Sandeep Patil is an extraordinary man; he likes doing things out of the ordinary. His selection committee’s decision not to pick a specialist spinner in the India ‘A’ team against the touring Englishmen is bizarre and baffling.
Though his national selection committee comprises four other selectors (his 1983 World Cup teammate Roger Binny, Vikram Rathour, who he coached in the India ‘A’ as well as the senior side, R S Hans, who he came up against in first-class cricket and Saba Karim) all major decisions will be attached to him considering he is the head.
The selectors’ no-specialist spinner-against-England mantra is viewed in some quarters as a slap in the face of India’s cricketing heritage. Indeed, this is still the land of spin. Presumably, the idea behind this is to prevent England from tuning up well for the series.
“Absoulutely stupid,” was how Bishan Singh Bedi described the selectors’ decision. Wonder what sort of message this sends out to promising spinners who ought to be trading punches with top overseas batsmen.
Patil will hope the tactic ends with a positive result for India, but sometimes the ‘smartest’ of moves don’t eventuate in victory.
In 1972-73, Ian Chappell led a determined Australian team to the West Indies and was trying to work out what the West Indies were up to mid-way through the first Test in Jamaica.
According to Chappell, ‘the penny dropped’ in the second Test at Barbados where he realised that the West Indies were not trying to win and were waiting for the third Test in Trinidad where their spinners Lance Gibbs and Inshan Ali were expected to thrive.
Now, Chappell didn’t have his main off-spinner Ashley Mallett on tour, but he didn’t fall to pieces because he believed his batting had the ability to counter spin. Probably counter is the most inappropriate word for Doug Walters, who demolished Gibbs and Ali almost single-handedly to cause one of the most memorable wins in Australian cricket history. Chappell’s 97 in the second innings with a twisted ankle was vital too.
That the West Indies were not beaten in a series at home for the next 22 years is another matter.
Ajit Wadekar’s men achieved a series win a couple of seasons before Australia’s great triumph. Off-spinner Lance Gibbs (who in 1975-76 became the first spinner to claim 300 plus Test wickets) didn’t play the first Test at Kingston and his place was taken by Trinidad’s Jack Noreiga. In the second Test at Trinidad, which India won, Noreiga claimed nine wickets in an innings.
The third Test was scheduled in Guyana, the hometown of Gibbs, who had to make an impression in the Indians vs Guyana game to put him in contention for the next Test in Guyana.
Kenia Jayantilal, the Mumbai-based former Hyderabad all-rounder remembers captain Ajit Wadekar telling the team than no one should get dismissed by Gibbs in the side game. The captain had his way to an extent because Gibbs finished the match with only one wicket (Ashok Mankad) in his 48 overs. Jayantilal got an unbeaten hundred in the second innings and could have helped India reach their 327-run target.
“We finished the game with 277 for three and Rohan Kanhai (captain of Guyana) gave me hell for not going for a win. I couldn’t tell him that Ajit had instructed us not to succumb to Gibbs and hence I had to hold back my aggression,” said Jayantilal.
Gibbs did play the third Test at Guyana and went wicketless in a drawn encounter.
Hope all ends well for Patil and India. Else, a sandy storm might just hit India.
Clayton Murzello is MiD DAY’s Group Sports Editor