Playing against the opposition and playing with the opposition are two different things. The current understanding is that with a high profile team, just planning and playing well doesn't do. There has to be some method in implementing the strategy management.
The strategy of the Indian selection committee of not playing a spinner was unexpected but the chairman of the selection committee Sandeep Patil has done this all his life, ‘expect the unexpected’.
As a captain he would initiate moves which would not only surprise the opposition but his teammates too.
He seems to have convinced his colleagues in the committee not to let a single spinner play in the India ‘A’ team.
If one has to go by what Virat Kohli said, “We get placid tracks for the warm-up games and for Tests they give us green tops. What’s wrong if we make them play on turners”, this is pure revenge.
The only loophole is that England has as skilful spinners in Swann and Panesar as we do.
Gone are the days when the Indian spinners would come on to bowl from the third or fourth over after taking the shine off the ball.
Till the late eighties the laws of the game weren’t stringent. On uncovered Indian pitches spinners — Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrasekhar and Venkataraghavan — with the backing of brilliant close-in fielders Eknath Solkar, Abid Ali and Wadekar, would torment the opposition. They were simply brilliant.
These spinners were so good that more often than not they would defend scores of 200.
They all played in side games because of the opportunities they gave to assess the batsmen. But now the logic is to protect the spinners from the England team, regardless of their skill.
Not many are aware that almost all batsmen of the present England team except Pietersen were in Pune last year honing their skills in a two week spin camp. Guided by Graham Gooch and Graham Thorpe, the former England batsman who was known to play spin better, batsmen practised to a specific plan for two sessions a day. Even the former England captain Andrew Strauss attended the camp.
Before landing in India, they were at the ICC’s academy in Dubai doing nothing but playing spin for three days. The English team even with Pietersen in it, hasn’t been able to tackle spin of Pakistan and Sri Lanka lately. Shane Warne said, “Cricket is played more in the mind than on the field”. And the Indian think tank is exploiting this vulnerability.
But the Indian selection committee has to bear in mind that when in 2004 at Mumbai a rank bad turner was prepared, our super stars with the exception of V. V. S Laxman couldn’t play the non-regular left-arm spin of Michael Clark who took six for 9 in 6.2 overs.
Playing spin bowling is an art and that was exhibited by Gavaskar, Vishwanath and Vengsarkar against good spinners on treacherous pitches.
The present Indian batsmen, good as they may be at hitting around, weren't confident of facing Swann in England. Unless India puts up a score of 350 and above every innings consistently, England will find ways to deal with tricky situations.
Didn't India lose eight Tests last season? Fletcher and Dhoni will never want a repeat of it. International matches are no fun and plans ‘A’ and ‘B’ have to be duly executed.
We all know these mantras and tactics, our players know it too, but the problem is even their players know it. And that is where the competition lies.
In a battle of equals, nerves will decide the winner.