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India's plans need a spin

November 25, 2003

Just before the Indian team left for the tough tour of Australia Sourav Ganguly said he is counting on his fast bowlers to deliver on the pace-friendly wickets Down Under.

The India captain has always believed in fighting fire with fire, an eye for an eye being his motto. But on this Australian tour, maybe, he should think about dousing the fire with water. Instead of going with pace -- the Aussies are bred on a healthy diet of fast bowling -- Ganguly should focus on his spinners to unsettle the Aussies.

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Foolhardy! I hear you say. But that's not really the case.

1985-86 is the only time in recent history that the Indians performed well in Australia. A close look at the statistics of that tour reveals that two of the top three Indian bowlers were spinners.

Shivlal Yadav, who claimed 15 wickets at 22.26, and Ravi Shastri, with 14 wickets at 27.57, were the most successful Indian bowlers on that tour. Kapil Dev chipped in with 12 wickets to illustrate that a good mix of pace and spin is required to challenge the Aussies.

If the Indians are very good players of spin because they hone their techniques on the spinner-friendly wickets of the subcontinent, then, by the same token, the Aussies are very good players of pace bowling because of the local conditions they are brought up on.

On Zimbabwe's recent tour of Australia, it was left-arm spinner Ray Price who claimed six wickets and headed the bowling averages. He was clearly the best Zimbabwean bowler on view and the only one who managed to keep the Aussie batsmen in check.

New Zealand were the last team to get out of Australia (in 2001) unscathed and their most successful bowler was left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori, who claimed 13 wickets at 33.84. Yes, a left-arm spinner once again!

Indeed, the Aussies have struggled against spin. But it issurprising that the world has come to the conclusion that spinners struggle in Australia.

Aussie leg-spinner Shane Warne has claimed 225 wickets at 26.15 at home. But he is wrist-spinner, I hear you say. But what does one say about Indian offie E A S Prasanna, a finger-spinner, who claimed 31 wickets in eight Tests at 31.12 runs per wicket Down Under.

Murali KartikAll these stats make the exclusion of Murali Kartik all the more shocking given his performance in the recent One-Day International series against Australia. It will be very surprising to see Irfan Pathan Junior play in any of the Tests. If he is only going to play in the side-games, the selectors could surely have made place for Kartik in the 16-member squad.

And if you need Pathan to only help out in the nets, would it have been difficult to get a few of our top bowlers an assignment with some club teams in Australia?

As for India's batting in Australia, it's truly been a tale of woe in recent years though there have been instances when our batsmen have done well there.

In 1986-86, as many as nine of our batsmen averaged over 45.00. Sunil Gavaskar, with 352 runs at 117.33, headed the averages. India drew the three-Test series 0-0.

In 1991-92, only two batsmen, Ravi Shastri (300 runs at 60.00) and Sachin Tendulkar (368 at 46.00), averaged over 45.00. India lost the five-Test series 4-0.

In 1999-00, only one batsman, Sachin Tendulkar (278 runs at 46.33), averaged over 45.00. India were whitewashed in three-Test series.

It brings to notice the amazing drop in India's batting fortunes. But this time, things will hopefully be different. All the top batsmen -- Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman, Tendulkar -- have toured Australia before and will be wary of the challenge that awaits them. The Indians will need at least one of their openers to fire, as Gavaskar did in 1985-86, to give thesestroke-makers some protection against the new-ball.

But, more than anything, if the team is to come out of this tour with pride intact, much will rest on the performance of the spinners that is, if the Indian captain takes the gamble of playing two of them in a match.

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