Tag Archives: Spin

MS Dhoni seeks bounce and spin

So, cricket returned to Indian TV screens. And how! Some of us will say that cricket never left our homes. However, the preceding three months had seen a ODI series against Sri Lanka — Yes! We needed those like Cherrpunjee needs rain, thanks — and a lengthy series of T20 games. To me, these were months of intense dullness, induced by games that lacked substance or context. Indolent indifference and unbearable ennui resulted. 

It was therefore refreshing to see a cricket match unfold like cricket should; the match told a story of aggression, calm maturity, deceit, courage, disintegration, foolishness, bravado, determination and perseverance.

It was also a story of one captain’s despair even in victory.

This was a story of Sehwag’s aggressive return to ‘form’, although in his case I am not sure what the word ‘form’ even means. His art defies form and sometimes, a consistent narrative. We can’t be certain that a lack of runs worries the man, just as it is hard to ascertain whether the accumulation of a substantial number of runs makes him any more content or confident than he already appears to be. He smiles benignly through pleasure and pain. We too must, perhaps.

This was a story of a young man’s calm maturity. Like Rahul Dravid before him, Cheteshwar Pujara appears to be the sort of guy every girl would want to take home to meet her parents. One girl already has, and the parents have apparently approved. It is inevitable that Pujara, Che as he is referred to by his growing legion of fans, will be compared to Rahul Dravid. Pujara presents a compelling case against genetic cloning; it would seem that this is just not necessary! The score was 1-134 when Pujara started his innings, which meant that he was able to play freely and without much pressure; at least initially. His calm maturity was evident however, after four wickets had fallen for 283 runs. He held the innings together after that point and slowly accumulated his runs with Yuvraj and Ashwin. In the end, it was hard to believe that he had made as many runs as he had; he was surreptitiously effective.

The post match analysis seems to have omitted one significant point in the game when Jonathan Trott seemed to claim a catch after he had virtually slept on the ball. It is hard to believe that this professional cricketer didn’t know he had grassed the catch. It was as funny as it was, in my view, an atrocious piece of gamesmanship. I can’t imagine Harbhajan Singh, for example, getting away with a professional foul of that sort. The match referee, however, turned a blind eye to it.

This was also a story of Altastair Cook’s courage, Kevin Pietersen’s disintegration and Ian Bell’s foolishness. Cook showed tremendous application in both innings. The England captain would have watched in agony as Pietersen and Bell, his illustrious teammates, lost the plot through a combination of foolhardiness and needless bravado. In the absence of effective technique to combat the turning ball, instead of application and patience, we saw brain fuses from Bell and Pietersen. But in both innings, Cook played with enormous pride and resolve and this will have given the England camp some comfort. There is nothing worse than a disintegrating captain of a team that loses badly. He might be boring to watch, but Cook is certainly emerging as an extremely determined and effective a player.

This Test match wasn’t as bad for England as the scorecard will have us believe. With a better team balance and greater application, England can bounce back in this important series. And I feel they will.

And talking of bounce, much of the post-match commentary was around MS Dhoni’s call for different pitches. Dhoni has been on the case of Indian curators for well over a year now. He was disgusted by the pitch that was provided to the visiting New Zealand team in Hyderabad and Bangalore in July this year. Yesterday, of the Motera pitch, Dhoni said, “I don’t even want to see this wicket.”

He then went on to say, “There wasn’t enough turn and bounce for the spinners. Hopefully in the coming matches we’ll see the wicket turn, right from start, or as soon as possible so that the toss doesn’t become vital. What we want to see is two good sides competing against each other with the toss taken out of the equation.”

After the match, Dhoni was criticised for his statements against pitches. The Times of India, in its opinion section adjoining the piece on the pitch, inferred that Dhoni “seems to be letting the thirst for revenge get the better of his cricketing sense”. Right. ‘This criticism of pitches is becoming a pattern with Dhoni’, some people yelled on late-night TV chat shows. ‘We must prepare sporting tracks’ yelled someone else. On another TV show Maninder Singh just yelled.

What Dhoni has asked for seems perfectly reasonable to me. What we want to see is turn and bounce on a wicket. Further, his point is that it should be fine for a wicket to turn right from the toss so that the toss does not become as vital as it currently is. If the match then ends in three days as a result of this turn and bounce, it must be down to the incompetence of the players and nothing else.

