Sandeep Patil, chairman of the newly-appointed selection committee, came up with a tactical move that surprised many. He picked four seamers – Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda, Vinay Kumar, and Parvinder Awana – and did not include a single spinner in the India ‘A’ team against England. Even Mumbai ‘A’ did not play a spinner in a practice game against them at Dr. DY Patil Stadium, New Mumbai.
Sunil Gavaskar endorsed the move, questioning the need to expose our spinners to the English batsmen. But I thought it was a defensive approach. I’m of the view that attack is the best form of defence. Kill their confidence when they are unsure of their foothold on the turning track. But, then, I am not on the selection committee.
On the face of it, it looked like a brilliant idea – deny vital practice to the England batters against spin before the first Test and hope that it would affect their performances in the match. India would love to win the first Test and put England on the back-foot right at the start of the series. If all goes well, India could win the series and avenge their defeat in England. The credit then would go to the tactics of Patil & Co., who are handsomely paid. The media would go gaga and hail their efforts.
Let us analyse the other scenario. Let us assume the move fails, the series is closely fought and England manages to negotiate the spinners and fight hard to make it 1-1l before the fourth Test, thus shifting the pressure on the Indians. Will India, then, prepare pitches for their spinners? That would be the big question.
Another scenario: England manages to draw or win the series. What will be the long-term implications of the tactics in denying England practice against spin? It will set a wrong precedent. And when India go to England, slow medium-pacers would be dished out instead of fast bowlers for our practice games, thus killing the ‘gentleman’ that may still exist today in this ‘gentleman’s game’.
Who is answerable for denying an India ‘A’ game to a promising spinner, who had been waiting for an opportunity to bowl to top international cricketers? Even if he had not picked any wickets, he would still get a taste of international cricket. The experience thus gained would enhance his learning curve, which is vital in grooming young cricketers.
This decision of the present national selection committee would have sent out a signal to the England camp that the Indians are already on the defensive - mentally. It will make England more resilient to come out strongly against India. They are presently No 2 in the world and would like to give it their all to get back the top spot in the ICC Test ranking.
Remember, when Mumbai beat Australian by 10 wickets at the CCI in two and half day in 1998? Sachin (Tendulkar) scored 204 not out, urging Mumbai batters to go after Shane Warne. And his own slog-sweep, dented the confidence of Warne in that series. Mumbai bowlers seized the opportunity. Nilesh Kulkarni’s brilliant bowling and agile Mumbai fielding put pressure and the Australian second innings folded quickly for 135 after scoring 305 in the first outing. Mumbai scored 410 and 31 no loss. The Australian batsman found it difficult to negotiate spin and India won the series.
Before taking such a big risk, Patil & Co. should have looked at other options. Had we prepared a turner in that game and played two or three young spinners, it would’ve put the English batters on the back-foot right at the start, thus exposing their weaknesses. And with them being low on confidence, it would have been easier for our spinners in the Test matches. The batsmen would have been tentative in their approach and the Indians could have exploited the situation. The perceived fear of playing on turners in Test matches would have given them more nightmares. At the same time, Patil & Co. would’ve nothing to lose. They would’ve done all that was expected of them as selectors.
I hope things go as planned for Patil & Co. My heart is with them, but my mind is doubtful. However, may the best team win. Good luck, Team India; fight hard as you always do, and enjoy the contest.
(Balvinder Singh Sandhu played eight Tests and 22 ODIs. A crafty bowler who moved the ball both way, he was one of the heroes of the 1983 World Cup triumph. His delivery that bowled Gordon Greenidge, shouldering arms, in the epic final is etched in every Indian’s memory. He was an useful later-order batsman who scored 71, batting at No 9, on Test debut against Imran Khan, Sarfraz Nawaz, Abdul Qadir and Iqbal Qasim, and in his fourth Test 68 against Michael Holding, Andy Roberts Joel Garner and Malcolm Marshall. After retirement, he became one of the finest coaches in the country and now imparts his knowledge through his site http://www.balvindersinghsandhu.com/ )