On the evidence so far, all the practice the English batsmen put in with a spin-bowling machine in Dubai en route to India hasn’t yet sorted out their fundamental problems against the turning ball. They did pile up 500-plus in their warm-up game against Haryana in Ahmedabad, but it was on a docile track against a defanged attack. Closer scrutiny will reveal that Haryana’s only top drawer spinner, Test discard Amit Mishra, gobbled up four wickets in just 17 overs. Perhaps, the Haryana skipper bowled only that many in two days because he was under instructions not to give the English too much exposure to quality spin.
England will be happy Mishra is not in the Test team. Contending with R Ashwin’s off-spin and Pragyan Ojha’s left-arm spin is already a handful: preparing for the googlies of a leg-spinner would have robbed them of what little sleep they have been getting. But our selectors are kind. Instead of a leggie, they picked a second off-spinner who has done little since being dropped to explain this recall to the Test team — unless you swallow what Harbhajan Singh himself has tossed up, that a spinner should not be judged by the number of wickets he takes. Duh?
Anyway, now the English will be hoping that the curator at the Motera stadium will be as kind as the selectors have been, by rolling out a pitch on which Sachin Tendulkar can score a quadruple century — or at least his first triple century. That way they can sneak off with a draw while we stay happy with celebrating an individual’s vapid milestones.
Going by past experience in Ahmedabad, a flat pitch and a dead Test match are quite a likely scenario. In the last Test match played there, even the first innings wouldn’t have got over if there had been no declarations. It’s the same curator, Dhiraj Parsana, who will be calling the shots on that all-important 22-yard strip, and he has a track record of playing it super-safe.
But why blame the curator alone? He has to think of his job, after all. We have seen that the curators get hammered if the match ends early, cutting telecast time. The authorities, it seems, just want the match to go into the fifth day, and if there’s a result, that’s a bonus. This is a very myopic approach — if boring matches drive away Test viewers, there will be no advertisers queuing up, regardless of the amount of telecast time available. Quality telecast time is what will sustain Test cricket.
So, for all the talk of a revenge series, it still remains to be seen if other considerations will save the English their blushes. On a track without turn or bite, they have the batting firepower in the likes of Kevin Pietersen to pile up a big total, especially if they get to bat first when the pitch is at its easiest.
But isn’t that only fair? Should we not strive for victory without help from a doctored pitch? Not really — home advantage is an accepted norm in many sports, not just cricket. England and Australia did us no favours when we travelled there. Why should a team that occupied the No 1 spot in Test cricket until recently not be tested on a turning track, just like our team was put through the hoops on bouncy and seamy ones? The Ahmedabad curator should, in fact, be instructed to produce a pitch that will make Ashwin smile on Day One.