India's batting travails

Lack of quality tweakers at home has affected batsmen's skills

Perhaps, the Indian cricket team never felt the need to have a Rahul Dravid or a VVS Laxman in its midst more than on the third day of the second Test against England at Mumbai.

The guiles of Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann befuddled the Indian batsmen in Mumbai. PTI

The English spinners, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann wreaked havoc in the post-tea session, reducing India to 117 for seven, a session that also ensured an easy, series-leveling 10-wicket victory for England. It was like the Indian batsmen were trapped in a vicious whirlpool, struggling to find their feet on a turner against two spinners, who exploited a spiteful pitch to the hilt.

The Indians simply didn’t have a bad pitch batsman among them on that day. Time, then, is quite apt to remember Dravid’s two gutsy fifties on a vicious pitch at Jamaica in 2006 and Laxman’s equally brave fifty against Australia in 2004 here at the Wankhede stadium – eventually match-winning knocks.

Preparing a rank-turner was always a move fraught with danger as many of the experienced batsmen in the present Indian top-order has been out of form for a while now, and Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara, despite his brilliant current form, are not yet ready to shoulder the entire burden of a team in the traditional format, particularly against a top team like England.

Virender Sehwag, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Kohli tried the Kevin Pietersen way to dominate English spinners — being aggressive. But the pace and length of Panesar and Swann didn’t allow their plan to fructify. Here, providence and restraint would have helped the Indians rather than flamboyance.

Pietersen’s methods are quite hard to follow because it requires a different set of skills and mindset. But the Indians can learn from Alastair Cook’s domination of spinners. The Essex left-hander’s concentration was almost yogic, and his technique was based on rock-solid back-foot play, waiting for the ball and playing with the turn.

So, why can’t the Indian batsmen, who are more used to these conditions, fare better? The answer is quite simple. Many of them haven’t played on such tracks for a long time, and even when they appear in domestic matches it’s mostly on shirtfronts loaded with runs.

It also shows us the alarming erosion in the quality of spin in general in India. Batsmen of an earlier generation had to contend with the likes of Padmakar Shivalkar, Rajinder Goel and VV Kumar on the domestic circuit. Even in the 90s there were a plethora of spinners such as Venkatpathy Raju, Sunil Joshi and Murali Kartik, who knew how to use the pitch to their advantage. Batting against them on a helpful pitch was a test of a batsman’s technique and powers of concentration.

Cut to the present, there’s no such skilful spinners around. Bowlers like Amit Mishra and Piyush Chawla might come up with sparkling efforts on occasions, but they lack consistency. But that said, it’s not an everything-is-doomed scenario. The pitch at the Eden Gardens is too going to be of similar nature, and Swann and Panesar will probe batsmen’s patience and skill.  So, this is the time the Indians need to be proactive, sit together and find a solution to reduce the effectiveness of the English spin duo.

On a normal day, it’s the duty of the captain to set the example like Cook did for England with two superb hundreds. But here, Dhoni himself is struggling – as a batsman and as a captain. As a batsman the Jharkhandi is going through a lean patch in Tests and that in turn seems to have pushed him into a negative mindset while leading the side.

Coach Duncan Fletcher might have one of the sharpest eye and mind for technical issues but he has no hands-on experience playing on such pitches. So, he may not the best option to find an answer. One man who has played 164 Tests is still near the Indian batsmen. He has exchanged flannels with a natty commentator’s suit recently. Having a chat with Dravid could indeed do wonders.

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