Over-worked bowlers went against the Indian team’s plans against England. The dependence on spinner-friendly pitches and spinners showed the bankruptcy of tactics in the home camp. It also exposed the brittleness of the Indian batting line-up when faced with quality spinners.
For long, past masters had been lamenting the absence of proper grooming and it showed in the series against England as India lacked the firepower to match the opposition. The combination was also an issue for India while England came up trumps with its well-conceived playing eleven in every Test.
Using the conditions
The Englishmen had place for Samit Patel and Joe Root; it used Steven Finn judiciously and the fact that Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar exploited the conditions better than the Indian spinners highlighted the difference.
“Swann is a terrific bowler. He is a genuine spinner with an amazing ability to read the batsman’s weakness. Monty has his limitations but he is so accurate and irritating that you succumb to his persuasion. I would have loved playing against them, they are so wily and challenging,” said former Test opener Navjot Singh Sidhu.
Sidhu was rated one of the finest batsmen against spin for two reasons. He had had the heart to leave the crease and also play the sweep shot to great effect. “I didn’t see any Indian batsman jumping out to Monty. By playing from the crease, India also allowed Swann to become very aggressive. It suited both the England spinners and they were certainly better than the Indian spinners,” emphasised Sidhu.
England coach Andy Flower worked silently with his batsmen and drilled in the importance of excelling against spin if the team hoped to do well in the sub-continent. He told an English sports channel, “They’ve (the England players) learnt how to play spin a lot better, obviously not the finished article but they’ve learnt how to play spin a lot better, they’ve learnt how to take 20 wickets in these conditions and they’ve learnt how to be resilient in foreign conditions. We showed we can learn and adapt and overcome.” This was the difference between the teams.
Former spin great Bishan Singh Bedi found the idea of playing four spinners unacceptable. There was hardly any variety, he observed. It was monotonous watching R. Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha operating from either side for long and often tiring spells. No wonder the Indian think tank chose to hide the spinners in the warm-up matches against England.
A coach pointed out, “There are technical flaws the way our spinners bowl. Look at Ojha’s bowling arm. Where will you get the turn? It is more of sliding the ball. And why does he bowl so wide of the crease. He will not get the incisive line. Ashwin’s follow-through is not towards the target. That is a flaw he needs to rectify.” With Ojha and Ashwin both adopting the middle and leg line, the attack was so predictable and ineffective, regardless of how the pitch responded.
The series saw Ojha bowl 254.2 overs and Ashwin 236.5. They shone against New Zealand which had little clue about tackling spin. The Englishmen came and altered the trend and dominated the Indians, who failed to maintain the grasp they had on the batsmen at Ahmedabad. On an amiable pitch at Mumbai, Ojha and Ashwin paled in comparison to Swann and Panesar.
Panesar snaring Sachin Tendulkar in both the innings at Mumbai and Swann foxing Virender Sehwag and Tendulkar on a sensational afternoon at Kolkata defined the difference between the teams in dealing with spin. The Flower factor was pronounced in England’s remarkable comeback after losing the first Test.
Lack of confidence
The Indian spinners faded once the Englishmen set up a partnership. “I suspect they doubted their abilities,” noted former India bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad. True, the reverse swing proved a critical weapon in the hands of James Anderson but England had a wonderfully attacking bowler in Panesar.
The Indians just could not rotate the strike when facing Panesar. “As a bowler I would like to bowl four-five balls at one batsman. Monty ensured that,” said Prasad.
A fatigued spin pair was not ideal for a team that prided itself in this department. As Sidhu suggested, “India will gain from having a spinning all-rounder so that you can play two seamers and spinners.”
The team knows it too. So do the National selectors. The problem is, there is none in sight.