-up to the '71 series. All our practice matches against the various counties were unaffected by weather. It helped us get acclimatised.

We also played very positively, even in the first Test at Lord's when we strove hard for victory even when the chips were down. Chandra bowled exceptionally well when we won at the Oval in the final Test. And there was the close-in brilliance on the field of Eknath Solkar.

I remember an anecdote about Ekki. Alan Knott, England's wicketkeeper, used to mark his guard by lifting the bail and using it like Shivnarine Chanderpaul does now. Ekki had noticed it and when Knott came to bat in the second innings, he found the bails missing. Ekki, after seeing Knott's discomfiture, as most cricketers are superstitious, took them off his pocket and placed the bails on the stumps and Knotty marked his guard. But he was out second ball, caught brilliantly by Solkar off Venkat. Knotty was certainly disturbed by Ekki's prank. And this was a very crucial wicket.

Another incident comes to mind when I recall Chandra's match-winning spell. I saw Derek Underwood play three balls from him comfortably and decided to re-introduce Bishen Bedi into the attack and he dismissed the batsman immediately.

John Price came out to bat and after seeing him play Bedi comfortably I decided to bring back Chandra into the attack and he trapped Price leg before. These are just two instances where everything clicked.

Talking about the present, this team needs to improve its fielding and catching. But I am happy to see it being openly aggressive and not averse to giving back to the rivals. We used to do it discreetly but present day players adopt the in-your-face style opposition even if it's all captured by the TV cameras. You can't take it lying down, an you?

The victory was very important especially for the five seniors who are unlikely to be around when India visits England next. With the current hectic schedule one cannot visualise them being around five years later. They should be preserved and not used in Twenty20 events and against minor opposition like Zimbabwe which are ideal to field youngsters with an eye on the future. The seniors need to be used against stronger teams like Australia, Pakistan, South Africa and England.