Spin-friendly conditions in the country’s western, central and southern regions, where India will play four of their six group matches in the One Day World Cup starting Saturday, are bound to favour the hosts, cricket experts say.
Home advantage and form point to India as one of the joint favourites for the 10th edition of the quadrennial competition to be staged in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. India, champions in 1983 and finalists 20 years later in 2003, will open their campaign against Bangladesh away in Mirpur on Saturday, but will play their remaining five pool B games at home.
Spin threat: The three Indian spinners got eight wickets as India beat Australia in a warm-up match on Sunday in Bangalore.
Captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s team will meet England and Ireland in the southern city of Bangalore, the Netherlands in New Delhi in the north, South Africa in the central city of Nagpur, and the West Indies in the southern metropolis of Chennai.
If they qualify for the knockout phase, India will play the quarter-final in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad irrespective of how they finish in their group after the International Cricket Council (ICC) decided that the hosts would play all their knockout matches at home. Their semi-final will be in the northern city of Chandigarh (Mohali) and final in the western metropolis of Mumbai, if they get that far.
“Conditions in the southern and western states of India are hot by February as opposed to east and north at that time, and the pitches are bound to grip and assist spin,” former India all-rounder Manoj Prabhakar says.
“This has correctly influenced the national selection committee to pick three specialist spinners in the squad,” says Prabhakar, who played in the two World Cups held in the subcontinent in 1987 and 1996. “It gives the captain more options, in case conditions allow them to play two or more specialist spinners.”
The national selectors chose leg-spinner Piyush Chawla and off-spinner Ravichandran Ashwin for a spin attack led by the experienced off-spinner Harbhajan Singh.
“We took everything into consideration. The conditions, the opponents...everything that we need to win,” chief selector Krishnamachari Srikkanth said after naming the 15-member squad that includes four medium-pacers.
The Indian cricket board’s zonal curator for south zone, P.R. Viswanathan, says the spin factor has a lot to do with the soil unique to the region. “In India, red soil is significantly used in the creation of pitches, especially in south centres,” Viswanathan says. “The ball normally grips and assists spin. Although how the pitch behaves is directly proportionate to the quality of preparation, vis-à-vis watering and rolling. There is then the dew factor, depending on whether the match is day or day/night.” All India matches are day/night.
“February is also near the end of the cricketing season in our region, so we also need to take into context the wear and tear. The heat also affects the moisture content in the pitch.”
The pitch in Nagpur also uses red soil, and Viswanathan expects conditions to be similar.
Interestingly, seven of India’s top 10 spinners in Test cricket hail from the southern and western states. The only exceptions being Singh and former spin great Bishan Singh Bedi, who hail from the north, and former left-arm spinner Dilip Doshi, who spent his formative years in Kolkata.
India, who qualified for the semi-finals in the two previous World Cups in the subcontinent, have not lost a One Day series at home in over 12 months. During this period, they beat Sri Lanka 3-1, South Africa 2-1 and Australia 1-0, before routing New Zealand 5-0 to emerge as a potent force.
Also, India’s One Day record in Bangalore, Chennai and Nagpur, where they play their important matches, is promising.
India have won 11 of 16 matches in Bangalore, including a close one against Pakistan in the 1996 World Cup quarter-final; three out of six completed matches in Chennai; and won against Australia and lost to Sri Lanka in two games at the newly constructed stadium in Nagpur. Though India have won only five of 12 completed matches in Ahmedabad, they have eight victories in 14 games at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai.
The onus in the spin department lies on Singh, India’s main weapon since Anil Kumble retired from One Day International (ODI) matches after the 2007 World Cup in the Caribbean and from Test cricket the following year.
The off-spinner has taken 246 wickets from 217 ODIs—of them 96 wickets have come from 83 home games. Chawla, who has 22 matches under his belt, is yet to play an ODI at home, while Ashwin has shown promise in the seven ODIs he has played since his debut last year. The three Indian spinners swung their opening World Cup warm-up game against Australia in Bangalore on Sunday, claiming eight wickets to help India win by 38 runs.
India have generally stuck to the formula of four specialist bowlers, with three of them usually medium-pacers, owing to the depth in quality of their part-time bowlers. “Therein lies the difference. Conditions in south, central and western centres assist spin and when the ball grips and turns, our part-time spinners will be difficult to play,” says former India stumper and selector Kiran More.
“Our part-time spinners are quality bowlers. On wickets with bounce they will be a handful,” he adds.
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