Indians look for a 'turn' around
Focus remains on the 22-yard strip at the Eden Gardens ahead of the third Test
Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Duncan Fletcher wasted little time in rushing to inspect the pitch after arriving at the Eden Gardens on a clement Monday afternoon. After a prolonged assessment of the 22-yard strip, they had an extensive talk with spinners R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha.
Others in the Indian camp like Harbhajan Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar had either a word with curator Prabir Mukherjee or made their own trip to check the surface. It wasn’t an unusual sight to see players examine the pitch or captain and coach having discussions with their players ahead of the match.
But the sight also gave away the anxiety in the Indians’ minds about the nature of the pitch, in the process cultivating an utterly uncomfortable feeling that they are depending upon pitch more than their own skills to win the third Test, beginning here on Wednesday, against England.
A pitch that offers turn from the first day, preferably from the first ball itself, has been bandied around as the best way to beat England, and take revenge for that humiliating 0-4 mauling of last year. Dhoni has been quite persistent in his demand for a rank turner, right from the series against New Zealand.
The Indian captain was quite critical of the pitches in Hyderabad and Bangalore despite spinners – Ashwin and Ojha – grabbing 31 of the possible 40 Kiwi wickets, and he only grew more insistent as the days progressed. Even India’s comfortable win at Ahmedabad over England in the first Test – which was engineered by Ojha and Ashwin – didn’t please the Jharkhand man.
“I don’t want to see this pitch again,” was his reaction then. Admittedly, it was a pitch where the tweakers had to work hard for wickets, and finally a turner came in India’s way in Mumbai. It wasn’t the kind of track where a spinner would hit the rib cage of a batsman, but there was plenty of assistance for them as proved by Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann.
The Indian spinners were completely outclassed by their English counterparts, and that should have worked as an eye-opener for the Indians. The lesson was quite clear: it’s not the pitch but skill that ultimately wins you the matches. Quite surprisingly, Dhoni stood firm, asking for more such pitches in Kolkata and Nagpur, and in the sub-continent in general.
Well, there’s no harm in trying to exploit the strength of the team, spin in India’s case, in home conditions, but the Indian think-tank here did the cardinal mistake of underestimating the ability of the English batsmen to counter spin. Yes, the visitors still are not entirely comfortable playing spin, and it reflected in batting coach Graham Gooch spending a few extra minutes with Jonathan Trott, Ian Bell and Nick Compton at the nets this afternoon.
But they certainly have come a long way in batting against spin, and one man is responsible for that. Skipper Alastair Cook’s hundred at Motera made it apparent to the Englishmen that Indian spinners are not from a different planet. England had lost that Test eventually, but Cook’s century and the effort of putting more than 400 runs on the board in the second innings boosted their confidence. England carried that positive feeling into the second Test, and trusted their abilities against spin.
Dhoni read the Wankhede strip to a nicety, and picked three spinners, but it, perhaps, instilled in the Indians a feeling of invincibility. But two batsmen – Cook and Kevin Pietersen – blunted India’s enthusiasm with contrasting knocks. Pietersen’s innings will be talked about by generations of cricket lovers; a hundred in which immense quality and sheer arrogance blended perfectly.
But Cook was the catalyst. His pragmatism offered a breeding ground for Pietersen’s genius to flower, thereby lifting the confidence of the English bowlers. Cook’s message was simple – keep faith in your abilities to overcome adversities. Now, time has come for the Indians to stop sniveling over the nature of the pitch and bank on their skills.