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Home Cooked - Spin is the only option!
by Partab Ramchand
Apr 07, 2008
Way back in July 1907 England, batting first, were bowled out for 76 by South Africa in a Test match at Leeds and yet went on to win a low scoring game by 53 runs. Those however were very different days when matches were played on uncovered and rain- affected pitches. Certainly there was no way India could have come anywhere near repeating this feat when they were bowled out for a similar score in the Ahmedabad Test. There could be only one result after that – a South African victory – and that was how the match ended. However the manner in which the defeat came about – it’s the first time that India has lost a home Test in three days by an innings – as well as the huge margin – it was their worst at home since December 1959 when Australia won by an innings and 127 runs at New Delhi - has stirred a hornet’s nest and even the experts are nonplussed as to how the Indians with a formidable home record could tumble to such an ignominious defeat.

Viewed from any angle the sensational collapse on the first day was quite inexplicable. The Indians in the past have been able to counter a grassy surface to some degree at least but being dismissed in 20 overs before lunch was shocking beyond words. Anil Kumble’s decision to bat first on such a track generated much debate though questions will be asked as to how such a pitch was prepared in the first place. Given the strength of the South African pace attack there was always going to be more than element of risk and the worst fears were confirmed by the flop show on the opening day and the ultimate result. I had warned in my previous column against preparing a faster surface as it could lead to disaster. From what we saw of Dale Steyn, Makhaya Ntini and Mornie Morkel even on the unresponsive surface at Chepauk I had predicted they would positively be a menace in conditions even slightly more helpful – and of course they were.

Now South Africa are in the enviable situation of being one up with one to play. They cannot lose the series whereas India even to square it have to win at Kanpur. The history of the Green Park pitch which is traditionally a batsman’s paradise will not be an encouraging factor for the home team. The only alternative is to prepare a turning track which will help India’s traditional strength – spin bowling. There is hardly any risk involved for whichever Indian spin duo plays they are bound to be better than South Africa’s lone spin bowler in Paul Harris. In fact there is already much talk of going in with three spinners in an all out bid to win and square the series. Those propagating this theory obviously have the Test against Australia at Mumbai in November 2004 in mind. On that occasion India went in with just medium pacer in Zaheer Khan and three spinners in Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik on a track that turned square. There was no Shane Warne to counter this with the leg spinning great being injured and Nathan Hauritz a debutant off spinner was obviously not going to be a match for the Indian spin trio. India won a low scoring game by 13 runs despite part time spinner Michael Clarke ending up with the sensational figures of six for nine in 6.2 overs to hasten the end of the Indian second innings.

Yes, there are times when preparing a turning track might backfire and 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 as I have pointed out there is no such risk and it certainly would be a worthwhile gamble. The South Africans are quite capable of handling the faster stuff but could come a cropper while facing spinners in more helpful conditions. It is not just the best option but the only option before the Indians to try and square the series.
 
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