x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Double standards when it comes to struggling against spin

Dileep Premachandran deplores the notion that failing with bat on seaming wickets merits more censure than struggling in dust bowls in Asia.

Stuart Broad, the England all-rounder, plays a shot  during the third Test against Pakistan in Dubai. England had a tough time negotiating Pakistan’s spin bowlers throughout a series they lost 3-0.
Stuart Broad, the England all-rounder, plays a shot during the third Test against Pakistan in Dubai. England had a tough time negotiating Pakistan’s spin bowlers throughout a series they lost 3-0.

It is more than seven years since the Australian media assembled in Nagpur had a field day with Greenwicketitis, a term devised to explain the Indian aversion to the pitch that had been prepared for the third Test of the series.

Harbhajan Singh missed the game with food poisoning, while Sourav Ganguly's withdrawal minutes before the toss meant that Rahul Dravid had to lead the side.

On a grass-tinged surface, Australia romped home by 342 runs to win their first series in India since the days of Neil Armstrong's moon landing (1969).

Ganguly was excoriated after the match for deserting the ship that then sank so badly.

But it wasn't hard to understand his displeasure at the behaviour of the state association. With the Indian board ravaged by factionalism, the Nagpur Test was chosen as a way for one group to settle scores with the other led by Jagmohan Dalmiya.

For these men, it mattered little that India were 1-0 down in the four-game series.

Instead of a surface that would enhance the home side's chances of coming back into the series, Shashank Manohar - who would go on to become the board president four years later - stubbornly insisted on a pitch that had the Australian quick bowlers drooling.

Jason Gillespie finished with match figures of nine for 80 and that was that. Sections of the Indian media actually praised Manohar for asserting his independence, for bucking a tradition that once spawned jokes about Indian captains handing the curator razor blades (to cut the grass) along with the pre-match handshake.

They blithely ignored the fact that the reverse would never have happened.

Had Australian been one down going to Perth, there is no way that a turning track would have been prepared.

India's cricketers have been ridiculed in recent times for their abysmal showings in England and Australia.

Reams have been written about the batsmen's inadequacies against fast bowling and especially short-pitched deliveries.

In some cases, it is not just their techniques that have been questioned, but their toughness and appetite for the game.

You rarely see such scathing criticism when England, Australia or South Africa fail in the subcontinent or the Middle East.

As soon as India slipped up in England, the talk was of how they had been unworthy of the world No 1 ranking.

England's 3-0 defeat to Pakistan included one game where they could not even chase 145. There has been little talk, however, of whether they're worthy top dogs. As ESPNCricinfo's Numbers Game column indicated last week, teams touring Asia do as badly as teams from the subcontinent outside their comfort zone.

The period they considered was from January 2005. During that time, Australia, England and South Africa have won just five of 34 Tests in Asia [not including matches against Bangladesh]. Asian teams have won nine of 49 games in England, South Africa and Australia.

Even during their glory years under Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting – Adam Gilchrist stood in for the victories at Bangalore and Nagpur in 2004 - Australia won just four of 18 Tests in India.

One of those wins was a dead rubber at Bangalore in 1998.

Despite that, the failings of visiting sides in Asia are rarely highlighted in the manner that the flaws of subcontinent touring teams are.

That smacks of double standards, even more so when you consider that adjusting to Asian pitches should logically be easier.

Ian Chappell has been one of those who has always said that "adjusting down" to low bounce in Asia is a fair bit easier than getting used to fast and bouncy pitches outside the subcontinent.

In most cases, it involves front-foot play and bending forward to meet the ball at shin or knee height.

Playing the ball in front of your face or at sternum height at the WACA in Perth is a lot harder.

The better batsmen from these countries have made that adjustment well enough.

Damien Martyn's play on the 2004 tour was so adept that it evoked comparisons with Neil Harvey's mastery on matting pitches in 1959. Having been caught at silly point going forward to Anil Kumble in the first innings of the series, he then played everything from the crease, as late as possible.

In very different circumstances, it was almost the same method that Dravid adopted on his way to three hundreds during the disastrous tour of England last year.

A few months before Martyn's exploits in India, he and Darren Lehmann had batted with similar brilliance in Sri Lanka, blunting the threat of Muttiah Muralitharan as Australia won 3-0 despite conceding a first innings lead in each Test.

As India imploded in England, Suresh Raina was ridiculed for his travails against the short ball.

Ian Bell had a far worse series against Pakistan, looking abject against Saeed Ajmal, without being subjected to anything like the same jibes.

At some point in cricket discourse, frailty against spin appears to have been considered a lesser failing than a weakness against pace.

But whether it is greenwicketitis or brown-pitch bungling, the scoreboards tell the same story. And that tale is one of teams and individuals struggling outside their backyards.