From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.13 :: Mar. 28, 2009

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ON THE BALL / W.V. RAMAN COLUMN

Winning spin

Harbhajan Singh bowled exceptionally well in the Kiwi second innings. More than the number of wickets, it was the mode of dismissals that was a delight to watch.

Dhoni and his boys have done it again. A victory after a long time in New Zealand re-establishes the fact that Team India is relishing the prospect of overcoming a challenge. The emphatic victory was achieved due to a combination of a calculated risk and clinical execution of plans. The contributions came from almost everyone but as usual the little master showed why he is feared by opponents.

On a sluggish track that had a wee bit in it for the seamers, it was important that the batsmen grafted and Tendulkar brought all his experience into play to grind the Kiwi attack. Tendulkar’s knock was a match-winning effort though Dravid and Gambhir made useful contributions. The first session on the third morning was critical as a slump then would have changed the course of the Test. But some determined efforts from Dhoni and Zaheer to complement Tendulkar sealed the fate of the home team.

Tendulkar’s effort deserves all praise for not only did it pave the way for a Test victory but has also put India on course for a series triumph. But the one effort that would have pleased everyone in the dressing room was that of Harbhajan Singh. With the retirement of Kumble, the “Turbanator” is expected to take the lead role and spin his team to victory even on foreign soil.

Harbhajan bowled exceptionally well in the Kiwi second innings and more than the number of wickets, it was the mode of dismissals that was a delight to watch. The pitch had slowed down but it was not a ripper by any means and the “Turbanator” had to fox the batsmen with subtle variations in flight. The Kiwi batsmen had no answers as Harbhajan Singh mesmerised them with variations in flight and deception.

The onus was on Harbhajan Singh to make his mark and that too on foreign soil and the confident spinner bowled Team India to victory well ahead of schedule. It is not easy for a spinner to bowl out opponents on his own especially when he does not have another specialist spinner to work with him in tandem.

The reason I say this is because it requires skill to play a good spinner well and if two quality spinners bowl in tandem a batsman’s skills are really put to test. But if a medium pacer operates from the other end, the pressure on a batsman is not much. Besides, Harbhajan being an off-spinner it becomes a slightly easier option for a right-hand batsman to hit him with the spin. Though the Kiwi batsmen tried to hit the off-spinner to unsettle him, Harbhajan proved too wily for them. The six-wicket haul would have given the off-spinner a lot of confidence and most importantly, it would have served a warning to the hosts.

Team India has a great advantage over New Zealand as a victory in the first Test of a short series makes it difficult for the team that is behind to come back. It is one thing to lose a game due to one bad session, but to be thoroughly outplayed in every session can make the task of coming back a daunting one. The Kiwi top-order was a let down and apart from Jesse Ryder they will be disappointed with their performance. The New Zealand skipper Vettori, with his century in a tough situation, proved that he will not give in without a fight and the others will do well to take a leaf out of his book.

Jesse Ryder is the man the Indians have to conquer as he has been in excellent form through the summer. He has adapted well to the different formats of the game and has shown that it is a case of fine-tuning the mental make-up. He is a natural stroke maker but he did well to curb his instincts to play a superb innings which saved the host a lot of blushes.

The Kiwis will be hoping that their top-order batsmen get their act right and with their coach Moles crying hoarse that a seaming track is the best option, it remains to be seen how his batsmen fare if the groundsmen do follow his instructions. Moles should not lose sight of the fact that his batsmen have failed on a fairly good track in Hamilton and regardless of the chinks that he sees in the Indian batting line-up, the main point that he needs to consider is whether his batsmen have the wherewithal to counter the Indian seamers on a seamer-friendly track.

Dhoni has a big chance of adding yet another feather to his cap as his team is on the verge of a series victory and only complacency can ruin India’s chances. Then, of course, this team is used to winning and handling victories well and as such, one can rest assured that Team India will not be a victim of complacency. The only thing that can stop Team India from creating history is an outstanding performance by the Kiwis. Yes, they will put up a better performance but whether it will be good enough to beat Team India is something that only time will tell.



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