Playing at home, spinners are always winners

Team India followed the home formula to a T. Bowl the spinners and win Tests is a well-oiled principle that has inevitably worked. Even so, it was a bit of a shock to see the red cherry being handed over to Pragyan Ojha at the very start of the Bengaluru Test when the conditions were screaming for the captain to let his swing bowlers have a go.

Dhoni can make the point that spin with the new ball is a shock tactic that can undo Brendon McCullum who is known to be a flashy starter against pace and who can get away when he rides his luck against swing and seam. The ploy may not have worked in the second Test as it did in the first. Nevertheless, Indian spinners put their best wares on display once again.

The natural comparison is to liken Ravichandran Ashwin to Srinivas Venkataraghavan as he has as long a name and the build and height of the respected senior cricketer who went on to blaze a trail as umpire too after a brief stint at administration. Ashwin has the same qualities of persistence and perseverance in him with the vital difference that he may be more of a flighty spinner who also looks an absolute natural at the batting crease rather than a bowler who can bat a bit.

We have thus far seen only the tip of Ashwin’s capabilities, some of which Dhoni put on display by asking the spinner to field in the slips cordon. If he adds a bit of athleticism to use his full reach, the off spinner can indeed become even more of a utility cricketer than his Tamil Nadu predecessor who had to fight for his place in an era in which there was such an embarrassment of spin riches that ‘Paddy’ Shivalkar never got a game while Rajinder Goel only played an unofficial Test, and again was an emergency replacement in the Test squad for Bishen Bedi who bowled like Wilfred Rhodes but got into rather more trouble with the authorities and was stood down for so much as giving an interview to BBC.

Ashwin has much variety to offer, including a wicked carom ball that may not always be a wicket taker but which keeps the batsmen guessing.

There is a nice arc to his floated off spin even from a height of release between seven to eight feet. As he revealed, it was much harder to take wickets in virtually wintry conditions in Bengaluru where a cooling breeze was blowing all day long except when the mild showers came during the day to stop play.

The pitch was tailor made for seamers as Tim Southee exhibited brilliantly in threatening to give New Zealand a dominant position that never truly fructified only because this set of touring batsmen were never good enough. Skipper Taylor could not replicate his first innings of grand aggression that brought about a pleasant change to the proceedings.

In fact, with a bit more application, the target could have really stretched India, especially given the hit-and-miss nature of the opening stands and the form of our little master who has managed to get bowled in all three outings against the Kiwis.

Someone of his experience will soon have a fitting reply to all this talk of dipping reflexes. Also, if it is a terminal syndrome he will know it better than anyone else. Only wish he would be more upright on his back foot rather than always anticipate low bounce on a right foot bending too readily.

Ojha, who can be likened to Dilip Doshi for his ability to be right up there all the time forcing the batsmen to play at him, might do even better if he gets over the tendency to spray a few down the legside, which might just suggest excessive use of elbow flexing power. He has done a grand job in teaming up with Ashwin and between them they have dominated the last five home Tests.

It’s their efficiency that has given Team India four wins and a scores-equal draw in those five Tests. The magic formula works. What remains to be seen is what will happen when the opposition is from the top half of the ICC Test rankings, which will be soon enough.

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