There is a nuance to this argument too and that is that no one questions a pitch if it starts bouncing and seaming from the first ball. So why question a pitch just because it is bouncing and spinning from the first ball? I think this is a fair point that deserves a patient hearing. Further, what he seeks is consistent and true bounce. Dhoni says, “What you don’t want is ridges in the wicket and then one ball hits your head and next, your toe.”

Teams from England and Australia have come to expect car loans for single mothers and pitches that turn in India. My sense is that the words ‘dust bowl’ and ‘rank turners’ have become disparaging in our vocabulary because of the disdain imputed through their repeated usage. However, that is the nature of wickets in India. The soil conditions dictate that wickets will turn. To ask for anything else (or to artificially provide anything else to visiting teams) is akin to hating Paris because it does not have the Sydney Opera house.

–Mohan (@mohank)

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The Kolkata Test

Postscript as Introduction:

Perhaps Kris Srikkanth knew something that we all did not know! Perhaps Goddess Durga appeared in his dreams one night and informed him that a Saha would be a champion player this week. He woke up and sent Wriddhiman Saha to Nagpur and when he realized that that was a dud, sent him packing to his home town in Kolkata. But then, in so doing, he cost India a Test match and possibly the #1 Test Rank. Should he resign? I think so. Meanwhile, Goddess Durga was right. A Saha did become a champion player this week. Unfortunately for Kris Srikkanth, that Saha was Louis Saha, who scored two goals for Everton against Chelsea! — [Thanks to Sam Kumar for that nugget]

Team India suffered the ignominy of an innings defeat in Nagpur and move now to Kolkata to salvage more than pride. India needs to play a sensational brand of cricket to stop the South Africans from claiming the series and with it, the #1 spot in the ICC Test Rankings. While Indian cricketers may not yearn for it perhaps as much as others, there is also the small matter of a prize purse, come the 1st of April when the ICC will dole out some loose change to the team that is #1 at that time.

More than anything else, the manner of the loss in Nagpur will sting Team India and the manner in which the team has made recent strides.

I have always believed that Team India did not really deserve to be #1, given that it has not beaten Australia and South Africa in their home dens. That said, the team has been making steady progress in its journey towards becoming a team that is radically different from Indian teams from the 90s that had plenty of class but little substance; teams that had fragility that would make a toy made from match sticks feel good about its lot in life. The present Team India has demonstrated that it is made of sterner stuff.

Yes, one can point to the absence of Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman, Yuvraj Singh and Sreesanth from the team — all of whom would perhaps be automatic picks in the Test team perhaps. However, a great team (and even a good team) has to rise above these losses and has to depend on the reserves to dig it out of situations like the one faced in the lead up Nagpur.

The selectors have to take the blame for the sordid mess that left the team with little option other than play Wriddhiman Saha as a batsman! Like other wicketkeepers from that part of India (Deep Dasgupta and Saba Karim) Saha has to now make a separate trek back to Kolkata, wondering what wrongs he had committed. Saha was picked as a ‘keeper and played as a batsman and now makes way for a ‘keeper? Or has he made way for a batsman? Or indeed, has he made way for a zonal selection? I have lost confidence in this selection committee and hence these questions.

If Wriddhiman Saha was the second best ‘keeper in the land, should he not have stayed on for Kolkata as a reserve ‘keeper? Or was he picked for Nagpur as the next best batsman in the land? Even if the selectors were on drugs, I am confident (despite my lack of faith in their ability to even distinguish their backsides from their elbows) that they did not pick Saha as the next best batsman in India. So let us assume that they picked Saha as the next best ‘keeper in the land. So, what has happened in 7 days for the selectors to think that Karthik was suddenly a better reserve ‘keeper? This is the same question that Sanjay Subrahmanyan asked earlier too.

These are questions need to be asked.

