Depending on whom you ask, the decision by the Indian selectors to not include any spinner in the India A squad will either be termed a superb tactical move or just plain brinksmanship.
The India A squad is pretty strong – Suresh Raina, Yuvraj Singh and Irfan Pathan were all part World T20 squad. Abhinav Mukund and Murali Vijay are steady openers – who have been very good in domestic cricket. Vinay Kumar even played a Test at Perth recently – even though CCI in Mumbai will is no Perth.
But this is a strong squad with a big exception – it has no specialist spinners. It’s almost like playing against Australia at home and finding the opposition team playing no fast bowlers. It also means that England will have virtually no match practice against quality spinners ahead of the first Test.
Former England skipper Michael Vaughan launched a scathing attack about India’s 'underhand' selection tactics on Twitter: India’s tactics are terrible for the game...It's taking home advantage to a new level... Other teams might follow... Poor form...!
Vaughan continued: I don't think its in the Spirit of game... Prepare wickets which suit your team (spinning tracks) that's should be enough... Poor form !!!
Former England coach David ‘Bumble’ Lloyd didn’t hold back either: Off to play golf ...hope opposition doesn't take all the flags out of the holes after they have played . Heaven forbid that I might win.....
But really let’s not talk about spirit of the game. England love to bemoan how other teams don’t play in the right spirit and all that jazz. But this isn’t the gentleman’s game anymore. And didn’t England coach Andy Flower ban Monty Panesar from giving net practice to Sachin Tendulkar ahead of the second Test during the series in England last year? Was that in the right spirit as well?
Flower has actually said that Panesar was being naïve. So now will he venture out and say that India are just returning the favour in kind? Zaheer Khan might have a thing or two to say about the ‘Jelly Bean’ incident in 2007 and we certainly should ask John Lever about the ‘Vaseline’ incident.
So let’s not go there. At the end of the day, the only thing that should be discussed is whether it is a good tactical move or not.
At one level, it is a move that makes no sense – India has no back-up spinners and in case of injury to either R Ashwin or Pragyan Ojha, the home team might be in a fair bit of trouble. One might say that Harbhajan Singh and Piyush Chawla ran through the England batting line-up at the World T20 tournament in Sri Lanka recently but there are changes aplenty in the Test team. And it’s a different format – the batsmen can take their time and Kevin Pietersen is back.
It might have been nice to crush England in the tour games; indeed destroy them if need be to send the message home: In India, things will be different. At the end of the day, there is nothing more humiliating than losing a tour game by an innings against players who are not even part of the Test squad.
But the Indian selectors have adopted a different approach. A crucial part of acclimatisation for England will not only be getting used to the conditions but also to play against spinners. And given England’s trouble against spin, it seems to be the right move. During the series against Pakistan in the UAE, England simply couldn’t read Saeed Ajmal, who claimed 24 wickets in 3 Tests at an average of 14.
BCCI secretary Sanjay Jagdale, when asked for an explanation, only said: “They thought this was the best line-up to play England and went with it. Picking the team is the prerogative of the selectors.”
The 4-0 drubbing that India received in England has not been forgotten and India started their preparations a long time ago. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has been demanding spinning tracks at every occasion: after Test matches and even in post-match press conferences during the World T20 competition.
Dhoni wants to not just win – he wants to destroy England. And at least for the moment, the selectors seem to be on the same page as him. The battle lines are drawn and they seem to be screaming: expect no mercy for you are going to get none.