Australia in India 2012-13 February 27, 2013

Spin formula India's best bet

A string of injuries to their fast bowlers means spin is India's only chance at victory; a lack of quality spinning options means acutely crumbling tracks are the need of the hour

An American football coach once had the basic principle of sports writing explained to him by a reporter: "When you lose, we make fun of you. When you win, we make fun of the other guy."

Much fun, therefore, is being made of Australia's bloopers in the Chennai Test and India are spared the pincushion treatment for now. They would hope the respite lasts for another few months at least.

Victory in the Chennai Test has brought relief rather than fist-pumping 'payback' celebration. Three Tests and three months of introspection lay between India's last Test victory in Ahmedabad against England and the Chennai Test. This was a victory they needed as much as they wanted. It was eked out through a fairly simple formula, one that India hopes will keep working through the rest of the series.

Chennai was dusted and done, in that order, 90 minutes into day five. After MS Dhoni's brutal double-century on Sunday, the Indian spinners brought their brand of business into play on day four. R Ashwin, Harbhajan Singh and Ravinder Jadeja ran through the Australian batting on a track that spat, bit and either leapt with venom or sizzled with zip.

This is the way this series is going to go, in all likelihood. The focus is on pitches that will allow India to successfully play three spinners, including Jadeja. As long as their batsmen can hold out (Dhoni did far more than hold out in Chennai, he led a surge) and the inexperienced Australians keep sweating, India will control the series.

It is, it appears, India's best chance of securing a result that stays true to script and overturns their own overturning by England.

Before Chennai, India's last Test victory had come on a sluggish surface and led to complaints about the man-hours and sweat-buckets required by India's spinners to get 20 wickets. The turner that was demanded, rather openly, backfired on them in Mumbai after England re-grouped, played Monty Panesar ahead of Tim Bresnan and roared back.

The only similarity between Panesar and Australia's Xavier Doherty is that they are quickish left-arm spinners. Doherty is more of a limited-overs specialist and, not surprisingly, Panesar has played over 100 first-class matches more than him. India will be on the lookout for any copycat approaches from Australia which, if unsuccessful, will no doubt be mocked too.

So far so good. Chennai was originally the venue of the fourth and final Test of the series. The venues were switched around to open the series in the south when it was decided that Hyderabad would host the second Test instead of Kanpur (Cricket Australia had expressed dissatisfaction over the facilities in Kanpur). The ideal script for India would be Australia heading into a north Indian spring, in Mohali and Delhi, 0-2 down.

To say that a dry, slow, crumbling, unpredictable pitch equates to what other sides do - play to the home team's 'strength' - is somewhat misleading. If India had more confidence in the spinners they consider their 'strength', the surfaces would not require "selective watering"

VVS Laxman's succinct description on television of what the pitch in his home town for the second Test would be was "hard, firm and crumbling". In the previous Test played in Hyderabad, New Zealand were beaten soon after tea on the fourth day, with Ashwin and Ojha taking 18 of the 20 wickets.

Word from the Indian camp is that injury to one quick bowler after another meant that spin became the only 20-wicket option available to the hosts for this series. One tally even has the number of injured at ten but in real terms the list includes Zaheer Khan, Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Vinay Kumar, Irfan Pathan and a fittish RP Singh (who comes with wishful longing for a 2007 version).

The Chepauk track was called 'decent' by Dhoni and 'typically Indian' by Jadeja, while Clarke said it "looked a lot worse than it played". There were 1243 runs and 32 wickets over four-and-a-bit days, evidence, it was said, of its perfectly respectable nature. What cannot be denied though is that - barring Pattinson's manful effort in the first innings - the pitch largely favoured a type of bowler, rather than give both quicks and slow men their moments over five days.

Ironically, the species of bowler Chennai favoured is the kind that is sadly going out of vogue in India to the point that the national selectors couldn't find a surprise newcomer to throw into the mix. Laxman's estimate of the number of quality spinners - and he knew how to play them - in the country numbered at "seven or eight", rather than the "two or three per domestic team" that he remembered running into in the 1990s.

To say that a dry, slow, crumbling, unpredictable pitch equates to what other sides do - play to the home team's 'strength' - is somewhat misleading. If India had more confidence in the spinners they consider their 'strength', the surfaces would not require, as the Chennai curator delightfully explained in the Indian Express on Wednesday morning, "selective watering". This is more a reflection of India's limited options and the weakness of a new, raw generation of Australian batsmen. And not wanting to be made fun of.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Anantha on March 2, 2013, 4:06 GMT

    When Indian journalists write about the Indian team, the correct quote is: "When you lose, we make fun of you. When you win, we make excuses for the other guy."

  • Jay on March 2, 2013, 2:58 GMT

    Sharda - Another American football coach once famously proclaimed: "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing"! An accepted formula is to leverage the home-field advantage to the fullest. Look at astroturf vs grass in field hockey. It's no coincidence that India's supremacy declined primarily with the 1970s introduction of astroturf. It shifted the advantage totally from India's (& Pak's) wristy style of finesse play to the hard-hitting power game of the Germans, Dutch & Aussies. So, why complain about pitches? And integrity? Look, even sledging is considered a competitive advantage down under! Just ask Steve Waugh re: his "mental disintegration" tactics. Now that seems to have gone too - thankfully for cricket - with Ricky Ponting & his 2008 antics. Also it's time CA's John Inverarity stopped dissing the integrity of the doosra (LOL!) & encouraged young Aussies to learn the art & science of spin bowling. What's wrong with Lyon adding it to his repertoire? Just ask Murali!!!

