The build up to the much awaited Test series between India and England has garnered further momentum, following an interesting decision by the new Indian selection committee, led by Sandeep Patil – that of not including even one specialist spinner in the India ‘A’ squad, which is scheduled to play Alastair Cook’s England team in Mumbai from October 30.
This decision has created a reasonable bit of controversy, as was expected. The England batting line-up can be safely termed as one of the most poor when it comes to playing spin bowling. Their struggles against the tweakers plunged to abysmal depths early this year, when they were whitewashed 3-0 by Pakistan in the Gulf – having absolutely no clue to tackle Saeed Ajmal and Abdur Rehman. The highs of being the best team in the world seemed a mirage as their much vaunted top order were ground to the dust in the desert. No wonder then, for the Indian tour, England have lined up three warm-up matches before the first Test begins in Ahmedabad. They would have certainly expected to master the conditions while playing few of India’s second-string spinners.
But Patil’s committee have aimed at clipping the English wings even before they can attempt to fly. The only spinners in the India ‘A’ squad are part timers Suresh Raina (also the captain) and Yuvraj Singh. Which means, instead of preparing for the Tests by facing a lot of spin, which they obviously anticipated, England will start the tour by padding up against the pace of Irfan Pathan, Ashok Dinda and Vinay Kumar. The likes of David Lloyd and Michael Vaughan were quick to attack this selection, and accused India of lacking sportsmanship and the decision of being ‘against the spirit of the game’.
That India are looking for ‘revenge’ after being pummeled 4-0 in England in 2011 is a well-known fact. Which means they will go to any lengths to deny England an opportunity to settle down and get used to the conditions. Rank turners can be almost definitely expected for all four Tests at Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur. Many times after India lost eight successive Tests abroad (4 each in England and Australia) last season, there have been pleas from the Indian captain and players to prepare spinning wickets at home, so that the ‘home advantage’ is not lost. All these decisions and requests are certainly justified – after all India is not doing anything which is against the Laws of Cricket. Selecting a team for a warm up match is upto the selection committee and England are supposed to play against whichever team they are scheduled to without any excuses. And if England were expecting dollops of generosity from India on this tour, they were highly mistaken.
Patil’s decision can be seen as a shrewd one on the look of it, but it can certainly have its side-effects. By not allowing England to play against a specialist spinner before the first Test, the committee might just improve England’s confidence instead of denting it. As skipper Cook said, there are plenty of spinners in the net sessions. Plus, if they play the pacemen comfortably in the warm-up, England will have more self-belief come the Test series. Whereas had they had to face a spinner in the warm-up and struggle against him, it would have led to a loss of confidence before facing Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha – who have been in superb form in the past few home Tests.
Whichever way you look at it, England have no reason to whine of this decision. India’s in-form young batsman Virat Kohli recently said that it would not be unfair to prepare turners in the Test series, citing the example of England preparing flat wickets in the warm-ups during the 2011 series, only to dish out seaming tracks for the Test series (though it was India’s pathetic collective showing that did them in). Home advantage has always been an important factor, and it will remain to be so. That is what makes Test cricket a challenging task – playing in different conditions and winning against the odds. England are embarking upon India with a view to win a series there after 28 years, and they certainly have to work hard for it. Whether or not a spinner is there in the warm up squad is not an issue, for there might be bigger ‘Tests’ in store for them.