The Pakistanis might have arrived in Bangalore without much fanfare over the weekend but in Ahmedabad they had to remain confined to the airport lobby for close to an hour-along with the Indian team-after landing. Awaiting them were hordes of fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars. To add to the confusion, the team buses hadn't arrived on time. And it was only after the local police had cleared the chaos that the two teams exited the terminal and headed towards the safety of their hotel.
Speaking of maintaining order, that is exactly what Indian captain MS Dhoni would have expected his spinners, well part-timers, to do at the Chinnaswamy Stadium after the seamers led by debutant Bhuvneshwar Kumar had rocked Pakistan early. But Yuvraj Singh and Ravindra Jadeja failed quite miserably in that quest, proving easy meat for Mohammad Hafeez and Shoaib Malik. Their failure to restrain the visitors even prompted Hafeez, the man-of-the-match in Bangalore, to express his gratitude towards the home team's decision to leave out their spin spearhead, Ravichandran Ashwin.
"It (Ashwin's non-selection) was a surprise for us. And we knew without a world-class spinner like him, we could dominate," said Hafeez following Pakistan's five-wicket win. For starters, the soft-spoken Pakistani skipper's reverence for Ashwin's skills could be considered a tad generous. Based on the Tamil Nadu off-spinner's recent form anyway. The Bangalore T20 was only the second one that Ashwin had been dropped for, since his debut in this format back in the summer of 2010. And for good reason this time.
Experiments gone wrong
If Ashwin wasn't anywhere close to his best during the Test series against England, he looked increasingly ineffective in the two T20s against the same opposition. His inability to control the urge to keep experimenting only made his poor outings look worse. Especially since his variety-balls, be it the leg-break or the carom ball, only cost him and the team more runs. Despite enjoying Dhoni's trust in the shortest format, owing mainly to his match-winning performances in the IPL, Ashwin hasn't quite delivered while donning India colours in T20s. An overall tally of 13 wickets in 17 matches at 38.61, and more importantly an economy of 7.51 is not world-class.
Though Hafeez's quip might have been tongue-in-cheek, you can understand where he's coming from, considering he has the privilege of throwing the ball to Saeed Ajmal, the highest wicket-taker in the history of international T20-a record of 71 wickets at 15.73 and an economy of 6.13.
Whereas the spinners main role in T20 cricket was originally expected to be asphyxiating the batsmen, the likes of Ajmal, Graeme Swann and Daniel Vettori have rubbished that opinion over the years. No wonder the three inhabit, along with Shahid Afridi and Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis, the top-10 in this category.
Ashwin's failure is only the tip of the iceberg though for India's spin worries. Piyush Chawla too didn't find a place in the final XI at Bangalore after two disappointing outings against England. While Test regular Pragyan Ojha, strangely the most successful Indian spinner in the IPL, hasn't played an international T20 for more than two-and-a-half years.
In Pune and Mumbai, India's best spinner was clearly Yuvraj. But while he managed to bamboozle the English batsmen by pretty much doing nothing out of the ordinary—they played for the spin but to their dismay found out that the left-arm spinner doesn't turn the ball—the Pakistani batsmen relished his offerings. In contrast to the English batsmen's technique of planting their front-foot down and then searching for the ball, the likes of Hafeez and Malik waited on their back-foot and made the most of Yuvraj's slow pace and good length to deposit him over the mid-wicket fence.
And Jadeja, probably buoyed by his recent Test call-up, struggled to find the yorker-length as consistently as he used to his in his earlier T20 avatar, and bowled uncharacteristically, providing flighted up deliveries on a hittable length, which Malik in particular feasted on.
The Indians nevertheless are sure to be in store for some vociferous partisan support once again come Friday. And finding a quick-fix for now for their spin quandary will be the major headache for Dhoni & Co as they look to square the series.