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Ross the thorn in India's flesh

The late ML Jaisimha, a batsman who bowled off-spin, and left-arm spinner Salim Durrani were asked to open the bowling by Tiger Pataudi against England at Kanpur in 1964. Khurram Habib reports.

india Updated: Sep 01, 2012 02:22 IST
Khurram Habib

At the other end of the phone, a voice with a distinct drawl tried to recall when India had opened the bowling in a Test match with a left-arm spinner. The late ML Jaisimha, a batsman who bowled off-spin, and left-arm spinner Salim Durrani were asked to open the bowling by Tiger Pataudi against England at Kanpur in 1964.

"But those days there was a dearth of pacemen, so we would double up as medium pacers," said Durrani. "It must be a formality or there must be some turn," he added, when told that Pragyan Ojha was asked to open the bowling for India on Friday. There was confusion over whether Ojha is the first spinner to open the bowling in a Test for India, and that was when the 1964 match was mentioned. The confusion, which even caught statisticians on the wrong foot, lasted till Durrani himself cleared it. However, he and Jaisimha had bowled medium pace in that opening spell.

The Kiwi skipper, Ross Taylor, had confidently announced the team's plans to attack India's spinners the previous day. India skipper MS Dhoni, it seemed, was ready for it and hoped the Kiwi batsmen will bite the bait. But opener Martin Guptill was just too smart. After pushing softly at a few deliveries, he waited for one in the slot and lifted Ojha over covers to put him out of the attack in his opening spell.

"Dhoni had told me just after the toss that I'll have to open. Perhaps, it was the moisture that could have helped the ball grip the surface," said Ojha. It didn't appear the best explanation and Zaheer's early wicket from the other end, trapping Brendon McCullum leg before, made it look as if Dhoni had missed a trick by not starting with paceman Umesh Yadav after the Kiwis won the toss and elected to bat.

Solid start
After McCullum's departure, Kane Williamson and Guptill put their foot down, and though Williamson was scalped by Ojha later, he'd given what Kiwis were looking for - a solid start.

Taylor then took over. Criticised for his Twenty20 style play in the first Test, Taylor went about setting the record straight. The first four balls, three of which were handled impatiently, showed his intentions - his target area will include the off-side and that he wouldn't let the spinners settle down. A slog sweep off R Ashwin was the first assault and it did the required damage. A hassled Dhoni pushed his fielders back and later removed Ashwin.

Runs aplenty
The hour after lunch was the most productive as the Kiwis made close to 90 runs. Ojha was treated with scant respect by Taylor, who took him for 16 runs in an over. But Taylor's shot of the day came off Zaheer. A good length delivery that should have been treated with utmost respect was punched straight, leaving Zak stunned.

The sweep became a potent weapon and although both Daniel Flynn and Ross Taylor fell playing that shot, 'keeper Kruger Van Wyk continued with a quick 50 until rain and bad light halted play after tea.

India had to thank Ojha for reining in New Zealand. Despite being thrown into the deep end, the spinner known more for his containing role displayed good variety to pick up four wickets. He got his arm-ball going, trapping Williamson leg before, and also got rid of Taylor in similar fashion, taking the lead role to keep the battle even.