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By Partab Ramchand
In a candid admission Ricky Ponting said the other day that he had not yet mastered Indian conditions. Playing in this country has been a nightmare for the Australian captain regarded as the best batsman from `Down Under’ since Don Bradman. On overall figures it is difficult to argue against this assessment. Certainly he scores over the two other contenders who have had the best record in the last 60 years Neil Harvey and Greg Chappell. But playing in India has clearly been his nemesis.
Let’s examine a few facts and figures. In 14 Tests in India spread over six visits Ponting has an aggregate of 662 runs at an average of 26.48 with one hundred and five fifties. By contrast his record against India `Down Under’ is 1349 runs from 11 Tests at an average of almost 80 with five hundreds and four half centuries. He has been the bugbear for Indian bowlers in Australia just as Indian bowlers have harassed him no end at home. His figures in India also compare unfavourably with his overall average of almost 55. It’s just one of those things that just as Ponting seems to be coming to terms with Indian conditions – three seventies in four innings in the just-concluded series is proof of this – he could well have played his last Test in the country.
It does happen sometimes that even a great batsman finds a particular bowler – or type of bowler – a major problem. Meat for one batsman could well be poison for another. It can also happen that he finds it difficult to master certain conditions like Ponting has admitted. It could be a turning track or a fast, bouncy surface. But if it's any consolation Ponting finds himself in good company for about 30 years ago another great batsman found runs hard to come by in India even as he toyed with the hapless Indian bowlers in home conditions.
If anything the disparity between Zaheer Abbas’ record at home and in India was even more noticeable. In eight Tests spread over two visits the elegant Abbas one of Pakistan’s most outstanding batsmen and a leading candidate for inclusion in an all time Pakistan XI managed just 313 runs at an average of 28.45 with two half centuries. Such was his predicament that Zaheer, Pakistan’s premier batsman at the time was dropped for the final Test of the 1979-80 series.
In Pakistan however Zaheer was the master of all he surveyed toying with the hapless Indian bowlers like few batsmen did. In eleven Tests he massed 1427 runs at an average of 158.55 with six hundreds and a 96. Both Zaheer and Ponting scored two double hundreds at home against India but while the former Pakistan captain’s inability to get a Test hundred in India remained a blot on his CV Ponting at least did get a three figure knock in this country.
These two certainly stand on their own for in other cases batsmen with a proven record from various teams have been among the runs in India over an extended period. They might have failed on one tour but succeeded on another or vice versa. England’s Dennis Amiss comes immediately to mind in this regard. He came to India in 1972-73 as a member of Tony Lewis’ squad and probably wished he hadn’t. He could not fathom the guiles of the Indian spinners then at the peak of their powers, somehow scratched together 90 runs at an average of 15 in three Tests and was dropped for the last two matches.
Four years later it was a totally different Amiss that one saw. Gone was the diffidence, the uncertain prodding and pushing. He played the same Indian spinners with assurance, compiled a marathon 179 that paved the way for England’s unexpected victory in the first Test at New Delhi, scored two other half centuries and at the end of triumphant campaign he had amassed 417 runs in the five Tests. The manner in which Amiss mastered the conditions and the famed spin quartet stands as a telling example of what a batsman can achieve with patience, perseverance and experience.