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Anand Vasu in Kolkata
December 3, 2007
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who has spent close to three hours batting on the this pitch, and more than ten hours behind the stumps, tried to explain the nature of a track on which 1213 runs had been amassed - with four fifties, four centuries and one double-century scored - but which was hard to score on once a defensive field had been set.
"The pitch is very slow and after the ball becomes soft it's tough to pierce the infield. It's tough to play shots or score quickly. Generally in India even on turning tracks when the ball is gripping the surface you can play your strokes," said Dhoni. "Once the fast bowlers finish it's hard to score off the spinners. The Pakistanis scored when we were attacking and looking for wickets."
At the same time Dhoni also conceded that this wasn't a great pitch for the bowlers. "It was not a pitch where you could run through a batting line-up. But we got early breakthroughs because of good bowling. [Kamran] Akmal and Misbah-ul-Haq played well," said Dhoni, perhaps overlooking the fact that nearly all of the first five Pakistan wickets to fall came through poor shots. But all that changed with Misbah, to a large extent, and Akmal, to a lesser extent, at the crease. "The way they played, going forward and defending when the ball was full, there was hardly any risk because there wasn't much bounce even from the rough and the ball was not carrying to the close-in fielders. They used the cut shots very well."
From afar this pitch doesn't appear to have broken up as much Indian dust bowls generally do. While batsmen dragging their feet does cause some dust to fly, it's not as though each ball landing on the pitch is accompanied by a puff of dust. It's not as though Harbhajan Singh is getting the ball to rear sharply from the rough, as was definitely the case here in 2001, when he led the famous rout of Australia on the final day. "It's not breaking up ... it's powder right now," Dhoni said when asked just how much the pitch had broken up. "If they bowl in the right areas it's tough for batsmen. Wicket to wicket it's not scuffed up so the spinners will definitely have to use the rough."
To exploit the rough Harbhajan and Anil Kumble will not merely have to be patient, they'll have to be deadly accurate, for the patches aren't substantial. What's more, they're not in areas where a bowler can easily threaten batsmen unless he spins the ball a big deal, like Danish Kaneria did. "The spin is not really quick," Dhoni conceded. And slow turn poses few threats for quality batsmen willing to grind. "If you can bowl in the rough, it is turning and the bounce is not consistent. Some balls are turning more, some are turning less, to that's a plus for us."
It is this plus, combined with the fact that Pakistan's batsmen aren't necessarily famous for their application, which gives Dhoni hope of forcing a win on the final day. "Frankly speaking we need only 10 balls to win the match now. So in a way five hours is too much time. We have to beat them in flight or with turn and bounce," said Dhoni.
With a lead of 301, India will probably look to consume one hour, and score as many as they can in that period, leaving Pakistan with a target upwards of 375 from about 75 overs. "We'll bat a bit more tomorrow. [I] can't say exactly how many runs we need. It's not just a matter of runs. It depends on time as well. But to be on the safer side, on a wicket like this, you'd love to have fielders surrounding the bat. To have those extra couple of fielders close-in you need to have those extra runs. Then you can really attack and challenge the batsmen to play some shots on a fifth day wicket. That's the motive for batting a bit more tomorrow."
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