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MS Dhoni must not be over-reliant on spin-friendly tracks at home if he wants to improve overseas record

Can India be bold enough to prepare neutral tracks, keeping the future in mind?

Harbhajan Singh, one of the biggest beneficiaries of pitches tailored for Indian spinners, checks the wicket very closely at Mohali © Getty Images

India’s next major series against England is almost here, and there is little doubt as to what kind of surfaces the visitors can expect, especially after the kind of treatment they dished out to India last year. But will such tactics prove to be beneficial in the long run? Karthik Parimal dwells into the issue.

Indian cricket has been on a downward spiral ever since bagging the coveted 50-over World Cup last year. The dramatic decline in Tests and One-Day Internationals (ODIs) was unprecedented. And despite the abundance of Twenty20 games, they’ve never once looked favourites to win the ICC World T20 after the inaugural edition. While the previous selection committee hardly took steps to remedy the situation after the infamous whitewashes, it remains to be seen what kind of strategy the Sandeep Patil-led committee devises to resurrect Team India’s fortunes. There’ve been talks of having three captains for three different formats of the game, but will it be enough to change India’s dwindling stocks on the international arena?

In the last couple of years, it’d be safe to say, superficial changes have been made as and when issues in Indian cricket arose. Many former cricketers have repeatedly stated that the real cause of problems lies elsewhere. While the domestic structure no doubt needed a revamp, the state of pitches too is something that cannot be neglected.

Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly were vital in formulating a strategy to make the domestic tournaments more competitive, however, the talk of changing the nature of pitches never seems to materialise. The Indian team relies heavily on spinning tracks at home, and hence, things could get even worse for them when touring overseas in the near future, unless immediate steps are taken to correct the situation.

Mahendra Singh Dhoni has always advocated having home advantage. While it’s true to an extent that home teams must have a slight edge over the visitors, it does not augur well to heavily load the balance in one’s favour. In that case, we will end up with teams extremely competent at home and totally ineffective away. India could win all the games at home and keep improving their ranking, but unless they start winning on a consistent basis overseas, they will never be considered a formidable Test side.

It is a known fact that a good bowling unit is essential for a team’s success in the Test arena. And it’s also a known fact that India has struggled in this department since decades. However, it’s surprising that it still continues to be a chink in their armour. India can manage with its bowling resources overseas in the limited-overs format of the game, thanks to a sturdy batting unit, but the inability of these bowlers to pick twenty wickets in a Test continues to cause problems. As a reason, India has never remained at the top in the game’s original format for long.

Preparing wickets to suit strength is fine, but it should be in moderation. Wickets turning square right towards the end of the second day’s play in a Test could help in winning a few matches, but it will never address India’s long-term problem. Balanced pitches should be introduced. Even if a few matches are lost initially, it could prove to be beneficial in due course of time. But are the authorities bold enough to implement it, considering that losing is hardly an option in this cricket-crazy nation?

India has a long home season ahead of it, but they are also scheduled to tour Australia, England, New Zealand and South Africa thereafter. To perform in such varying conditions after consistently playing on spinning surfaces at home could turn out to be an ordeal once again. The best way forward would be to shed the traditional approach of spinner-friendly surfaces. Only then will India have the likes of Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron, Parvinder Awana et al, growing and sustaining their confidence. Batting has relatively not been a cause for concern.. It’s the bowling department that needs tweaking, and unless they authorities get to the root of that issue, it’s hard to see fortunes changing.

Pakistan have produced high quality fast bowlers by conveyor-belt methods. Javed Miandad, who played a protagonist’s role in the development of Pakistan cricket, too noted this deficiency in the Indian unit. “Right now it is just the fear of losing that keeps India from adopting this strategy. But one can’t worry about that when making long-range policy. You may initially lose a few matches on seaming wickets, but before long an indigenous crop of fast bowlers will emerge and turn the tide,” he rightly said.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)

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