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

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