Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval, 1st day August 3, 2010

Indian spinners fail to attack in pairs

Losing the toss can't be served as an excuse for India because their spinners failed to create pressure from both ends, and the no-balls were unpardonable

MS Dhoni isn't doing his attack any service. Old-school captains used to say their first and supreme duty was to win the toss. Many had theories on how to win the toss too. Ranjitsinhji wrote in The Jubilee Book of Cricket that the coins were more inclined to come down "tails" because the "heads" side is slightly heavier and given to land undermost. Sunil Gavaskar is believed to have advised some to call the side that is invisible to the captains before the coin is being flipped.

Dhoni and India, though, have found that nothing works. Kumar Sangakkara even hid the coin with his left hand when flipping it today. India haven't had it right at the toss for eight matches in a row now, three of them in Sri Lanka, where you really don't want to be losing the toss. Not with this bowling attack.

With 121 wickets and 41 caps between them, this is India's most inexperienced attack since the Chennai Test of 2000-01 against Australia when Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Nilesh Kulkarni and Sairaj Bahutule had 46 wickets and 15 caps between them. Ishant Sharma, Abhimanyu Mithun, Pragyan Ojha and Amit Mishra badly needed runs on the board to put any kind of doubt in the batsmen's mind, but despite all the light-hearted musings of old captains, nothing much can be done about the toss.

The only other thing that would have created doubt was good bowling from both ends. That wasn't to happen either. When Mithun bowled testing spells either side of lunch, Ojha and Mishra leaked runs. When Ojha sorted out his run-up and no-ball problems, and bowled his last 16 overs for 32 runs and a few difficult deliveries, Mishra was generous at the other end.

For all the inexperience of the attack, 14 no-balls in a day's play - 11 of them from spinners - is unpardonable. Dhoni has spoken about how much he would hate it if one of the no-balls got a wicket, but there hasn't been much change from the bowlers on that account. India have by now bowled a whopping 71 no-balls so far in a tour of three first-class matches and a day. You shouldn't really need a bowling coach to sort out these problems, but that there has been no sign of improvement despite having such a specialist coach is baffling.

Watching Mishra bowl full tosses and no-balls, and often running onto the danger area, making life difficult for his own batsmen who will have to bat in the last innings, was to question the wisdom behind not including a third seamer on a track that is known to offer seam movement. India themselves were rattled by Dammika Prasad on the first morning two years ago.

It is plausible that India sensed a pitch that is dry underneath the surface, and wanted to have two spinners when bowling later in the match. But however dry the pitch might have been, Munaf Patel really couldn't have done worse than a legspinner who inspired such confidence from the team that his first ball to Tillakaratne Dilshan - in as early as the 13th over - was bowled with a long-on and long-off in place. And it is with India, down 0-1, that the burden of making play lies with. Mishra and Ojha have hardly looked like making any throughout the tour. It was a time that India needed something out of the ordinary, but they chose the safe route.

With Harbhajan out and Mishra in, India were reduced to the same attack that went for 514 for 9 in the tour game before the first Test. Ishant and Mithun have shown improvements and have slogged it out through the tour, but Ojha and Mishra were just as unimpressive - that too on a pitch that gave them turn.

Credit should not be taken away from the Sri Lankan batsmen, who were prepared to graft and wait for the loose balls, which arrived at due intervals. It is precisely because of that graft that 293 for 4 sounds worse for India.

That one ball from Mishra to Dilshan with an ultra defensive field-set in the first hour on a responsive pitch sent out an ominous message. It said a lot about spinners outside Harbhajan - and Harbhajan hasn't actually been going through a purple patch. It perhaps reiterated the team's lack of confidence in Munaf's fitness. It said a lot about the way this match might be heading.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mahesh on August 4, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    The idea of having a bowling coach seems as stupid as the idea of England hiring David Beckham as the "representative" or "go-between" to communicate the coach's ideas to the team and vice-versa for the FIFA world cup. He was extra baggage, and now our bowling coach also seems like extra baggage if he cannot even teach the bowlers, especially spinners, to control no-balls.

  • Siraj on August 4, 2010, 5:27 GMT

    India have been outdone by minnows and ofcourse at their home turf, Lankans are tigers like Bangladeshis are in their own countries. But luckily India only needs to sort out their bowling and rest is all fine. One test loss is not the end of the world for India as we have beaten the Lankans purple and blue on so many occasions.

