There has been plenty of spin in the build-up to the India-England series, much before the first delivery is supposed to hit the deck, hiss, turn and jump to confound the visiting batsmen.
The biggest anticipation is whether India’s spinners will deliver the goods, starting with the first Test on Thursday. In India, there is more anxiety that the team should avenge the 0-4 rout suffered in England last year.As the teams gear up, much has been said by both sides with spin the focus, promising plenty of rivalry, bordering on hostility. England skipper Alastair Cook has blamed Indian cricket authorities of leaving instructions with the three teams they faced in the warm-up games, to ensure their batsmen did not get much practice against spin.
MS Dhoni had set the tone, asking for turning tracks to drive home the advantage with his teammates Virat Kohli, Virender Sehwag, Harbhajan Singh and Ravichandran Ashwin — the man expected to be the prime mover behind India's bid for a clean sweep — all backing their skipper.
On Monday, left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha touched on a topic that can well set the tone for the series, looking to exploit Kevin Pietersen’s known weakness against left-arm spinners. The batsman has toured India and done well in all forms of the game, but is sure to be reminded by the fielders of his weakness.
However, KP recently said he had requested Rahul Dravid to help him out and the India batting great gave him elaborate tips on how to negate left-arm spinners. The batsman pointed out his record against left-arm spinners has improved since then.
There has been plenty of open rivalry when India have faced Australia in recent years but the spin factor has left both teams looking to prove a point.
Ojha acknowledged: “It is an advantage KP has some weakness against left-arm spinners.”
He added: “It’s not written that he can’t play left-arm spinners. I can't take it easy. At the end of the day, I have to take his wicket, only then can I say anything. For now, it is not in my mind. To get his wicket, I know I have to work really hard.”
Ojha declared he and Ashwin were ready for English batsmen.
“They are good but when you bowl in the nets to players like Sachin and Sehwag and beat them, it boosts your confidence. No doubt, the English are good players but they are not better than our batsmen. That’s why I give 100 percent in the nets.”
After the final warm-up game also ended in a draw, Cook said: “We would have liked to have faced more spin… I don’t know who it has come from but clearly there’s been a message of some sort.”
James Anderson, in a column, was clear. “There has been much talk that this may be Tendulkar’s last Test series… There is no question in my mind that he has been one of the best batsmen — if not the best — for 20-odd years. But we’ve to make sure we do not treat him with too much respect.”
Not exactly in your face, but the battlelines have been drawn.