That Bangladesh would make Australia struggle to overtake 156 runs should send alarm bells ringing in the Indian camp. India’s vulnerability against quality spin has been exposed in recent times and as their performance in the last two matches suggest, they would be better off seeking – if at all they have the option – batsman-friendly pitches rather than spinning tracks.
The immediate concern of the team, however, is how to tackle Bangladesh on a slow, turning track. The two countries meet at M Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday and victory here is critical to India’s progress in the ICC World T20. Besides victory, India need a healthy run rate too. The loss in the first match to New Zealand and a run rate on the slower side against Pakistan have placed the hosts at a disadvantage in the bigger context of the T20 World Cup.
And yes, there’s nothing called ‘home advantage’ any more to bank on. Pitches are behaving differently in different parts of the country and same pitches have become more unpredictable, change as they do responding to conditions. The players of rival teams are more familiar with Indian conditions now, thanks to the globalisation of the game courtesy Indian Premier League. Support of the home crowd hardly makes any difference to how the game plays out in the middle.
It was leg-spinner Adam Zampa of Australia who impressed with figures of 4-0-23-3 in the first innings as Bangladesh batsmen struggled to negotiate the slow-off-the-wicket deliveries. In the second, Shakib Al Hasan and his spin gang tested the Australian batters. But for some loose bowling in the end and poor fielding, particularly from greenhorn S Sajib, the result could have been different.
On the other pitch at Chinnaswamy, West Indian tweakers had delivered telling blows to Sri Lanka a couple of days ago. With a pattern to the behaviour of the two pitches more or less visible, the Indian side has to strategise carefully.
India’s performance against spin has been deteriorating over the last few years. Blame it on the popularity of slam-bang T20 games in the country; an inherent aversion to patience built into the format; general reluctance among the new generation of players to invest time in perfecting technique and/or the absence of good spinners as role models, the fact is handling quality spin has become a problem for India. The match against New Zealand exposed the truth again. Against Pakistan we could consider ourselves lucky that they relied on pace and didn’t have a few dependable spinners in the line-up.
Against Bangladesh, things could be much different though. Bangladesh realise spin is their strength and if at all they have any chance of reviving their chances in the ICC World T20, it has to be through the spinners. The absence of leg-spinner Arafat Sunny, who was suspended by ICC for a suspect action, has hurt them but they hope Sajib and Shuvagata Hom would fit in with experienced Shakib doing the mentoring.
So how should India go about it? On paper, they are the better side, more balanced and with more impact players. But spinning tracks level the game to a great extent. They halt free scoring and thus neutralise the big-hitting ability of players. India cannot change the nature of pitches. Also, they understand the quality of the rival bowling attack well and its ability to deliver surprises. Given this backdrop, an extra batsman would be of help. However, it’s up to the team think-tank to take a call. It can no more afford to take anything for granted.