The Chennai ODI has done more than just help India level the series. Even if it turns out to be too late to influence the finale in Mumbai, it has raised hope and left clues for the Test series ahead. The pitch wasn’t a rank-turner as the term goes — there were no puff of dust blowing up towards the faces of the batsmen or the short-leg fielder — but it had enough for the spinners to get involved in the game. And the way South African middle-order batted brought up memories of Australians’ last visit to this country.
It’s worth stressing here that the South African touring teams of the past have shown great resilience, and method to counter any condition across the world. In India, we have seen lesser batsmen than Jacques Kallis and Hashim Amla find a way out. Their pet theory was to shuffle towards off even as they pressed back, and work the offspinners to the leg side, and also deploy the sweeps to throw the spinners off rhythm. It won’t be a shock if this batting line-up also comes up with a plan to counter the spin in the Tests, and also, if Dale Steyn manages to get more reverse swing on dry and dusty conditions. But, as MS Dhoni said, India need to first prepare those sort of tracks to at least put some doubt in their minds.
It’s been a pet theme with Dhoni in the past. He has retired from the Tests but knows what can work. He shot down any fears of India collapsing against spin like they did against Graeme Swann in the past, and Rangana Herath recently.
“It’s not like we’ll win every game. It’s not like we don’t get out if it spins, we do get out. There have been situations when it has spun and we have been in difficulty. It’s still a sporting wicket. We tend to think that sporting wicket means grass on the wicket, but it’s not like that. Sporting means where you get challenged. I would call this (Chennai) track as sporting track. Who got the wickets? For them it was the pacers, and for us, spinners and seamers.”
Dhoni also talked about where things go wrong in India. It’s the overuse of the heavy roller in preparation of the pitch, Dhoni said. “If there is a Test match, the heavy roller goes on for 15 to 20 days.” That takes out the sharp turn, and without that kind of zip, bite, and bounce, the spinners don’t pose as big a threat. Time and again, we have seen overseas batsmen get on the back foot and play the slow spin off the pitch. The overuse of heavy roller flattens out any indentation on the track, and reduces any unevenness on the surface, making everything predictable.
Near the end of his career, Sri Lanka’s Muttiah Muralitharan also spoke about how the use of heavy rollers was killing spin in his country. “We are using heavier rollers. In those days, we used smaller rollers, and were rolling for four or five days and really preparing the wicket,” Muralitharan had said. “Now we just use the heavy roller, flatten the wicket and make it slower. It doesn’t help spinners.”
It’s what happening in India as well, according to Dhoni. “So everything comes down to the toss here,” Dhoni said on Thursday night. “It becomes all important. A lot of times when we’ve won Tests, we’ve lost the toss, they batted first, we got them out and we batted for long periods and the only way we got result was by getting them out. But in a true Test match, what you really want is the ball to start turning. You want it to turn early so that it becomes a challenge. Tests in India should get done in four days or four-and-half. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t (go the full distance), what’s important is we have a result, and for that we need to look at how we prepare our tracks.”
As recent Tests have proved, the Indian batsmen too aren’t all that flash against quality spin. Their spinners have been overshadowed by the visitors in the past and the foreign pacers have been more capable of getting reverse swing in dry and dusty conditions. Having said all that, as Dhoni says, it still would be silly if India don’t at least try to attack with spin. Especially, when you consider the alternative of dull batting tracks, or, more comically, grass-laden tracks such as the one India’s current board president Shashank Manohar once laid out in Nagpur much to the consternation of the current CAB secretary Sourav Ganguly.