There is often much hue and cry about some exotic cricketing spots of the world, be it the bouncy and pacy WACA, wet strips in the New Zealand or the the evergreen Lords and Oval. To one’s agony the list is often sans the dry, deteriorating or the cracking up fifth day tracks of the sub-continent, and especially in India such as the old Wankhede track. In most of the “top ten innings” or other such stereotype rankings, such wonderfully knitted innings on these tricky tracks have been overlooked or ignored with insolence. Those innings never find their place in the columns of some renowned writers of the game. A century on a green, bouncy track outplays a same score on a brown, dry cracked up surface, a gross misconception indeed. Two of the three legendary spinners hail from the sub-continent and there are volumes of episodes where these tweakers have ran through the line-up and routed the opposition on a final day in the sub-continent. Batsmen like Ricky Ponting, who have relished a fair bit of success all around the cricketing globe have been befuddled in India against the likes of Kumble and Harbhajan. India has been a final frontier for most other nations only because they weren’t able to pin down the Indian spinners on the final or the penultimate day. Yet, not much has been written or spoken about the turning tracks of the subcontinent and neither does it feature alongside WACA or Kingsmead when it comes to the hardships of batting.
There are profound examples when it comes to a side crumbling and falling apart, succumbing to the bounce and turn of final day wickets in India. Be it in Mumbai where Australia were bowled out for less than a hundred or Kanpur where SA were spun to defeat, the twist to the tale has been intact. The first test in the ongoing India-New Zealand series too falls in the line of stories of spinners dismantling a line-up. Although due credit goes to Ravichandran Ashwin for standing up tall and flighting the ball, the deliveries weren’t unplayable. It just exposed the inexperience and shortcomings of the Kiwi batsmen. All it took to battle the skidding deliveries was some technical expertise juxtaposed with good judgement and sharp eyes, which certainly wasn’t the Kiwis’ forte. This lays stress on the fact that there is certainly more than what meets the eye to batting in India under the scorching sun atop the deteriorating or wearing away wickets.
Better batsmen are the ones who read the line earlier than the others. In the case of spinners in the subcontinent, the scanning and skimming need to be done when the ball is released from the bowler’s hand with a close eye on the fingers. Judging a delivery after it’s been released would be a tad late and hence the inferences need to be zeroed upon when the ball leaves the bowler’s hand. This takes boughs of concentration and some sharp eyes. The modern day spinners are quite secretive about their wrist or arms and in turn guard it from being exposed to the bare eyes of the batsman. Thus, being there on the crease for a while, making friends with the ball, comprehending the fingers during the release could ensure a smooth sailing. With the advents of technology, mystery over a spinner’s bowling is short lived and one shouldn’t bank upon it.Variations and sticking to your stock delivery is the best solution in the long run.
Feet movement forms an integral part of the armoury when battling the spinners. Taking on a delivery, denying it the lateral movement intended by the bowler by moving down the pitch with long strides and reaching the ball before it pitches or immediately after it pitches, converting it to a half volley and going for the audacious drives or the elegant forward defence with zero bat -pad gap is the ideal recipe for tackling the sharp turners. The above idea is advocated by almost every batting coach and the ones who imbibe the concept into their batting are the ones who tower the rest when it comes to handling the spinners. Initially in the innings, when reading the bowler, adaptability and innovation come handy. Any surprise package thrown by the bowler needs to be well defended, sometimes cheekily. Sachin Tendulkar‘s innings are abundant with such late adjustments. On the other hand, waiting at the back foot could well prove to be effective. In the process, the length is shortened and you are fed with more time, making shot selection easier. This requires playing late, as MS Dhoni does, but it does expose your pads high and dry inviting trouble in the form of LBW. While employing any stroke to these deliveries which raise and turn sharply there is always an outside chance of a nick flying off or the bat pad catch to the close in fielders, the emphasis should be on the top hand to abort this. The bottom hand, as every coach cries, is just intended for direction and power, which should be out of the equation while defending.
Elucidating the significance of the grey matter in the game of cricket is the tenure you face the spinners. A lot of mental investment should be on reading the line and length and the trajectory of the ball after its pitch and coming to a consensus of offering a stroke or leaving it alone. Therefore, reading the ball and hence waiting in anticipation is an herculean task whereas after the ball is read, executing the shots is kid’s play.
As an exhibition of the above, a manual for the youngsters, a delight for the viewers, a lesson for the colleagues, a drudgery for the opposition, a nightmare for the bowler and just another ordinary innings for the batsman was the 155* made by none other than the little master at Chennai on a dusty broken track. Shane Warne was taken to the cleaners at regular intervals and treated with utmost disrespect, gall and brashness a world class bowler would command. David Shepherd, who stood as the on field umpire, the best umpire till date was a testimony to the innings and admitted that among the thousands of contests he’s stood a witness to, this one was a level apart as both the batsman and bowler were trying their best to outplay the other. Warne too has gone on record saying this innings did cause a nightmare or two to him. The resilience and technical superiority of this innings is on a different plane altogether. Such innings endorse the concept of the sub-continent wickets being a catastrophe for the batters against quality spin bowling.
Hence the technical guile one needs to master in order to survive the grind of the spinners in the subcontinent conditions is, if not higher, at par with the skills or attributes that takes to negotiate the swinging pacy ones at the WACA or other such bouncy tracks. The concentration and footwork needs to be perfectly in place for not falling prey to the tweakers.
To one’s dismay the Indian spin legacy might be on its wane, if Ashwin or Ojha or even Chawla do not pull up their socks and serve the need. Given the inadequacy of the current batsmen against spin, the issue might subside, but there deserves to be a successor to Bedi, Venkatraghavan and Kumble.
Waging a battle against spin in the sub continent soil requires different skill sets and it adds to the beauty of the test cricket. The current undermining and overlooking of an innings played in the sub continent against the gritty spinners isn’t called for. Writing off such innings is sheer arrogance and needs to be nipped altogether.
Alongside Lords, Oval, MCG, WACA, Wanderers, Capetown, Auckland should be etched names such as Whankede, Eden Gardens, M.A Chidambaram stadium, Mohali etc.