India missing spinning tracks

NAGPUR, India — Placid wickets dished out for the first two cricket Tests against New Zealand have put the spotlight back on India’s waning home advantage.

By (AFP)

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Published: Wed 17 Nov 2010, 11:13 AM

Last updated: Mon 6 Apr 2015, 2:47 AM

Spin has been India’s traditional strength while playing at home but both Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have struggled for breakthroughs in the three-Test series so far.

Harbhajan, India’s most successful off-spinner, has taken just six wickets while giving away 305 runs at an average of more than 50 and left-arm spinner Ojha has fared no better, managing seven wickets at the cost of 324 runs.

Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni was scathing in his assessment of the wickets prepared for the first Test in Ahmedabad and the second in Hyderabad, both of which ended in draws.

“We might have to play 10 days instead of five to get a result on wickets like these,” he said at the end of the Hyderabad Test on Tuesday.

“That’s what I frankly believe. The wickets have been on the flatter side. Other than the one hour in the Ahmedabad Test when (Chris) Martin bowled that five-wicket spell, there has been nothing in the wickets for the bowlers.

“There has not been any turn for the spinners on even the fourth and fifth days. In fact, of the Test matches we have played lately, very few have been on turners.

“I can remember Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka (2005). After that, Kanpur (2008, against South Africa) to some extent. The wicket in Mumbai against Sri Lanka in 2009 also gave a bit of assistance in the morning.”

India beat Sri Lanka in the Ahmedabad match by 259 runs with Harbhajan bagging 10 wickets and the now-retired leg-spinner Anil Kumble taking seven.

At Kanpur, India wrapped an eight-wicket win inside three days with Harbhajan again leading the way with a seven-wicket match haul.

The Mumbai match saw Harbhajan and Ojha share 11 wickets to help India win by an innings and 24 runs.

“As a foreign team coming to India, you think of how you are going to play the fourth and fifth days,” Dhoni said. “But when there is no assistance for the bowlers, things change.

“I don’t think visiting teams are under the same pressure that they were in the past when handling spinners. You used to see them practise throw-downs on scuffed surfaces with rough areas.

“I don’t think it is like that any more.”

Dhoni was praying the script would be different when the teams square up for the third and series-deciding final Test starting in Nagpur on Saturday.

“The wicket at Nagpur is known to assist bowlers and specially spinners. So, I am hoping for a result in the last match.”

Harbhajan was at pains to answer why India have been so reluctant to cash in on their spin strength.

“I think you should ask those people who make the wickets because I don’t know,” said the bowler whose strike-rate with the ball this year is an embarrassing 97.4.

“In every country the conditions are different. In Australia, there is bounce. In India, I don’t know when I last played on a turner. On the fourth and fifth days, if there is turn and bounce, what’s wrong with it?”

Perhaps, it is the nature of the wickets that has turned Harbhajan into a batsman of sorts in this series. Batting at number eight, Harbhajan has aggregated 295 runs from three innings, including two centuries.

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