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Will Motera pitch work for Indian spin duo?
by Partab Ramchand
Apr 02, 2008
When a team that is clearly the underdog is able to force an honourable draw it is some sort of moral victory. This is the case with South Africa who entered the first Test at Chennai with no realistic hope of upsetting an Indian squad riding on a high after their impressive showing in Australia and boasting of a formidable record at home. It was taken for granted that their batting under helpful conditions would be able to get the better of the Indian attack but they clearly did not have the bowlers to trouble the lustrous Indian batting line up.

A draw was then the best result that the visitors could hope for and under the circumstances with more than a little help from the benign MAC stadium pitch this was the outcome. The Chepauk wicket has traditionally been a sporting one aiding both fast bowlers and spinners besides not exactly being an enemy of the batsman. More results have been obtained at Chepauk than any other traditional venue in this country since the first Test was played here in February 1934. This time however the curator K Parthasarathy a veteran of over three decades at the job did not have the required time to prepare a more sporting track with the city experiencing rain in the days preceding the start of the Test. But even otherwise when presented with challenging opposition the Indian think tank has almost always taken the cautionary step in preparing a batting beauty at least in the opening Test of the series. The game is generally used to gauge the strength and weaknesses of the opposition before balanced surfaces are prepared for the remaining Tests.

In this case however there are only three Tests to be played so it remains to be seen whether Anil Kumble and company would opt for a faster surface or a spinner’s track in the remaining two matches to try and obtain a result. The former should definitely be ruled out for if anything the visitors are better served in the speed bowling department. From what we saw of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Mornie Morkel even on the unresponsive surface at Chepauk they would positively be a menace in conditions even slightly more helpful. Of course India could retaliate with the likes of Ishant Sharma, Irfan Pathan and Sreesanth around but there would be an element of risk.

There is no risk however in preparing a turning track for the Indian spin duo of Kumble and Harbhajan Singh are vastly superior to the likes of Paul Harris and Robin Petersen. One’s mind goes back 21 years when in a bid to resolve the deadlock – all the first four Tests had been drawn – the authorities prepared a minefield of a surface at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bangalore for the Test against Pakistan. With the likes of Maninder Singh, Ravi Shastri and Shivlal Yadav around it seemed to be a safe gamble. But the reasoning of the think tank overlooked the fact that Pakistan had Tauseef Ahmed and Iqbal Qasim in their ranks. Ultimately the Pakistan spin duo performed better than the Indian spin trio and the visitors won a thriller by 16 runs to emerge triumphant in the series.

This time however there is no such risk and it certainly would be a worthwhile gamble. In fact there is already talk of the Indians fielding only one specialist fast bowler with Sourav Ganguly sharing the new ball with him and taking the field with three spin bowlers with Piyush Chawla joining Kumble and Harbhajan. It might not be a bad idea for as the South Africans showed in the Chennai Test they are quite capable of handling the faster stuff but could come a cropper while facing spinners in more helpful conditions.

Whether those in authority will put this talk into action and prepare the surface at the Motera stadium accordingly will be known over the next couple of days. But if you ask me I think it is a gamble worth taking – and could well end up as a winning gamble. That is the only positive alternative and it is interesting to note that in the last Test played at this venue India ran away comfortable winners against Sri Lanka on a track on which Kumble and Harbhajan reaped a rich harvest of wickets. The one remaining option is purely negative – prepare similar pitches and end up with a lot of batting records, dull cricket and a stalemate of three drawn Tests.
 
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