England - Will they be able to tackle spin?
The India-England series started amidst a series of controversies ranging from Virat Kohli calling it a Revenge Series, the non-inclusion of spinners for the practice matches against England, to speculations that India had prepared rank turners for the series to gain an “undue” home advantage.
The first test was scheduled in Ahmedabad and was rumoured to suit the bowling of the Indian team. India won the toss, elected to bat and put on a mammoth 521/8 thanks to centuries from Virender Sehwag and Cheteshwar Pujara. In return,the England batsmen were skittled for a paltry 191. With the exception of Alistair Cook, and Matt Prior to some extent, they seemed clueless against the Indian spinners.
The comeback man Kevin Pietersen, who is usually a good player of spin seemed to have the jitters against the marauding Indian spinners, especially Pragyan Ojha. He didn’t seem to know whether to go forward or stay back and missed some pretty easy deliveries. He was intent on attacking the bowler to prove he was the better man but failed miserably and was bowled by an excellent delivery from Ojha for just 17 runs.
Jonathan Trott, who has been the most consistent batsman for England in recent years, struggled to come to terms with the spin. Most of the England batsmen were standing on the front foot even before the ball was bowled. Maybe they were told to keep the Indian bowlers at bay by playing aggressively. Whatever it was, they were taught very poorly and it showed in the manner in which Bell got out. He went after Ojha in the very first ball he faced, only to hole out to Sachin Tendulkar in the mid off region. It was very poor judgement from a batsman of Bell’s calibre to attack the very first ball he faced.
The decision of sending Samit Patel ahead of a specialist batsman like Prior backfired. Patel was tentative in his approach and was not able to play spin with ease. He tried to swing the bat hard, hoping to connect the ball. The England team in general lacked application. They should learn the art of playing spin bowling. The manner of playing spinners is not by either attacking or defending. Rather it is a good combination of both which enables the batsman to score consistently no matter the amount of spin and bounce the wicket carries.
Prior, Broad and Bresnan who got some runs were also trying their luck against the spinners. The only difference is they got away with some of the shots that they played. England’s batsman need to apply themselves in sub continental conditions. The best way for them would be to play the ball on the merit of each delivery. Having said that, they should be also ready to attack the bad balls. They need to wait till the last moment, see the ball and play it along the ground. They have to wait for the loose deliveries to score boundaries. The important thing is that they should rotate the strike more often, unsettling the bowler and not allowing him to get into a rhythm. That is the most important lesson for England’s batsmen in spinning conditions.
Cook and Compton played quite well in the second innings. Cook, who has always been a good player of spin, played solidly, not allowing the bowler to get the better of him. He didn’t play any risky shots and he attacked only when the ball was in his zone. Moreover, he used his feet to play the ball on its merit both on the front and back foot. The England batsmen should take a leaf out of his book and play according to the conditions. They need to be patient in subcontinent conditions in order to score big runs.
The late revival of the England innings by Cook and Compton seemed to have brought a life into the almost dead game. England have to play some fearless yet calculative cricket in order to make a game out of this Test. It is not going to be easy with the Indian spinners breathing down their neck, and the close-in fielders watching the ball like vultures and pouncing like tigers to take some really difficult catches. How the England team approach from here on is very crucial, not only in the context of this match, but for the whole series. The confidence or the diffidence they earn here is what they are going to carry for the remainder of the series and it is very important to make a mark with only two days of play remaining.