Jamtha is no Wankhede, but there can be little doubt that the curator in Nagpur will be under instructions from the Indian board itself this time to produce a turner. India are 1-2 down in the series and need a win to square it up; a draw will not do.
Eden Gardens curator Prabir Mukherjee had the tacit support of the Cricket Association of Bengal — headed by erstwhile BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya — to thumb his nose at MS Dhoni when the Indian captain asked for another turner like the one at Wankhede. As it turned out, the English pacers, James Anderson and Steven Finn, got more purchase from the Eden track than spinners from either side. But that brief second innings when England lost three wickets before getting the 41 required for victory showed that Dhoni was right in his surmise — the visitors remain brittle against spin on a turner except for their captain, Alastair Cook.
Nagpur has generally given batting-friendly wickets — except for that infamous occasion in 2004 when a greentop was prepared to delight the Aussies and embarrass Sourav Ganguly and Dalmiya. But if it is left very dry, there is enough red soil in the mix for the spinners to exploit — rookie Aussie Jason Krejza took 12 wickets on it in 2008 before vanishing without a trace.
Ravindra Jadeja’s inclusion in place of Yuvraj Singh may have more to do with his left-arm spin, therefore, than the triple centuries under his belt on placid Ranji wickets. Dhoni knows his IPL teammate is used to firing the ball in, and probably hopes this will have the Panesar effect. On slow turners, the English have been happy to hang back and read Ojha’s tossed up stuff off the pitch, or lean forward and smother the spin when he is forced to pitch it further up. The pace at which Jadeja bowls may give less time for their batsmen to make these adjustments, just as Panesar has done to us. Even if Jadeja lacks Panesar’s height, variation and experience, maybe the Ojha-Jadeja combo will do the trick.
Piyush Chawla can similarly pose new problems for the English batsmen if they get set against R Ashwin. They haven’t faced leg-spin and googly in this series yet. Why Haryana’s Amit Mishra never got a look-in despite scalping four Englishmen in the 17 overs he got to bowl in a four-day practice game before the first Test remains a mystery. Even on the domestic circuit, Mishra has been far more successful than Chawla this season. But Dhoni likes Chawla, whom he had brought in for the World Cup too. The leg-spinner got such a hiding from the English in Bangalore that he disappeared from the scene thereafter. We’ll see if he can save Dhoni this time.
For all four spinners to play, Dhoni will have to drop a medium-pacer. The obvious candidate is Ishant Sharma, who has been getting wickets at the rate of about one per match. Newbie Parvinder Awana, too, is unlikely to win the game for India, but a change of pace may be useful if there is some reverse swing on the dry surface. Ashwin and Ojha showed in the Kolkata second innings that they like bowling with the new ball which hurries on to the batsmen, so we don’t really need pacers to open the innings. This is no time for half measures — Dhoni might as well go for broke with four spinners and Awana.