India v West Indies, 1st Test, Kolkata, 2nd day November 7, 2013

Shillingford shows why he is WI's best Test spinner

N Hunter
Unfortunately for Sunil Narine's supporters, Shane Shillingford, based on his performance today, has put a full stop on the debate: he is West Indies' best spinner in Tests

Apparently the locals in Trinidad are very upset at the omission of Sunil Narine from the West Indies Test squad. They Trinidadians believe their man Narine should have been given preference over Shane Shillingford, who comes from the lesser-known Windward Islands, to play this Test series. Unfortunately for Narine's supporters, Shillingford, based on his performance today, has put a full stop on the debate: he is West Indies' best spinner in Tests.

In Darren Sammy's mind the Eden Gardens pitch was more favourable for spinners when he said it looked like a fourth-day surface on the eve of the Test. So to see Shillingford bowl the first over on Thursday did not come as a surprise. 

Unlike Narine, Shillingford is an attacking bowler, a classical offspinner and believes more in bowling the stock ball (offbreak) consistently, thereby creating the pressure. He has the variations but he does not abuse them. There were two important things he did this morning consistently: he maintained the line outside the off stump and pitched on a length that kept the batsmen guessing.

Despite being one of the best players of spin, most of the Indian batsmen were coming into this Test series after playing in the shorter formats extensively during the last six months. 

Curiously, a few of them opted to not take the safer option of playing on the back foot on a pitch which remained slow throughout. That approach seemed odd considering Shillingford's pace remained moderate, so there wasn't much of a danger of being trapped plumb. 

The safest option to negate good spin is to get to the pitch of the ball. But Kohli played forward half-heartedly and with hard hands into the hands of short leg; Dhawan, even counting for the low delivery, played away from his body and dragged on. Vijay initially tried to play with hard hands against fuller-length deliveries, and later in an ambitious move, stepped out, failed to read Shillingford's wrong 'un, and was stumped. And if an agile Kieran Powell had leapt forward at short leg to hold a slightly difficult chance from MS Dhoni, Shillingford would have finished with a five-for before lunch.  

Originally from Dominica, Shillingford, who is 30 years old, has played just 10 Tests so far. Yet, in regional cricket back home he is one of the most consistent and among the big names. Playing for his native Windward Islands, Shillingford is used to bowling longer spells on placid surfaces across the Caribbean. That experience has allowed him to settle down into Test cricket faster than Narine, who some feel is not fully ready for the rigours of Test cricket.

Shillingford has had to work twice as hard to get to the top unlike players from more prominent islands like Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Jamaica or Guyana. One other reason Shillingford would have been more hungry to prove himself is the fact that he does not feature in the national ODI and Twenty20 squads. 

Although he has already taken four five-fors in his short Test career, Shillingford would agree India would be the toughest test of his career. By the end of his first full day at work, he would have learned quiet a few lessons. 

The euphoria of the morning became distant for West Indies as Rohit Sharma lead India's fightback in the final two sessions. As Rohit grew in confidence he started passing the pressure back to the bowlers. So the same lengths that batsmen in the morning had played unconvincingly against Shillingford, Rohit started sweeping against or defending confidently by coming to the pitch of the deliveries. If nothing, he would just play on the back foot, forcing Shillingford to think of better ideas, which Shillingford claimed he had last evening. 

"After we got out and I bowled on the first day I assessed the wicket pretty quick in terms of how I would come and bowl next day," Shillingford said. "Yesterday and earlier today it was jumping a bit more and as the day progressed it got slower. So it is a wicket you have to do a lot of thinking on how to bowl. With the newer ball the leather is smooth and as the ball wears down it becomes easier to grip. So with the newer ball I told myself not to try too much with it."

To counter the low nature of the pitch Shillingford said he was forced to cut down on aggression. "After lunch it really slowed down a lot and that is when I thought I had to be lot more tighter as opposed to more attacking. The batsmen saw that and were more patient and were waiting for the bad ball," he said.

Unfortunately for Shillingford, Veerasammy Permaul, the left-arm spinner, remained innocuous throughout the day. Even though he was economical, the lack of variations or even pace made Permaul look like a makeshift spinner. The waywardness of Tino Best only deepened West Indies' agony as India regained control of the match which they had lost to Shillingford in the morning.

Before coming to India, Shillingford attended the spin clinic conducted by Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan offspinner, in Barbados.  Although Saqlain taught him the nuances of controlling the doosra, with which he beat two batsmen today, the most important thing Shillingford took away from that camp was to get stronger mentally.

"Working with Saqi made me mentally tougher in terms of self belief and things like that, which he really emphasised on," Shillingford said. If he understood the message, patience will be the key element for Shillingford to build on his success.

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