India hope Fat Boy and Slim are on song
There's an eerie similarity between the tame Indian side that surrendered at the World Cup and the upbeat one that will take on England in the first one-day international on Tuesday. The core personnel remain the same, the batting still relies on the trio of heavyweights and three of the fast bowlers retain their jobs. The spin department, though, has a couple of new recruits, a pair that's made a considerable difference to the one-day team in the last few months.
For close to ten years India had a legspin-offspin combination that other teams would have yearned for. Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh often fought for the lone spinner's slot and, despite being such formidable spinners, managed only 47 games together, with Harbhajan's haul of 56 wickets at 32.58 being marginally better than Kumble's 54 at 35.35. India won 23 and lost 20 of those games, the last one being against Sri Lanka at Rajkot in the home series before the World Cup.
Neither has turned out for the Indian one-day side after the World Cup wreckage but from that chaos has emerged a new order: Piyush Chawla, 18, joins forces with Ramesh Powar, 29. It's yet another legspin-offspin duo, but one that is vastly different. While Kumble relied on bounce and skid, Chawla is more about loop and spin; while Harbhajan was dangerous with fastish spin, Powar prefers flight and drift.
Chawla is the harmless one up to mischief while Powar is the mean one offering lollypops. Through Belfast, Glasgow and Northampton they've bowled in conditions that have been gloomy, rainy, windy and chilly. Rarely has the sun assisted them. They've had trouble gripping the ball and they've not had too much assistance from the pitches. It's been demanding, yet fulfilling. Chawla has been the more successful of the two, bagging 11 wickets in his first six one-dayers, but Powar has been an able ally, keeping on the pressure at the other end.
"It's difficult to grip the ball in these conditions," Powar admitted after the warm-up match against England Lions, one where he outwitted a rampaging Luke Wright, an assertive Ian Bell and a confident Owais Shah. The fact that two of them are part of the England one-day squad will give him more to cheer about.
Both have had problems with continuity. Powar has watched three Tests from the dressing room and Chawla has made a trip to another continent. There are direct means to get from Belfast to Glasgow but Chawla arrived via Zimbabwe and Kenya, parting with the India A squad on their African tour. "The weather in Zimbabwe was pleasant so that helped," he said with a cheery tone. "I've seen a few of the England batsmen and have plans to work them out."
Both can wield the bat lower down the order - Chawla prefers the nudge, Powar the uncultured slog. They won't just be expected to hang around but boost the total towards the final overs. Both are valuable members of their domestic sides, keeping their heads and finishing matches.
India may end up choosing both for most of the games, especially keeping in mind England's inability to handle quality spin. The faster bowlers haven't found their groove yet and it's Fat Boy and Slim who they may pin their hopes on. India sealed the Test series with controlled swing but their chances of a one-day series triumph may have a lot to do with spin.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo