Ranji Trophy 2016: Neutral venues can’t pitch it right

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Virat Kohli has reasons to be happy. On one hand, he is being absolved from the tag of an Indian skipper who can only win on "unfair home tracks". On the other hand, for the first time his team possesses equal destructive weapons of pace and spin in its armoury. It was here in Mohali exactly a year back that Kohli and the Indian team management were bashed up by the media and South African team equally for opting for unfair advantage by doling out rank turners. Kohli was new to all that criticism but still went ahead with his plans of playing positive cricket on whatever pitches he came across. When the England team arrived in India for the current five-Test series, it was expected that India would certainly like to go in for tailor-made pitches in order to seek revenge of last series, 1-2 loss in 2012-13. But nothing of that sort happened. In fact, the outing in Rajkot was more enjoyable for England than the hosts. Visakhapatnam Test tested Kohli's patience in the second innings when England's decision to stonewall Indian attack could well have frustrated any cricketer. But, Kohli showed why his aggression is always mixed with reasoning. And he waited for English openers, Alastair Cook and Haseeb Hameed to tire themselves out before going for the kill. Securing a 246-run victory in Vizag must have given Kohli that extra confidence that he can actually break the traditional mindset of going with three different types of spinners, and instead opted for Jayant Yadav as specialist off-spinner along with the tried and tested Ravichandran Ashwin. Well, that was a big gamble he was taking with Amit Mishra-like experienced leg-spinner in his squad. But Kohli judged Jayant's all-round abilities and also found him fit to play his style of aggressive cricket. The result is in front of everyone… Jayant now has eight wickets after two Tests. And most of them were at a time when he was brought in to break a partnership. It's too early to say whether olden days of Indian cricket are coming back. The days of Erapalli Prasanna and Srinivasaraghavan Venkataraghavan bowling from two ends were only been talked as nostalgic tales. The famed Indian quartet of spin bowlers in the 1970s – the others being Bishan Singh Bedi and Bhagwat Chandrasekhar – are still vivid in cricket fans memory. But Kohli's team has one more tale to add to history. The slow Mohali wicket showed how Indian pacers – Mohammed Shami and Umesh Yadav – generated 145kmph speed on docile tracks to lay down foundation for one of the most comprehensive victories for Team India in recent times. And, this came after losing such a crucial toss. The five Indian bowlers – two pacers and three spinners – never allowed any of the English batsmen to completely settle down in the middle. Even the innings played by either Joe Root, Hameed, Jos Buttler or Jonny Bairstow was not completely chanceless. Ask Chris Woakes, who along with Hameed was threatening to extend the Mohali game into the final day when Shami rattled him with a deadly bouncer. Shami's run down at the wicket followed by vicious pace and bounce has created a havoc in the opposition's mind. Shami was gracious enough to inquire about Woakes's well-being. But like a true speedster, he went back to his run up and sent down another well-directed bouncer to send Woakes packing. And two balls later, Adil Rashid experienced what was hardly been on display till recently on true and sporting Indian tracks. Going into Mumbai's fourth Test, England now look more ill-equipped to cope with this new Indian attack. And the injury to Hameed has only added to their woes. England came prepared with five specialist batsmen, six all-rounders, four fast bowlers and two front-line spinners in their 17-man squad for the Test series. Despite having a good combination of right-handed and left-handed batters, bowlers who have pace and mastered the art of reverse swing, a leg-spinner, two off-spinners and a left-arm spinner and two wicket-keeper batsmen, the tourists may find it extremely difficult like the last time in 2012 to make a comeback in Mumbai's must-win encounter. The broken finger of Hameed is a resemblance of broken English dreams!

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