  • Sajin on August 4, 2010, 5:11 GMT

    It is sad to note that Selectors have done again a poor selection after south africa's visit to India where Wriddiman Saha inducted as a batsman. This time the bowler Munaf Paterl, infamous for his lack of fitness and consistency has been called to a weakened bowling department and for to play a test.Ojha,Mishra are tried and tested players and not at all in good form especially Mishra.They could have called Ashwin,Murali Karthik as spinners and as a last resort, RP Singh or Love Ablish of Punjab can be tried better than Munaf,

  • mysecretme on August 4, 2010, 3:21 GMT

    It says a lot about Dhonis ineptitude too. With the series already 1-0, with no fear of losing the number 1 ranking, what was the need of still going with 4 bowlers? With Gambhir out of the picture, Why was the five bowler setting with probably Dravid opening the batting not tried at all? Or if the openers slot is so sarcosanct, why not leave Raina out and go for a win with Munaf in the team? If they had problems with Munaf's fitness, who was the "Peabrain" that selected him in the team? Indian bowlers have never taken 10 wickets this series. So why go with four? And then two spinners and then find that Sehwag is better than both of them? Dhoni does not deserve to be the captain of this number 1 side. He inherited a great team from Kumble and has converted it into one of the dumbest one in the world. I think the seniors are waiting for the shoe to drop and Dhoni to resign.

  • Neil on August 4, 2010, 2:48 GMT

    Why do these International teams need specialist coaches is beyond me? It is the most laughable idea. If these International players cannot sort out their own problems then they shouldn't be playing in international matches. Someone is making a lot of money doing nothing. Batting coach, fileding coach, wicket-keeping coach, etc., etc. What a joke!!! It is amazing that India with such a huge population cannot find 5 good test-match winning bowlers. LOL!!!

  • Shafraz on August 4, 2010, 2:26 GMT

    Sri Lanka in a very good position here, a score of 400+ on this wicket is very very good and should be a winning position. The only thing standing in their way is the fabulous indian batting line up but with a bit of help from the pitch some magic from malinga and the scoreboard pressure SL may be set for a two nil series win! Go Sri Lanka!

  • Dummy4 on August 4, 2010, 1:36 GMT

    India should have played an extra seamer, because they already have a second spinner in the team thats topping the averages and has the best economy rate...Virender Sehwag

  • sam on August 3, 2010, 21:58 GMT

    What do you mean 'Do not hunt in pairs', Mishra is a pair by himself. Seriously though when you fail so abjectly with same old 7 batsman, 2 seamers/2 spinners plan for two tests on the trot, any team escpecially one that is supposed to be No1 would try a change. If a true No1 team, realise you need to make the running, you need to take 20 wickets, you have lost 7 successive tosses, prepare to bowl first and in overcast conditions, pick 3 seamers and even go with 5 bowlers. After all, what has Laxman contributed in recent past? To pick two spinners, especially ones with test averages over 40 is terrible by the selectors. IPL has contributed so much money to the BCCI that they have lost sight of the fundamentals of the game. The A team tour of England was a wasted opportunity to play players such as Ishant/Pathan/Sreesanth/RP and bowl them back to confidence. Made this point directly to Yashpal Sharma on the tour myself but his 'selectors know best' attitude sums up my point above.

  • Manmath on August 3, 2010, 21:57 GMT

    Very nice piece. Only he should also have mentioned the urgent need to include MURALI KARTIK in this team.

  • Bunty on August 3, 2010, 20:40 GMT

    All captains have a certani shelf life. Dhoni has already betrayed in the last year that his shelf life as a captain is long over.As they say his box of tricks has finished and its quite bare at the moment. His over-bowling of Jadeja in 20/20 WC and general lack of strategy showed his lack of tactical nous or is it disinterest? Now this with Mishra. The same Mishra who clean bowled Clarke with an absolute beauty not so long ago and was troubling the Aussies.Leg spinners especially need to be encouraged .Not exactly with a long-off and long-on straight up. I think if Shewag is keen then its time to make him the captain as he is tactically smart and positive .Two attributes which Dhoni showed when he started but seems to have totally faded from him now.

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