After weeks of slow build-up, the much awaited Test series between India and England is finally here. It’s been a relatively silent prelude to the series, considering the hype generated before the previous series between these two teams. There hasn’t been the usual verbal spars or snarky newspaper articles this time around, apart from an occasional reference to the 4-0 English whitewash in the previous series; then again, both teams have their own issues to sort out in-house. England have been busy dealing with the ‘re-integration’ of Pietersen and managing fitness concerns of their bowlers; India are worried about Zaheer’s fitness and the iffy form of their top order.
Still, it is pretty clear, from the evidence of the last few weeks, what the most important factor is going to be in this series. England have played three warm-up games since they landed, against opposition of varied strength, and the defining feature of the practice games has been the paucity of spin practice for the English. While the first game had no genuine spinner in the India A squad, the second and third games had spinners who barely feature in the first choice XI for their sides. In fact, despite having Amit Mishra in their XI, Haryana didn’t even bowl him in the second innings of the third practice game. The message from the Indian camp to the English is very clear: No spin for you, lads.
So, when England come out to bat in the first test at Ahmedabad, they will face the highly effective pair of Ashwin and Ojha, after having the advantage of landing in India early nullified by the lack of generosity from the BCCI. After their travails against Ajmal in UAE and Herath in Sri Lanka, the signs are pointing to another ‘death by spin’ exhibition of batting by the English.
Now, the rights and wrongs of the ‘no spin’ move by the BCCI is debatable and a matter of individual opinion. Some may call it ungracious and unsportsmanlike to invite a team early, and not provide them with the best preparation possible. Others point out to similar tactics by teams like England and Australia who provide under-strength opposition and pitches unlike the ones used in the Tests, during the warm up games in their home series. Fact of the matter is, both sides have valid points, and ultimately the final decision lies with the home cricket board, as to what teams and grounds they choose for the warm-up phase of the series.
Personally, I started out being fully supportive of the move to restrict useful spin practice for the English; Now, it doesn’t look so great. Yes, it could backfire – the touring batsmen might have just played themselves into form and high confidence after facing weak oppositions. This could also have been a useful time for the likes of the maligned Harbhajan to regain confidence, or a junior spinner like Harmeet to try his wares against quality batsmen.
So, all said and done, the upcoming series will prove if this was the right move or not. An English capitulation to spin could pave the way for similar moves against other touring opposition as well. Either way, this has given an edge to the series which was lacking in antagonism between the two sides.