The toss proves vital

K. SRIKKANTH

Virender Sehwag did a very good job in Gwalior as a part-time spinner. -- Pic V. V. KRISHNAN-

THE TVS ODI tri-series — till the Pune match — has had some interesting elements. Firstly, the toss has proved such a vital factor.

In the day games, where there usually is moisture on the surface in the morning, the teams bowling first are definitely better off, while in the day-night matches, chasing is a problem under the lights, with the pitch slowing down too.

I believe we have to prepare better pitches for limited overs contests and in that sense I was disappointed with some of the surfaces chosen for the TVS series, especially the ones in Faridabad and Mumbai.

In Mumbai, the wicket did too much right from the first delivery with the ball turning and jumping. In limited overs cricket, the spectators want to see runs being scored.

Eventually, Australia made a 280-plus score, but that was possible more due to some poor bowling from the Indians. The spinners, in particular, let themselves and their team down.

In Faridabad, the pitch, I felt gave too much of an advantage to the team bowling first. The ball swung, seamed, bounced and the Aussie pacemen must have felt that they were operating at home. It is another matter altogether that Stephen Fleming got his decision all wrong, electing to bat, rather bizarrely. Just goes to show that even the shrewdest of captains can commit some costly mistakes on occasions.

The Aussie pacemen had only to put the ball in the right area and before long the Kiwi innings had been reduced to a shambles. However, ideally we should never have had a pitch of this nature in the first place for a limited overs contest.

We saw during the seven-match ODI series in New Zealand last season that the toss often decided matches. The sides that bowled first enjoyed a huge advantage with the pacemen having the opportunity to make serious dents in the opposition batting. The pitches ease out by the time the chase begins and therefore, the match is not really a true test of skills.

The opposite holds good on a turning pitch, where chasing is fraught with danger with the pitch assisting the bowlers more in the latter stages.

What we need to do is to strike a balance. I thought the pitch in Pune was not too bad since the ball was coming on to the bat, and there was a measure of assistance for the pacemen even in the second half of the day match.

The on-going tri-series has also seen the part-time bowlers performing increasingly important roles. Virender Sehwag's twin strike in Gwalior rocked Australia on the chase. In Mumbai, it was the turn of Michael Clarke's left-arm spin to make such a serious impact. Both these spells had a significant bearing on the result of the match.

The author, K. Srikkanth too, shone as a part-time off-spinner in one-dayers. -- Pic. N. SRIDHARAN-

Since the most effective form of bowling in limited overs cricket is wicket-to-wicket, denying the batsmen easy runs, the non-regular bowlers, if they adhere to the basics, can get the job done.

Sehwag does not spin the ball much, but he bowls stump to stump, and if the pitch slows down and the ball begins to keep low, like it happened in Gwalior, he can be a very useful customer. Clarke showed that on a turning pitch if a spinner sticks to the basics he would be rewarded. Where bigger names failed, Clarke emerged successful.

I would like to compliment captains Rahul Dravid and Ricky Ponting for making good use of the part-time men in these matches. There is no guarantee that the ploy would always work. However, there is no harm in making an attempt.

The topic of part-time bowlers brings pleasant memories to me, for I was a non-regular off-spinner myself in limited overs matches. And if some of you have forgotten, I would like to remind you that I have two five-wicket hauls in ODIs against Test playing nations!

Actually, my bowling effort gave me a lot of satisfaction because I was able to contribute to the team's cause in an area where I was not expected to succeed. There was no great pressure on me to deliver and I knew that I just had to be accurate and wait for the batsmen to commit mistakes.

The point is since the non-regular bowlers are essentially picked for their batting, they are under less stress with the ball, and, hence, may prove extremely useful in certain situations. On how they perform often depends on how well their captains use them.

These days it has become essential to have bowling options, for you never know when your regular bowlers will come under the hammer. Australia has so many of them; even frontline batsmen like Ponting and Damien Martyn can turn their arm over usefully. However, the part-time bowlers are not going to solve what is India's single biggest weakness. The lack of a genuine all-rounder.

I can recall the days when Kapil Dev was an integral part of the Indian team, and the side had so much balance then. A cricketer like Kapil surfaces once in probably 50 years. However, India can at least do with someone who is handy in all the departments. It was sad that the only genuine all-rounder in the TVS tri-series, New Zealand's Chris Cairns, was hampered in the early stages of the competition due to a hamstring niggle. He is an exceptional cricketer and I do hope that he gets over his injury worries.