At the end of the Bangladesh series, it is likely that Dinesh Karthik was a zonal selection sacrificial lamb who had to make way for Badrinath’s entry into the team. Who knows what transpired in the sleazy dungeon that represents the Indian team selection committee rooms. However, what is palpably obvious is that the team selection was wrong. The selectors went with too many bowlers and too few batsmen at a time when 2 key batsmen were definitely injured and one other batsman was living on one working playing hand, with the other one injured badly. The logic of that selection imbalance defies belief and for that reason, I do believe that, although Kris Srikkanth has taken personal responsibility for the mess, he must hand in his resignation papers. Srikkanth has demonstrated that his committee is unable to rise above zonal politics. Any person with integrity and substance would have handed their papers in by now already. It is not enough to just take personal responsibility. He is either a weak chair who is unable to get his committee to rise above zonal politics or he is in charge of a committee that cannot arrive at good decisions. How else can one explain a situation where the team had more bowlers than batsmen when there were 3 injured batsmen in the first team list?

In his interview, Srikkanth says, “In hindsight, we didn’t have Rahul (Dravid), who is a fantastic player of fast bowling. Laxman was injured… we were hopeful of his recovery but unfortunately that didn’t happen and then Rohit got injured. So, I would say it was fate,” he added.

And therein lies the problem. This committee relies on hindsight when what is needed is foresight!

Moreover, any decision that is based on a hope and a prayer is made by people who ought not to make these decisions! Decisions have to be made not on a hope, but on medical assessments on a players’ availability. The selectors should have taken tough decisions instead of reaching for their prayer beads! Rohit Sharma himself was a last minute addition and with his addition, there was no batsman to cover in case of a freak injury or a stiff neck or a headache or a sprained calf muscle to any of the other batsmen.

The selectors have to be requested to go home with their prayer beads! I am not braying baying for blood. I am seeking accountability as a Team India fan.

And so, where to from here for Team India?

Despite the alleged lamentable statements by the Kolkata curator, I do believe that Indis’ best chance is spin on a “turner” or a “dust bowl”.

I am not sure why a “turner” is held in such contempt or disrespect (mainly by people that can’t play spin). If a batsman is good enough, they ought to say “give me a pitch… any pitch”.

Terms like “turner” and “dust bowl” have become pejoratives in current cricket lingo because they have been turned into pejoratives by people who make and set these views; by people who cannot play spin!

Just as Durban, Melbourne, Lords’ and Sabina Park offer bounce and carry, Indian pitches ought to offer spin. I say “ought to” because that’s what the natural conditions provide. “Dust bowls” has become a derogatory term these days. I love dust bowls. They offer a difference in a world that craves for a sameness — a sameness that is imperialistic in its notion and connotation.

Give me a dust bowl any day. I like to see batsmen charge a spinner. I grew up on that diet and love it just as I love to see batsmen hopping around in Durban or Sabina Park.

For years, Indian curators have been doctoring pitches in response to idiotic clarion calls from administrators in South Africa, England and Australia that have wanted the “sameness” of bounce and carry and grass with the one-eyed notion that that’s what a cricket pitch ought to look like. These clarion calls have been based on the very imperialistic notion that suggests that despite local conditions, the only brand of toothpaste that is valid is Colgate! I detest this craving for “sameness” just as I detest the response from Indian curators who bend over backwards to prepare the kind of pitch that we saw in Nagpur against the Australians in 2004.

As I have said before, I will accept a seaming, bouncy pitch in Nagpur when I see a dust bowl in Durban. Surely, if it is possible to create a dust bowl in Kolkata it should be possible to create one in Durban?

No?

Why? Because the soil conditions and environment there make it impossible to create a dust bowl in Durban?

Then why is there the expectation that Kolkata should unnaturally offer seam, bounce and carry?

I do hope the Indian curators stop doctoring pitches and prepare spinning tracks, for that is what the natural soil condition provides. I am tired of seeing a oneness and sameness in everything in the world that suggests that the only pitch that is worth offering is one that offers seam, bounce and carry.

Despite the above arguments, I do think South Africa will win. This is a full-strength team that has depth and dimension. The batsmen are in form. The bowling is terrific and the teams’ mental toughness is remarkable. I loved the way the South Africans played the Nagpur Test. It has a India-at-Leeds feel to it. Apart from the first half hour or so, they were in utter control of the match and seemed to know exactly what they were doing. Even when Paul Harris was bowling just that brand of cricket that I detest, the South Africans gave the impression that they were in control.

India can bounce back, but in order for that to happen, the team needs to play out-of-their-skins cricket.

I can’t see Mishra and Ishant Sharma playing in the Kolkata Test. Ojha and Sreesanth will perhaps play and Laxman will play instead of Saha in the XI, with Laxman coming in at #3.

Bring it on.

— Mohan