MUMBAI: England’s impressive start in the first Test at Rajkot has left India staring at plenty of questions ahead of the next Test at Vizag starting November 17.
Indian spinners’ struggle to pick wickets in the series opener has triggered speculation that the port city, hosting its maiden Test, may dish out a rank turner. A few weeks ago, New Zealand had been ravaged by Amit Mishra in the fifth ODI there. With the series at stake, the leggie took five for 18 to skittle the Kiwis out for 79 in all of 23.1 overs.
While India raced to a thumping 190-run win on that occasion, the question here is, will the Indian think-tank want a similar surface against England? Unlike New Zealand, England’s spin department consisting of Adil Rashid, Moeen Ali and Zafar Ansari – appears to be as crafty as their Indian counterparts if not more. Add to that the experience of Saqlain Mushtaq, the former Pakistan off-spinner who is freelancing with the England squad.
Credited for introducing the ‘doosra’ in his playing days, Saqlain has a fair idea about Indian pitches having picked 20 wickets @20.15 in a three-Test series in India in early 1999. Saqlain’s hand was very much visible in the manner in which leg-spinner Rashid upped his game at Rajkot.
Almost 18 years later, the bearded 39-year-old’s successful experience on that tour seems to be rubbing off on England’s spinners, who took 13 out of the 16 Indian wickets at Rajkot to easily out-bowl their counterparts. The English Cricket Board(ECB) has already extended Mushtaq’s stay in India till after the third Test at Mohali (he was supposed to leave from Vizag), after Rashid, who picked up seven wickets at Rajkot, acknowledged the help that Mushtaq had been to him since he joined the team on November 1.
Having just enjoyed the best game of his six-Test career, Rashid would be high on confidence and may actually revel if a turner comes his way. Ali may have managed only three wickets in the first Test, but it must be remembered that he took as many as 19 against almost the same set of batsmen when India toured England in 2014.
More than the visitors bowling well, India’s worry lies in their own inability to play spin well anymore. The way Ajinkya Rahane was twice castled at Rajkot while trying to play spinners off the back foot, was indeed a reflection of our batsmen’s receding mastery over the slow bowlers. It must be remembered here that four years back, India had found themselves trapped in a similar plan of their own, as they succumbed to England’s Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann on a turner at the Wankhede in Mumbai. The spin duo had then taken 19 out of the 20 wickets to spin India out of that Test.
To add to India’s woes, England may have their most experienced bowler, James Anderson at their disposal.
The seamer, who has taken 463 wickets in 119 Tests, has a psychological hold over India skipper Virat Kohli, having dismissed him four times in five Tests a couple of years back, though in conditions where the ball swung a far more than it would in India. In the midst of a purple patch currently Kohli had endured a miserable time in England back then, man aging only 134 runs from 10 innings, at a forgettable average of 13.40. He had even failed to score a half-century, and was twice dismissed for a duck.
In case India opt for a docile wicket and put the hosts under the pressure of a scoreboard, they’ll have to think of a fresh strategy to counter England’s batsmen, who seem to have learnt from their follies in Bangladesh. Skipper Alastair Cook has just scored his fifth hundred in India, the most by any visiting batsman here, and looks as comfortable against spin in these conditions as he does while dealing with the moving ball back home.
Cook’s opening partner, the young Haseeb Hameed, has just made an impressive start to his Test career.
With the likes of Joe Root, Ali and Ben Stokes and Bairstow to follow, an idea of England’s batting depth can be gauged by the fact that Stuart Broad, who has a Test-best score of 169 against his name, comes in at No 11. “A bad wicket is our best chance to gain a lead in this series. However, if the wicket stays up and down, someone like Anderson, if he plays, can be dangerous. Don’t forget that the English cricketers are professional and used to playing on all kinds of tracks,” cautioned former India left-arm spinner Maninder Singh.