x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Disadvantage India and Dhoni is not happy

Spin has been India's traditional strength while playing at home but both Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have struggled for breakthroughs.

Placid wickets dished out for the first two cricket Tests against New Zealand have put the spotlight back on India's waning home advantage.

Spin has been India's traditional strength while playing at home but both Harbhajan Singh and Pragyan Ojha have struggled for breakthroughs in the three-Test series so far, which has seen the first two end in draws with the third Test starting on Saturday.

Harbhajan, India's most successful off-spinner, has taken just six wickets while giving away 305 runs at an average of more than 50. Left-arm spinner Ojha has fared no better, managing seven wickets at the cost of 324 runs.

MS Dhoni, the India captain, was scathing in his assessment of the wickets prepared for the first Test in Ahmedabad and the second in Hyderabad, both of which ended in draws.

"We might have to play 10 days instead of five to get a result on wickets like these," he said after the match in Hyderabad.

"That's what I frankly believe. The wickets have been on the flatter side. Other than the one hour in the Ahmedabad Test when [Chris] Martin bowled that five-wicket spell, there has been nothing in the wickets for the bowlers.

"There has not been any turn for the spinners on even the fourth and fifth days. In fact, of the Test matches we have played lately, very few have been on turners.

"I can remember Ahmedabad against Sri Lanka [in 2005]. After that, Kanpur [2008, against South Africa], to some extent. The wicket in Mumbai against Sri Lanka in 2009 also gave a bit of assistance in the morning."

India beat Sri Lanka in the Ahmedabad match by 259 runs with Harbhajan bagging 10 wickets and the now-retired leg-spinner Anil Kumble taking seven.

At Kanpur, India wrapped an eight-wicket victory inside three days with Harbhajan again leading the way with a seven-wicket match haul.

The Mumbai match saw Harbhajan and Ojha share 11 wickets to help India win by an innings and 24 runs.

"As a foreign team coming to India, you think of how you are going to play the fourth and fifth days," Dhoni said.

"But when there is no assistance for the bowlers, things change.

"I don't think visiting teams are under the same pressure that they were in the past when handling spinners. You used to see them practise throw-downs on scuffed surfaces with rough areas.

"I don't think it is like that any more."

Dhoni was hoping the script would be different when the teams meet each other in the third and series-deciding Test in Nagpur.

"The wicket at Nagpur is known to assist bowlers and especially spinners. So, I am hoping for a result in the last match."

Harbhajan was at pains to answer why India have been so reluctant to cash in on their spin strength.

"I think you should ask those people who make the wickets because I don't know," said the bowler whose strike-rate with the ball this year is an embarrassing 97.4.

"In every country the conditions are different. In Australia, there is bounce. In India, I don't know when I last played on a turner. On the fourth and fifth days, if there is turn and bounce, what's wrong with it?"

Perhaps, it is the nature of the wickets that has turned Harbhajan into a batsman of sorts in this series. Batting at No 8, Harbhajan has aggregated 295 runs from three innings, including two centuries.

* Agence France-Presse