First-class cricket, Panesar and Vaughan's views

This has been one of those rare weeks, in a calendar usually choc-a-bloc with international fixtures, when much of the cricket conversation has been about first-class cricket and its younger cousin, the club game.

Updated: October 31, 2012 15:34 IST
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This has been one of those rare weeks, in a calendar usually choc-a-bloc with international fixtures, when much of the cricket conversation has been about first-class cricket and its younger cousin, the club game.

The big headlines were dedicated to Michael Vaughan and his acerbic comments on the composition of the India A team to play England in a warm-up game in Mumbai next week. "India to play no spinners against England in the A team warm-up game... if that's what the game has come to???? Pathetic tactics," he tweeted once India's new selection panel had decided not to play a single specialist spinner at the Brabourne Stadium.

Vaughan then went on to invoke the Spirit of Cricket - a phrase that a lot of people bring up while understanding little of its essence. "India's tactics are terrible for the game," he said. "It's taking home advantage to a new level... Other teams might follow."

Like everyone else, Vaughan is entitled to his opinion, but he seems to have overlooked the point that the warm-up game is not being played solely for England to get some match practice. India's domestic season has only just begun. Several of the Test regulars have been away in South Africa for the Champions League Twenty20, and the first round of Ranji Trophy games that starts on November 2 will be their first opportunity to test themselves in the longer format. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out that they would prefer a four-day game for their states rather than a three-day match against England.

Also, the selection panel has limited time to look at the contenders for a spot in the Test XI. The bowling combination is pretty much settled, especially the spin tandem of R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha. What exactly would India stand to gain by exposing either in a tour match? You could argue that the warm-up offered a perfect opportunity to test those on the fringes, like Jalaj Saxena and Harmeet Singh, but that would be a harsh call on state teams eager to start the season on the right note.

India's immediate bowling concerns are about the pace attack. No one knows if Zaheer Khan will play all eight Tests, while Umesh Yadav hasn't yet been able to marry consistency with undoubted potential. It's only natural that Sandeep Patil and his fellow selectors want to see how Irfan Pathan - a left-handed option with the new ball, in case Zaheer is absent - Ashok Dinda, R Vinay Kumar and Parwinder Awana perform against batsmen who are generally adept at handling pace.

The Indian selectors have decided, with good reason, to work on their weaknesses, rather than give England the chance to practise their technique against quality spin. To complain about that just seems churlish, especially in the wake of what happened in England last summer.

Remember the furore over Monty Panesar bowling to Sachin Tendulkar in the days preceding the first Test at Lord's? This is what Andy Flower, England's team director, had to say at the time: "He (Panesar) did bowl to him in the nets before Lord's and I think that it is quite a naïve thing to do. I haven't spoken to him yet but one would hope he understands that it won't happen again."

The Spirit of Cricket, whatever that is, didn't enter the equation then.

In this atmosphere of mutual suspicion bordering on antagonism, it was heart-warming to listen to Gideon Haigh's Bradman Oration, and the response it got from some of Australian cricket's luminaries. Haigh's emphasis was on club cricket, the foundation on which everything else rests, and his views were echoed by the likes of Ricky Ponting, whose earnings from a TV commercial as a teenager helped fund new rooms for Mowbray Cricket Club.

"I remember as a nine or ten-year-old boy, getting on my BMX and riding all over northern Tasmania to find wherever the Mowbray Cricket Club was playing," said Ponting. "I was always the first there. I'd be sitting in the change rooms when the boys got there and when they went out on to the field, I'd be going through their bags and picking their bats up and putting their gloves on, and making sure I put them back in exactly the same position again so they didn't know."

After he retired, Rahul Dravid went off to play a first-division league game in Chennai. Baba Aparajith, who was one of the stars of India's Under-19 World Cup triumph not long ago, spoke of it to Wisden India a couple of months ago. "It was a dream come true of sorts when he visited us at the NCA for a pep talk before we left for Australia," he said. "I also had the opportunity to play with him in a game in June, when he played in the first-division league in Chennai. He made a century, but unfortunately I wasn't able to bat with him as he replaced me at the crease. Just watching him from close quarters gave you an idea of how he prepared."

Come the first week of November and Tendulkar will turn out for Mumbai against Railways in their first match of the Ranji season. Robin Bist told Wisden India just how much he benefited from a brief interaction during last year's Indian Premier League, and you can only imagine what it will mean for a promising young batsman like Suryakumar Yadav to share the same dressing room for four days.

As far as Indian cricket is concerned, such things are much more important than how England negotiate spin in a tour game. Or what Vaughan thinks.

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