CHENNAI - A troubling, if not unexpected, sight greeted the West Indies yesterday on the eve of the second Test against India here.
It was a pitch at the M.A. Chidanbaram Stadium custom-made for India’s spinners, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble, who tormented their batsmen in the innings and 112 runs defeat in the first Test in Mumbai last week.
“There’s not a blade of grass on it and it looks fairly dry, even drier than Mumbai,” was captain Carl Hooper’s rueful verdict. “I expect it’ll start turning square pretty soon and the spinners will have a big role to play.”
Michael Holding, the former West Indies fast bowler turned TV pundit, came to the same conclusion.
“At least in Mumbai there was a little grass but there’s absolutely no grass at all here,” he said on inspection. “It’s just bare.”
Holding was perplexed to discover “a few damp patches”.
“I can’t understand why there should be damp patches when it’s that dry,” he noted.
The West Indies collapsed in Mumbai to their first loss by an innings to India in 54 years of Tests between the teams. Leg-spinner Kumble took four for 51 in their first innings 157 and off-spinner Harbhajan seven for 48 in their second innings 188.
“Batting last on that pitch, they had absolutely no chance,” Holding said. “It would have taken a genius to bat against those two spinners on that surface and we don’t have any geniuses in this team.”
Brian Lara would probably have made runs had the star left-hander been in Mumbai rather than recovering from his recent illness back in Trinidad but even his presence “would only have delayed the inevitable”, Holding said.
And he conceded that the West Indies didn’t have the bowlers to utilise such pitches.
“(Mahendra) Nagamootoo is not a top-class leg-spinner and there is no one who really spins the ball a lot,” he said. “We have no choice but to play what we have.”
According to Holding, there was talk before the series that the Indian authorities had relaid pitches at ten grounds, intent on producing surfaces with more pace and bounce.
But he had been told by “a reliable source” that Indian captain Saurav Ganguly rejected the pitch originally prepared for the Mumbai Test in favour of the turner that was produced.
“They are worried about their poor record overseas against what they do at home and they won’t get around it until they get serious about preparing better pitches,” he said.
India have not won an away series since 1986 in Sri Lanka. They were beaten 2-1 in the series in the Caribbean earlier this year when the West Indies came back from a 1-0 deficit.
The last time the West Indies toured India, in 1994, they recovered from defeat in the first Test to win the third and final to square the series.
These are memories Hooper hopes will act as motivation for his team.
“We have obviously beaten India before,” he told reporters after a team practice session in 35 degree heat. “We came back from the Trinidad loss a few months ago and we hope we can put the Mumbai Test behind us this time.”
“We have the confidence that we can do it here,” he added. “We plan to play well over the next five days and take it from there.”
Hooper was critical of the batting and the fielding that missed vital catches in the first Test.
“We’ve spoken a lot since Mumbai about our mistakes there and know what we have to do,” he said.
Indian captain Saurav Ganguly believes his spinners can wrap up the series.
“We played well in Bombay to win in just over three days and we’d like to play positively and win here as well,” he said.
“The wicket looks good and hard and it’ll have some bounce early on,” he added.
“But it seems pretty similar to the wicket in Mumbai and I expect it to start turning soon.”
But Ganguly, India’s second most successful skipper with 12 Test wins to Mohammad Azharuddin’s 14, said he was prepared for a West Indies fightback.
“The West Indies will obviously come hard at us in this game. It’s a do or die situation for them,” he said.
Ganguly, whose top-order helped the team amass 457 in Bombay, said he expected a big contribution from leading batsman Sachin Tendulkar on the ground where he had scored four hundreds in five Tests at an average of 109.16.
The match is important for Rahul Dravid, who could match West Indian Everton Weekes’ record of five hundreds in consecutive Test innings, completed on the West Indies first tour of India in 1948-49.
Dravid scored 115 at Trent Bridge, 148 at Headingley and 217 at The Oval in the summer’s series in England and 100 retired hurt in the first Test of this series.