  • Prem on March 2, 2013, 1:07 GMT

    What about Ashwin's first innings? Did the pitch assist in that as well? Credit where it's due, he had a good game. While he won't be the best spinner India has had, probably even in this decade, he did bowl well to the conditions.

  • Graham on March 2, 2013, 0:22 GMT

    CricketCoachDb - I agree totally. The prolem I have with the pitch isthat it was made to perform a certain way. Pitches should just be prepared as they are every game of the year and not tailor made for specific opponents.Selective watering means that it was made in a particular way for whatever reason. The normal Indian pitches tend to favour spin anyway and I dont see why Dhoni and the BCCI think they are unlikely to win on the standard Indian pitch and have to prepare pitches to further negate the oppositions strength.

  • Toby on March 1, 2013, 20:33 GMT

    To the defensive India fans: the conditions in England are certainly naturally occurring, NOT prepared to be like that. You can't stop the cloud and rain, after all! Same goes for Australia with their conditions that favour fast, pacy bowlers. We couldn't prepare a spinner's paradise if we tried...and with the Aussies coming up and Swann and Panesar in our ranks, it would make sense to do it! Whereas a quick perusal of Ranji Trophy averages will tell you that seam is actually normally slightly more successful than spin in India now-so obviously the Test pitches have been prepared to negate the Indian weakness.

  • Harmon on March 1, 2013, 17:13 GMT

    @Meety: Of all the people you could find only Mr. Bedi to quote? Like DG said here, he goes overboard at times, in fact almost every time for eg his statement that Murlai's wickets were mere run outs in his eyes. Even here, I really fail to see why should you or Bedi have any grudge with this wicket. Yes, the bowl was spinning on Day 1 and by implication this help was available on all 5 days but why is that a bad thing on its own? Is it a sin to see the ball spinning? Neither did the wicket break down noticeably. So the Day1 Spin did not mean any monsters in the wicket. The firmness of the central part meant there was ample chance to score runs for batsmen and bounce for the bowlers, so much so that even on Day 5 Patto was able to bowl sharp bouncers (Rem Murali's 1st ball?). But ofc it meant the fast bowlers had to work harder. Are you saying the Aussie bowlers should get ample bounce just like that?

    This was really one kind of an Ideal Wicket. Why are you whining so much?

  • Harmon on March 1, 2013, 16:49 GMT

    @Malediction: The curator hasn't "ADMITTED" anything. He has simply told how he prepared the wicket. It your your biased vision that makes you think he admitted any wrong doing or any hanky-panky there. Anything that was done in SL or anywhere else is not relevant to the context anyways, so don't bring it here.

    As for your other comment, if the wicket was firm and did not provide any uneven bounce isn't that great? What is wrong there? In the past ppl make a noise about India wickets getting uneven as play progresses. Chennai wicket did not behave that way. You want to criticize when the wicket gets uneven and you want to criticize when the wicket does not get uneven. Just how confused are you?

    What stopped Aus from picking more spinners if now you say the wicket did not help Aussie fast bowlers? Whose fault is it? Why blame India or the curator for it? Which Aussie bowler took 6 wickets? Why were the others unable to do that? Whose fault is it? Sheepish cat hunting the leaf. Huh.

  • Srinivas on March 1, 2013, 15:30 GMT

    @Meety, mate I completely see your point. I completely understand your reasonable complaint. But don't worry about the process that goes into making either of the tracks. That's my message to you. Next, does Bedi criticise if a pacer gets wickets on day 5? Does he criticise if a pacer is unplayable on day 5? I'm not pinning him down. Just a thought to consider, may be? Bedi is definitely a no nonsense person. But sometimes, he goes over the top. I strongly suggest that various cricket boards have to work together to prepare such pitches, that are alien to them, at the sametime outfoxing the visitors when they visit. That's the suspense I want the visitors to face - Aussies in India and Indians in Australia. And if you followed the recent stories, Dhoni too said that he didn't know how exactly the wicket is going to play. So, it's not a case where one captain was selectively informed about how the pitch is going to play. If one captain was indeed informed, then that would be dishonest.

  • Heath on March 1, 2013, 14:26 GMT

    @ramprakash but in countries like Australia there are conditions for spinners on 4th and 5th days for some wickets like Melbourne and Adelaide, whereas in India you can have spinners opening the bowling on day 1. That is way too biased for spin and makes pace bowling almost obsolete. It is no wonder why India historically have such a poor record outside the subcontinent. The home conditions create an Indian team bowling attack that is very one-dimensional.

  • Heath on March 1, 2013, 14:21 GMT

    Hyderabad is supposed to be a truer wicket than Chennai., so whether or not Australia play two spinners is still in question. One thing is for sure, is Lyon needs to bowl more outside off stump and less deliveries ending up down the legside. He needs to improve.