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Ganguly's gamble paid off
by Gulu Ezekiel
Mar 12, 2005
For those fans who grew up watching Indian cricket in the 60s and 70s - including your columnist - it was something of a shock to see the home team go in with three specialist pace bowlers and just one spinner in the ongoing Mohali Test.

Mind you, this is not the first occasion. Previously India fielded Javagal Srinath, Abey Kuruvilla and Debashish Mohanty in the first Test against Sri Lanka at this very same venue in November 1997. But that particular playing XI also included two spinners in Anil Kumble and Rajesh Chauhan.

It is a measure of his staying power and consistency that while Kumble is still a major force, the other bowlers mentioned above have either retired or faded from the international scene. This time around however Kumble is the lone specialist spinner with local favourite Harbhajan Singh fuming on the sidelines.

One cannot be certain but it appears to me that this could well be the first time India has gone into a home Test with just one front-line spin bowler in its ranks. Mohali has a reputation as a pace bowler’s paradise with perhaps only Eden Gardens matching it in this regard - or at least in the early part of the morning thanks to Kolkata’s smog and dew.

The Indian team management needs to be commended for keeping a ‘horses for courses’ policy in picking the bowling attack. However, there was a slight element of a gamble which paid off once captain Ganguly won the toss. Taking all 10 Pakistani wickets on the opening day - eight to the pacers - justified that gamble.

The likes of Srinath (since retired), Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Irfan Pathan, Laxmipathy Balaji and others charging in at full tilt is a far cry from what was the bowling scene in India till the advent of Kapil Dev in 1978.

Right from the early 1950s till the mid-70s it was spin all the way with a variety of part-timers opening the bowling – in a manner of speaking - including Sunil Gavaskar and ‘Tiger’ Pataudi! That farce would last just 3-4 overs to take the shine off the ball after which the spinners would come on - and stay on.

Indeed in one particular Test match (in England in 1967) India actually fielded four specialist spinners - the legendary quartet of Bishan Singh Bedi, EAS Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar and S. Venkataraghavan.

Kapil Dev’s emergence no doubt created a revolution in Indian cricket’s thinking. Till then young boys had no role model to look up to in this department. But suddenly every kid on every street corner wanted to charge in and bowl fast and furious.

Harbhajan will no doubt be back. The second Test is to be played at Kolkata and this is where he is the king of spin. But the balance of Indian bowling power has shifted inexorably over the last few years and Mohali is only the latest and most obvious example of that change.

More Views by Gulu Ezekiel
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