Updated: November 30, 2009 16:33 IST

Where’s the spin in the Sri Lankan attack?

S. Dinakar
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Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan in action during the second test match between India and Sri Lanka at Green Park Stadium in Kanpur on Nov 24, 2009. Photo: K. R. Deepak
The Hindu
Sri Lanka's Muttiah Muralitharan in action during the second test match between India and Sri Lanka at Green Park Stadium in Kanpur on Nov 24, 2009. Photo: K. R. Deepak

Perhaps the story of the series so far has been the ease with which the Sri Lankan spinners have been countered by the Indian batsmen.

A mountain of runs in the first two Tests has been in stark contrast to the plight of the Indian batsmen when Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis tormented them in Sri Lanka.

And it was not Muralitharan or Mendis, but the rather under-rated left-arm spinner Rangana Herath who scalped five in the Indian first innings at Green Park with a spell, rather late in the innings, of guile, drift and spin.

But then, the Sri Lankan spinners had the worst of the conditions in the second Test. They bowled on an extremely flat track on the first day and the pitch started offering some assistance after lunch on the second. The Sri Lankans had entered the match with three specialist spinners and much of their hopes revolved on the toss. Once Mahendra Singh Dhoni won the spin of the coin, it was hard going for the visitors.

This said, has not Muralitharan struck on flat tracks before? And then, the off-spinning wizard has this reputation of spinning the ball on any surface.

Former off-spinning great Erapalli Prasanna believes Muralitharan's length has not been satisfactory in the series. "For a spinner length is mandatory, line is optional. For a paceman, line is mandatory, length is optional. Muralitharan has not been consistent with his length," he points out.

Prasanna adds, "This happens to every spinner when he gets on in years. You do not bowl with the same control."

The former off-spinner of the famous spin quartet elaborated. "You see the number of times Muralitharan has been cut by the right handers.

Any off-spinner hates it when this happens and Muralitharan was hard to cut. He has also been repeatedly driven off the back-foot. His length has just not been right."

Switching his attention to Mendis, Prasanna said, "A spinner has to make the batsman play forward. Mendis has been short and has been pulled. When he was successful against India in Sri Lanka, he consistently got the batsmen to play forward."

Getting the batsmen to the front-foot also brings the silly point and the short-leg into play. The bat-pad catch becomes a distinct possibility, and if the spinner can get the ball to straighten, he can clinch a leg-before appeal.

On their part, the Indians have played Mendis more like a mild leg-spinner, who straightens the odd delivery or spins it in slightly. The previously dreaded carrom-ball has become just another delivery. Credit is due to the Indian batsmen for the manner in which they have used the crease to convert the length. Gautam Gambhir and Rahul Dravid have been particularly effective, either stepping down or using the depth of the crease and shortening the length for the shot behind point.

And both Gambhir and his opening partner Virender Sehwag did not allow the Sri Lankan spinners to settle down in the second Test. They used their feet to attack and put the heat right back on the spinners.

Sehwag read Mendis well in Sri Lanka too. The Sri Lankans would have to peg the India run-rate back when the spinners operate in the third Test. Unless the spinners string together maiden overs, they will struggle to create pressure.

Much hinges on Muralitharan. The fizz off the wicket that made him so incisive has been lacking. There appears to be less revolution on the ball.

Despite the odds, Sri Lankan captain Kumar Sangakkara backs Muralitharan. You do not count a match-winner out easily.

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