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Dustbowls will weaken India in the long term

Harsha Bhogle

Posted: Nov 02, 2012 at 1001 hrs IST
      

: The word Ďrevengeí keeps cropping up in the build up to the series against England; like a whiff of malodourous air on a pleasant evening. I donít like the word, it has the wrong intent, it can produce very short term goals and can be counter-productive in the long run. Revenge is inevitably clothed in anger and that is a terrible way to play sport. I fear too, that the desire to seek revenge can come in the way of excellence which is a far better objective to possess.

Against England, for example, revenge could mean preparing rank turners and unleashing spinners (or more pertinently helping your batsmen who can play their spinners better!). Rank turners are as bad as trampolines, where the ball bounces from stupid lengths, makes batting dangerous and produces an unequal contest which is against what cricket is all about. I donít mind producing pitches that aid spinners, where the ball grips the surface and turns, where batting requires great skill to overcome the bowling. That is fair and is part of the home advantage that teams are entitled to and which is such an essential part of touring, of playing in away conditions for the other team.

Preparing dust tracks will give India an inflated opinion of its own spinners and will tell young fast bowlers in the country that when the time comes to step up, they will be the first casualties. When India tour overseas then, the fast bowlers will have to be dusted out and the spinners will look inadequate. A short term goal might be served but India will be weakened in the long term.

To be fair, India havenít produced too many dust tracks in recent times. Mumbai 2004 was an aberration, it was bad but as bad as New Zealand in 2002 and Durban in 1996. In fact New Zealand 2002 is a good example. They produced terrible cricket wickets, won the series with bowlers like Tuffey and Oram looking barely playable but their cricket went nowhere thereafter. India should back themselves on good Indian turning tracks where a batsman with skill has the opportunity to score runs, they shouldnít have to produce anything worse.

The spirit of revenge will also mean an obsession with 4-0 and that is too far in the distance. Sport often tells you that you need to take one step at a time, that you canít think of winning the third set for example, when you are still playing the first.

First test, first

India need to think of winning the first test, only then contemplate the second and not think of the fourth till three have been played. Indeed, the first test will give India an idea of how good the team really is for there are problems within it; problems of form and of longevity of key cricketers for a start. Indian cricket is in a state of flux, two key batsmen have retired and one key spinner (Harbhajan) has gone off the radar. And the openers need to convince everyone that they can put together long partnerships again. India will do well to try and win the first test and think of the next thereafter.

I suspect though, that beneath this veneer of great confidence, lies a slightly troubled outlook. Not playing a frontline spinner against England in a tour game is an acceptable tactical move but a slightly defensive one. If indeed India plan to waylay England with spin on turning tracks the more aggressive option would have been to play spinners ranked 6.7,8 on the selectorsí shortlist and back them to run through the visitors on a proper spinnerís deck in Mumbai.

That would be the sub-continental version of what the Aussies often did to touring sides; start at Perth on a fiery track against good first class quicks, dismantle the visiting batting side before they can adjust and direct them straight to Brisbane with thoughts of having to play superior bowling on a bouncy pitch. Rather than hide their weapons they attacked early with them. I got the impression India werenít too confident of their spin bowling resources to follow that strategy but it would still have been a good approach.

I think Englandís opposition would depend largely on how they rate themselves. Too many visiting teams from there have arrived eager to search for tired traps; food, dust and spin. Grounds are nice now, hotels are outstanding, they all serve quality international cuisine and playing in India isnít really as difficult as all that. Teams with players in the IPL already display the comfort factor but not many Englishmen have played here. If they search for reasons to fail, they will find them. But if they back themselves, embrace India and look forward to the next morning, I believe they can be more than a handful.

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