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The replacement


Posted: Nov 14, 2012 at 0324 hrs IST

Ahmedabad: Samit Patel — whose three innings on this tour so far had fetched him scores of 104, 60 and 67 — thrust his front foot down the pitch and raised his bat over his shoulder. The ball veered a fraction into the right-hander in the air and continued on along that trajectory, skidding off the pitch and into Patel’s knee-roll. Monty Panesar yelped.

Patel jogged out of the net and moved into the adjacent one. Before Jonny Bairstow could take his place, Panesar bowled to an empty net. The ball retraced the same trajectory and cannoned into off stump.

Two balls into his session, Bairstow poked forward at Panesar. The ball dipped on him and fizzed past his outside edge.

The left-arm spinner continued in this vein through the rest of the morning, and provided an insight or two into the English batsmen and their comfort levels against spin.

If the Indian camp had sent someone early to the Motera nets for a spot of reconnaissance, they will have learned a few things.

Bairstow looked good when he got to the pitch and drove, but less convincing when he defended, planting his front foot a touch heavily and pushing his hands at the ball.

Nick Compton was extremely tentative, and struggled to read the length. Kevin Pietersen stepped out of the crease at every opportunity, and looked in ominous touch, manipulating his hands and wrists beautifully to control his drives through the off side.

And nobody got on top of Panesar, who — if Steven Finn doesn’t prove his fitness in time for the first Test — made an eloquent case for his inclusion if the look of the Motera wicket provokes England to field two spinners.

Two frontline spinners in Graeme Swann and Panesar, that is; not the compromise of Swann and Patel’s all-round competence at number six.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the latter idea, which would allow England to retain three seamers and give them an extra spin option.

Nothing similar

But Panesar and Patel are similar only in the label of ‘left-arm orthodox’ attached to their bowling.

At Tuesday’s nets, Panesar amply demonstrated the extra layer of physical menace that separates his bowling from Patel’s honest offerings. Panesar shared the net with two young spinners provided by the Gujarat Cricket Association, an off spinner and another left-armer. Both bowled solidly and seldom strayed from a length that forced the batsmen to defend — no different to Panesar’s modus operandi.

But defending these two net bowlers was a vastly simpler task than defending Panesar.

It wasn’t that they weren’t getting the ball to dip on the batsman. But where they got it to drop an inch or two shorter than expected, Panesar’s stock ball, spun ferociously out of his massive left hand, dropped six or eight inches.

When the batsmen failed to middle one of the net bowlers, the ball sighed weakly off the outside or inside half of the bat, either side of the sweet spot. Against Panesar, the ball climbed towards the splice, and more often than not beat the bat or cannoned off the edge. Patel spins the ball much less, puts less body-action on the ball, and doesn’t have Panesar’s arm ball or his relentless stump-to-stump line (46.49 per cent of Panesar’s 142 Test wickets have been bowled or LBW). He certainly didn’t cause any alarm among his teammates at the nets.

It remains to be seen if the newly relaid Motera wicket will enthuse England into including Panesar.

Curator Dhiraj Parsana was pleased with the amount of pre-season rolling that had gone into preparing the track, and predicted that its top layer would stay compact through the match, resulting in more bounce and carry through the five days.

Wear and tear, he added, would take the form of cracking rather than the powdering that gave the previous Motera pitch a reputation for slow turn that batsmen could safely negotiate from the crease.

But even if the pitch looks like it could assist him, England might leave Panesar out, fearing that Indian batsmen have often reduced visiting spinners to tears. But this line of reasoning ignores the fact that Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman have retired.

India’s middle order for the first Test will most likely include Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli - who are yet to prove their ability against the turning ball in Tests, and are products of an era short on quality domestic tweakers - and Yuvraj Singh, who has always looked a touch suspect against top-notch spinners.

In Swann and Panesar, England have two of the best in the world.

Dinda on stand-by for Ishant

MUMBAI: India has named Ashok Dinda as cover for pace bowler Ishant Sharma for the first Test against England that begins in Ahmedabad on Thursday. The Board of Control for Cricket in India says on Tuesday that Sharma was likely to recover from a viral fever in time for the match but Dinda has still been told to get to Ahmedabad as a standby. Zaheer Khan and Umesh Yadav are the other two pace bowlers in the squad, and are more likely to play ahead of Sharma or Dinda. The 28-year-old Dinda has appeared in 10 one-dayers and five Twenty20s for India but is uncapped in Tests. BCCI Secretary Sanjay Jagdale said they are hopeful that the lanky paceman will recover before the start of the series-opener here. "Ishant Sharma has got viral fever. He is expected to be fit for the first Test between India and England. However, Ashok Dinda has been told to fly to Ahmedabad as a standby," Jagdale said in a release. (AP)

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