India should focus on spinners' fitness
- The other side of the story is a question: If the pitch was turning from Day 1, why didn’t the Indian spinners—three of them—have England all out under 300 or 350?
Interesting pitch in Chennai; the best way to describe it is—a flat turner.
It turned from Day 1, but good players of spin like Joe Root could also bat forever on it because it was a slow turner.
As time went on, it became dusty. The “rough” was friendly and not the notorious kind that decides the fate of a match.
In fact, at the fag end of the Test match, the whole pitch looked like one giant rough. Interestingly it was still not an unplayable pitch as Virat Kohli demonstrated to us.
Sure, it was an important toss to win, but England did not win the Test because they won the toss. They won because they batted superbly after they won the toss.
Once they put 578 runs on the board, India was only ever going to play catch up for the rest of the match.
It is also very unusual for a foreign team to win the toss in India on a turning pitch and get 578 runs; obviously, much of the credit must go to Joe Root but that’s only one side of the story.
The other side of the story is a question: If the pitch was turning from Day 1, why didn’t the Indian spinners—three of them—have England all out under 300 or 350?
Well, because it was a slow turner and unfortunately India’s two leading spinners—R Ashwin and Shahbaz Nadeem are naturally unsuited to exploit the pitch.
Let me explain. When the turn is slow, you need spinners who bowl quickly in the air and get the ball to turn quickly off the pitch, or, ideally, someone who can be slow in the air but get the ball to fizz off the pitch. But the latter is a skill only the rare greats possess.
For the betterment of Indian cricket, we must accept one hard fact—one important reason why India lost the first Test was because of the fitness of their spinners.
When I say fitness, I mean, specifically, physical strength.
Fitness as a concept has now taken firm roots in Indian cricket; it’s one reason why India looks world-class on the field. They have seamers who bowl quickly and match the best in the world with their skills and also their physical fitness.
Indian batsman hit the ball a long way—that’s the power aspect of fitness for you—plus they run superbly between the wickets. MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli set that benchmark in Indian cricket a few years ago.
You also see pretty good fielding standards which is again directly related to improved fitness standards.
The Chennai defeat must get India to focus on the fitness of their spinners.
Ashwin, Nadeem and even Kuldeep Yadav are skilled spinners who just need to get stronger. Yadav often misses out because he is found wanting on the “nip” aspect of spin bowling—nip means getting the ball to turn sharply and quickly off the pitch.
They must work on getting strength in the fingers, and the entire body so it can be used it to get that ultimate effect of being slow in the air and quick off the pitch.
If you are not fit and strong, you automatically tend to just use your arms and fingers and not the full body and this limits your potency on slow turners.
Ravindra Jadeja, who I rate very highly as a Test spinner but not so much as a limited-overs spinner, is the model to follow in this regard.
His overall fitness is his big asset and the primary reason behind his success as a left-arm spinner in Tests.
Ashwin has artistry, but Jadeja would have been the more difficult bowler to face on the slow turner in Chennai.
England spinner Jack Leach had better returns in the second innings only because he was bowling a lot quicker then.
With their current fitness levels, Ashwin, Nadeem and Yadav would struggle to achieve what Leach did even if they tried, because their bodies would not be able to withstand the extra effort.
I remember batting in a crucial Ranji game v Hyderabad. There were two top Indian off spinners bowling in tandem on a turner. Arshad Ayub was quick and mechanical while Shivlal Yadav was the one with the flight and the guile. We all wanted to be at the end facing Shivlal because Ayub at the other end was just unplayable.
If I were to coach our spinners, I would just get them to spend hours in the gym. Skills they have in plenty; all they need are strong bodies to get that ball to fizz off a length on a slow turner so that Joe Root & Co would not be able to play comfortably to a ball pitched on full length even on a slow pitch.