Spinners, seamers in role reversal

'I want to know too' was Chris Gayle's response on Twitter when asked about what was he thinking when he smashed the first ball of the first Test match against Bangladesh at Mirpur into the stands. His intention, though, seemed lucid enough: to chastise the Bangladesh off-spinner, Sohag Gazi, for opening the bowling against him that too on debut.

Gayle, though, wasn't the only non-subcontinental top-order batsman confounded at having to face spin with the new ball last week. Mahendra Singh Dhoni opened with a spinner in England's two innings at Ahmedabad, while the New Zealand top-order had to contend with the wiles of Rangana Herath within the first hour of play at Galle.

The times they've a-changed. And so too have the dynamics of Test cricket in the subcontinent. No longer do the fast bowlers have a monopoly over the new ball. In the last 12 months, home teams have started off proceedings with spin against teams from outside the subcontinent close to 50 per cent of the time. And very rarely have spinners not been brought on within the 12th over of the innings.

Opening batsmen now will now have to contend with catchers crouching around them, rather than standing at slips. Not to forget the challenge of facing flight, loop and turn rather than swing and seam in the early going.

There is also an onus on bowlers to become more flexible. Spinners are demanded to be as effective and comfortable with the shiny red cherry and the upright seam as they are with an older ball. Whereas reverse swing is no longer a bonus trait but a prerequisite for a pace bowler to be successful and demand a regular place in the XI on subcontinental wickets.

Umesh Yadav wasn't brought on till the 48th over of England's first innings while Zaheer Khan came on only in the 18th during the visitors' second essay at Motera. In this fast-changing scenario, versatility is the need of the hour.

Bharat is a Senior Correspondent based in New Delhi.

bharat.sundaresan@expressindia.com

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