Harbhajan Singh (L) and Amit Mishra © Getty Images
Harbhajan Singh (L) and Amit Mishra © Getty Images

 

By Karthik Parimal

 

Pitches in the West Indies were usually tailor-made to suit fast bowlers until a few years ago and it was a delightful sight to see sheer pace and bounce dominate the ongoing Test between India and the West Indies. Perhaps the hard surfaces back then provided extra assistance to the quick bowlers, but overall the advantage was balanced and not limited to either the batsmen or bowlers. But thanks to the increase in demand for a frenetic pace of batting and entertainment, flat pitches are being produced at some of the venues, thereby tilting the advantage slightly in favour of the batsmen. However, it creates an opportunity for the spinners to be more effective and get as much help as possible from such kind of surfaces.

 

Leg-spinner Devendra Bishoo made apt use of the wicket on the first day of the first Test in this series by picking three major scalps, although he was later battered by Suresh Raina and Harbhajan Singh. He sent Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman back to the pavilion by forcing them to come forward and drive at a full-length delivery that was eventually going to turn. Bishoo wasn’t apprehensive to toss the ball up, which perhaps worked well in his favour.

 

Interestingly for India, spinners have performed effectively in the West Indies and are more successful compared to the seamers. Over the last decade, Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh have been India’s most successful bowlers on the Caribbean soil. In 2006, Harbhajan’s illustrious spell of five for 13 in the first innings of the fourth Test at Sabina Park cast doom on the West Indies, although they had a formidable batting line-up consisting of match-winners like Brain Lara and Chris Gayle. Kumble later derailed the West Indies in the second innings of the same match with his match-winning spell of six for 78. Harbhajan will be hoping for a similar and more consistent kind of performance in this series as well.

 

In the first innings of this Test, the spinners were able to extract a decent amount of turn and bounce right from the first day. Harbhajan Singh has made his presence felt and is bowling with greater authority. He just needs one good performance with the ball to get his confidence back, of course, in the bowling department. He dismissed Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carlton Baugh just when they appeared to settle at the crease. He will be hoping to create further ripples in the West Indies’ batting line-up in the second innings on a turning pitch.

 

Amit Mishra was the highest wicket taker in the recently concluded ODI series. He picked 11 wickets in five matches at an economy of just 3.98. He will be a key bowler in the Test series considering his recent form. Also, the current batting line-up of West Indies is not known to be effective against leg-spin. Apart from Sarwan and Chanderpaul, no other batsman has the reputation of being patient or comfortable against spin. Perhaps this is the primary reason why Indian spinners have dominated the West Indian batsmen for a long time now.

 

The absence of a premier bowler like Zaheer Khan implies that the other bowlers will have to take on additional responsibility. While Ishant Sharma is trying to establish a foothold in the Test team, Praveen Kumar is relatively new. Regardless of their good performance in the first innings of this Test, they might not be equally effective on a slow pitch towards the end of the game. This is when an experienced bowler like Harbhajan will have to perform to his full potential and Mishra will have to capitalize on his current form, exploit the rough areas on the pitch and maximize the benefits it provides.

 

If India is to dominate West Indies in this series, they cannot just ride on their medium-fast bowlers’ coattails. Spin will be an influential factor and the spinners will have to step up to the plate consistently. Here is an opportunity for Harbhajan to emulate the performance of his mentor, Kumble and also for Mishra to establish himself as India’s next specialist spinner.

 

(If cricket is a religion and has many devotees, Karthik Parimal would be a primary worshipper. This 23 year old graduate student, pursuing his Masters in Engineering, could be an appropriate example of how the layers of what inspires, motivates and keeps one happy run deeply in our daily lives. He, unlike others, is not too disappointed about not making it big by playing for the country, but believes that he plays the sport every day with his heart by watching and writing on it)