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Freedom Series, Mohali test : In defence of spinners’ wickets

“An army may be likened to water, for just as flowing water avoids the heights and hastens to the lowlands, so an army avoids strength and strikes weakness.” – Sun Tzu

One does not have to have read the ‘Art of War’ to know that historically South Africans haven’t been the best players of spin. So, before the start of the test series, the Indian team made no bones about asking test match curators for pitches that turn.

Mohali was a wicket designed to strike at a weakness against spin.

There’s been a lot of chat on social media about this pitch not being “test match quality”. I simply cannot understand this. Not one ball spat at the batsman or really disturbed the surface of the wicket. The ball didn’t bounce alarmingly high or low. The turn was slow. The pitch was not turning square. The batsmen who applied themselves scored runs. 

This pitch required batting skills different from the skills required in England, South Africa or Australia. But shouldn’t that have been obvious? Did you really expect swing, seam and bounce in India?

The players who scored runs in this match were the ones that played the ball late with soft hands. Dancing down the wicket to smother the spin and using the width of the crease were the other attributes these successful players displayed. Playing from the crease with hard hands is hardly the recipe for success in the sub-continent. Teams that have toured India in the past will testify to that.

Why blame the pitch at all for a three day test? There have been several three day finishes all around the world. The real blame lies with the lack of skill and application by the batsmen. To my mind, the blame lay squarely with the batsmen when India toured England and Australia. Why should it be any different when South Africa tour India?

The other criticism was that opening the bowling with spinners is bad for test cricket. This is possibly the funniest thing I have ever heard. With all the things that are slowly killing test cricket, surely a wicket-taking spinner opening the bowling is not a threat?

Also, why is there a perception that if fast bowlers take wickets on pitches that assist them, these are of greater cricketing value than wickets taken by spinners on pitches suited to them? Whether one is caught at third slip off a quick or caught bad-pad at silly-point off a spinner, it still counts as just a wicket. Why then is there a de-valuing of wickets taken by spinners? It’s made out that while fast bowlers put in work on green-tops to reap rewards, spinners literally have to turn up on a spinning pitch to take wickets. Rubbish! Surely, the amount of guile and control required to deceive batsman in the flight is as much work, if not more!

Each team, be it England, South Africa or Australia, prepares wickets which suit them and plays a team which can exploit the conditions. Think of where the first tests of tours in these countries are played – Trent Bridge, Durban and Brisbane. These are pitches which swing and seam from Day 1 to give the home team the best chance of a 1-0 lead. Remember the Boxing Day test in Durban in ’96? It was over in three days. India scored 100 all out and 66 all out. We lost by 328 runs within three days.

Mohali is no different from that Durban test, nor should it claim to be. India used its home advantage and now leads the series 1-0.

Yes, the home team ordering pitches can backfire. England out-spun and out-batted India in 2012. India won a test match on a green-top at Lords in 2014. But such occasions are rare and the home team advantage has only become more pronounced in recent years.

Watching the last three days of cricket transported me back to the ’90s and Kumble, Raju and Chauhan’s whitewashing of England. If India are hoping for another whitewash, turning pitches should continue to be just what Ravi Shastrithe doctor ordered for India.

— DJ

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