If the nature of the pitches for India’s remaining matches were left to the discretion of Kuldeep Yadav, R Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja, they might want to carry the Chepauk track in this World Cup caravan. The Chennai surface, which took on a dry, brownish hue once the grass was cut two days before the match, took a prodigious spin and generated a disconcerting bounce from the first spin. They are ideal ingredients for bowlers, especially of India’s caliber, to outclass the opposition. In Kuldeep, Ashwin and Jadeja, India, they are blessed with the perfect combination of cunning, variety and street smarts.
The trio, as expected, combined for figures of 30-3-104-6. Breakthroughs were routine and bad balls were rare when operating in tandem, contributing to Australia’s failure to find a single boundary for 74 balls at one stage. From a batting perspective, going into your shell against high-quality spin is a recipe for disaster that Australia will have to avoid in their upcoming games.
The irony for India, however, is that they are the only team in this World Cup that will not play more than one match at a single venue in the preliminary phase. The intention of the organizers is completely understandable: to ensure that as many World Cup venues as possible can see the hosts in action. So, from Chennai to Delhi, Ahmedabad, etc., Indian players will board a flight after every match.
Despite fielding a combination that worked wonders against Australia in Chennai, India will have to be flexible throughout the campaign. Although ideally they would play against teams like England, South Africa and New Zealand in particular. “Honestly, it will be based on location. It depends on the type of terrain we play on. When we looked at this pitch on Sunday morning and also on Saturday, it looked like a three-spinner wicket. There was definitely a twist. Playing three spinners in other matches depends on the kind of surfaces we have,” India bowling coach Paras Mhambrey said.
Jadeja, who took 3/28 in 10 overs, was equally pragmatic despite acknowledging that spin is India’s strength. “It depends on the venue, we can’t get a wicket like that everywhere, but if we can see a wicket where the ball can spin better, then we can definitely go for that combination,” she said.
On spin-friendly tracks, Jadeja admitted that his only aim is to take more wickets than the other spinners. “Role clarity is nothing. We are trying to take as many wickets as possible. On those pitches, all three of them must be thinking that they should get more. It is not like this? This is what happens in the mind. And thinking like that is not bad. If everyone thinks like this, the opposing team will come out soon,” she stated.
Facing Afghanistan on the Ferozeshah Kotla terrain next Wednesday, the surface is unlikely to provide that much help. In the previous game at the venue between South Africa and Sri Lanka, 94.5 overs of play witnessed 754 runs as a number of batting records fell. Besides the renovated Kotla square having improved lately for stroke play, the small dimensions of the wicket also encourage batsmen to try and clear the boundary without batting an eyelid.
There are other factors at play as well. It is pertinent to note that leads that help create spin can backfire against teams with depth in spin attack. Afghanistan, armed with Rashid Khan, Mujeeb Ur Rahman and Noor Ahmad, can be one such team, capable of giving their best.
But against England in Lucknow, for example, a furious turner may be exactly what India are looking for. It would limit England’s fearsome forwards while exploiting a potential weapons shortage in their spinning attack.
Perhaps it also comes down to how well India read these pitches, although coach Rahul Dravid prefers to put emphasis on execution. “We all try to read pitches as best we can. But in the end, it’s about executing the skills on those pitches. Sure, sometimes you read a pitch right and can decide whether to bat or pitch first. I don’t think this World Cup will be decided by whether you have read a speech correctly. It’s about how you play in those conditions. Adaptability will be a good challenge and how the teams adapt to the different venues will probably decide the success of the teams,” he said before the match against Australia.