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Playing to your strengths - Can it really take you far?

910   //    12 Nov 2012, 07:35 IST

Monty Panesar of England celebrates with teammates after dismissing Nitin Saini of Haryana during day four of the tour match between England and Haryana at Sardar Patel Stadium ground B on November 11, 2012 in Ahmedabad, India

The “revenge” series is finally upon us. Yes, that’s what most people have termed the upcoming India-England Test series which is slated to begin at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Ahmedabad in three days time. Calls to produce rank-turners for the series have been coming from all corners so that it can help India avenge the 4-0 mauling they received by the hands of England last year. Also, considering the kind of green tops India had to face in England, I don’t see any vice in preparing surfaces that assist the spinners, and thus giving India the upper-hand even before a single delivery being bowled.

Most of the times, the home teams would want curators to prepare surfaces that suit their style of bowlers, and I personally see no harm in it. Australia and South Africa would always want true and bouncy pitches for a home series, where the ball hits the deck hard and carries to the keeper at shoulder height. Go to England and New Zealand, you’ll find green tops where the ball seams and swings off the air as well as the surface. Travel to the subcontinent, and you will be greeted with dust-bowls, where the ball grips the surface and turns sharply, making life difficult for the touring side.

Even the connoisseur of the game might tell you that preparing wickets favouring the home team is a sane idea, as the ability of perform under varied conditions for touring sides is what makes them a champion team and this is where the real beauty of cricket lies. Though I comply with this concept, I see a few downsides to it too. First of all, preparing wickets that favour only one style of bowlers is a very short-term approach, and one where long-term goals get diluted.

Take the case of New Zealand for example: in the past, they have managed to trouble most touring sides with the green seamer-friendly surfaces. But when they themselves had to travel abroad – say in the subcontinent – they have totally failed to come to grips with the conditions and have performed disastrously. India, too, is another such example. Although there haven’t been many dust bowls in recent times, lack of fast-paced wickets (apart from Mohali) for a home series, has been one of the primary reasons why they have failed to perform in countries like England and Australia.

Also, when you make wickets that suit only certain style of bowlers, you end up with a bunch of one-dimensional surfaces which breed only that kind of bowlers and kills the growth of the others. India’s search of that elusive genuine quick bowler who can hit the 150kmph mark on a regular basis is still on. New Zealand hasn’t had a quality spinner apart from Daniel Vettori for a long time now. England’s spin woes were just recently ended by the rise of Graeme Swann, while South Africa haven’t ever had a quality spinner in their ranks.

India became the number 1 Test side because of their wins at home and lost the title as soon as they had to travel outside the subcontinent. England, too, couldn’t sustain their tag of the world’s No. 1 Test side as they failed to match their performances at home with that to the ones in the subcontinent. And the primary reason here was that both of them didn’t come out their comfort zone and kept playing at home on wickets that assisted them, while not bothering about the future away tours where the surfaces are a far cry from what they get for a home series.

There’s a very strong chance that India might come out triumphant against England, and there’s a good chance that it may turn out to be a English annihilation. But India shouldn’t just keep this series in mind. Yes, a win in this is series is as crucial as in any other series, but if they have to become the number 1 side again, they shouldn’t lose sight of the future. India travel to South Africa in 2013 while the 2015 World Cup will take place in Australia and New Zealand – places which, even today, tend to trouble the touring Indian sides.

If India has to conquer those tours, they should start contemplating about producing wickets that shouldn’t only assist them in current tours, but also help them build a team for the future, one which can win outside the subcontinent on a regular basis.

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