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Prevail or perish

For the Indians, it was a chance to introspect, to think long and hard about what went wrong and what needed to be done before they pitch up for the second Test at Galle, reports Anand Vasu. Check out the special

cricket Updated: Jul 28, 2008 12:19 IST
Anand Vasu
Anand Vasu
Hindustan Times

With Sri Lanka polishing India off inside four days it meant a free day for the two teams. For Sri Lanka it was a chance to savour the moment, to extend the post-match party as long as they liked for they had earned it. For the Indians, it was a chance to introspect, to think long and hard about what went wrong and what needed to be done before they pitch up for the second Test at Galle.

Check out the special

The thoughts of the Indians, who left for Galle a day early, and reached late on Sunday afternoon, will hover around what went wrong. Unfortunately the way the human mind works, it is impossible not to brood when a collective failure of this kind comes around. In international cricket these days it is not entirely unusual to see collapses like the one at the SCC.

Every team, however good their records and however big their reputations, will be routed from time to time and perhaps Colombo was India's big collapse of the series. Not long ago Dale Steyn sent the whole line-up back to the hut for only 76, but India bounced back. Then they had home advantage, a thoroughly underprepared Kanpur track and an opposition that did not have a quality spinner in their ranks.

Now, going into Galle they have little control over the conditions although all indications point to a raging turner. India, despite Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh in their ranks, won't be licking their lips in anticipation. For the first Test showed that some of the best players of spin in the world had genuine trouble with Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis. This is a line-up that has taken the likes of Shane Warne to the cleaners and battered Murali in India.

But in this season of churning and change — the one-day team has seen the exit of some legendary cricketers and fresh faces staking their claims — you can't help but wonder if India's status as the best players of spin in the world is a touch misplaced.

Failure in one Test does not mean good cricketers turn bad overnight, but to see India capitulate against spin does make you sit up and take notice. The batsmen have the wherewithal to come up with ways and means to handle Murali and Mendis, but by then it might be too late.

What's more worrying is that the young batsmen who have come through following in the footsteps of Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman don't inspire the same confidence when it comes to playing against spin. Is there something in the Indian domestic cricket system that has created a situation that is not conducive to learning the art of batting against quality spin?

A few weeks ago, in an interview to HT, Dravid spoke of his formative years, playing for Karnataka. "When you got into the Indian team, you had to become a good player of fast bowling to survive at this level. Over time, playing so much fast bowling, some of the ways in which I played spin probably changed. I used to be a lot more positive against spin."

But now, with due respect to those bowling spin in domestic cricket, it's not a situation where you come up against a quality spinner in every team. Kumble, since dropping out of ODIs, turns out regularly for Karnataka but Harbhajan is away on national duty most of the time. There's Murali Kartik, who should certainly have played more Tests than he has, but beyond him the cupboard is pretty bare. If batsmen don't play against quality spin when they are at their most impressionable, can one expect them to suddenly turn into artists at the highest level?

That's a question for those in the BCCI and Dav Whatmore and his staff at the NCA. For Kumble and his men, the task at hand is more immediate: the batsmen need to find a way to score off Mendis and release the pressure he is creating and keep their eyes firmly on Muralitharan, or they will be painfully plucked out again in this series.