No masters of spin to fall back on

Eight years ago, during another Wankhede Test, a turning track threatened to backfire on the Indian team. That 2004 wicket was even more difficult to bat on, underprepared, aiding not just spinners but also clever quick bowlers prepared to bowl cross-seam and attack the stumps. Having been bowled out for 104 to three such Australian quicks, India conceded a 99-run lead. At five for one, skipper Rahul Dravid promoted VVS Laxman to number three.

Eight years on, as India faced a similar situation at the same venue, Dravid was in the commentary box, recalling the importance of Laxman's innings. When he was out for 69, India were 54 ahead, with six wickets in hand. They looked right on top, before Michael Clarke came on and spun out the lower order with figures of 6/9.

If Clarke could do that with his part-time twirlers, what would Anil Kumble, Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik do? Australia, needing just 107, were all out for 93.

Having hailed Laxman's innings, Dravid made sure he didn't miss out another vital fact. On the eve of the Test, a delivery from a local net bowler had broken Shane Warne's thumb. Australia's sole specialist spinner was debutant Nathan Hauritz.

Gautam Gambhir also made his debut in that Test match. On Sunday, as he waged solitary resistance against Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann, he must have wished he had Laxman at the other end. Or Dravid, who made just 31 and 27 in that Test but faced a total of 178 deliveries. Or the 31-year-old Sachin Tendulkar who made 55 and put on 91 with Laxman.

The 39-year-old Tendulkar didn't look half as secure. But then, neither did anyone else. Cheteshwar Pujara had shown a lot of skill in the first innings, but Virat Kohli and Yuvraj Singh haven't yet proved that they can play top-class spinners on turning pitches. Nor have the young batsmen who wait in line. Till then, tracks that turn from Day One may not necessarily aid India's cause. But they will provide riveting drama for the neutral.

... contd.

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