Hemang Speaks: England have to merge the methods of Bell and Pietersen to succeed
The last time India hosted England in a five-match series was way back in 1984/85, when Sunny Bhai and David Gower were at the helm respectively, and it must be said that a lot of water has passed under the Thames since. To put that into context, those were the days when Test cricket ruled the roost and limited-overs cricket was its poorer cousin, still in its nascent stages.
Aggressive cricket was more an aberration back then, with painstaking, hard fought attritional warfare holding centre stage – which would go totally against the grain of modern day lightning missiles. Mrs. Gandhi's assassination rocked the start of the series back then; now, it is the Englishmen’s self-imposed debacle at Bangladesh that may well have eaten their vitals after their calamitous meltdown at Dhaka, when they gloriously capsized from 100 for no loss to freeze & shoot themselves in their feet.
Such farcical suicides might have even made the suicidal Japanese kamikaze pilots seem like sheepish greenhorns.
If England are to harbour even tiny hopes of an encore of 2012/13, let alone 84/85, they need their current skipper Alastair to “Cook" up a buffet meal every time he marks guard – their over-reliance on him can never be adequately overemphasised. Put simply, he has to better his best, as his peers are plagued with feet of clay and minds clouded by imagined ghosts in facing spin!
The absence of side games in these days of frenetic travel schedules and a plethora of T20 Leagues, jostling for space, will only exacerbate the Englishmen’s woes and further sink them in the mental mire.
Joe Root could well turn to be a talisman, should he raise his potential game to new levels by finding a way to merge and marry the methods of Bell and Pietersen: two contrasting batting success stories of 2012. Whether England can expect Bairstow, Ballance, Buttler and others to shore the ship remains to be seen.
What might yet hurt England the most is the absence of any venom in its spin ranks on this occasion, unlike 84/85 and late 2012.
To suffer ignominy on spinning decks is one thing, but to not use the same track without a smidgen of arsenal in its spin flanks, and above all, to allow the opponents ‘batathons’, would be soul destroying for its troops. Bowling on turners is an art that is acquired with patience and tireless, constant efforts. Moeen Ali might have had his moments in the past, but to roll his sleeves up as the frontline spinner might be a daunting task.
Anderson, a fine exponent of reverse swing, would be sorely missed in the initial part of the series; those are huge shoes to fill. Broad and Finn may well bowl their toenails off, but to win in India, as history suggests, teams must muster spin!
To play spin effectively, you need skill, a decisive mind, quicksilver feet and soft hands. English batsmen ought to employ cautious aggression in their methods, by seeking technical competence. Spin is best countered when it is met by a broad blade before it turns off the surface, when it is smothered, or better still, when you allow the orb to land and ride it with the turn. And that’s not to speak of using the crease adroitly.
Victories are shaped by assiduous designs and crafty executions, and not by any hit and run accidents. The English batsmen would do well to at least half replicate the manner employed by a certain Kevin Pietersen during his masterclass, which resulted in the Mumbai mayhem of 2012.
Their batsmen would do well to also employ soft hands to nudge and nurdle and rotate the strike, and not be too gung-ho on the bail out shot, i.e the sweep, to get out of jail – that’s a much tougher proposition if you don’t have the technical nous to play it.
India, on the other hand, would be upbeat and buoyant after swamping the Kiwis. It is after all the batsmen – the home grown batting giants – who set up games while building strong foundations. And I don't anticipate this trend to change, more so with England’s buffet spin on offer.
Ravi Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Amit Mishra will be chomping at the bit with the mouth-watering prospect of, yet again, bowling on dust-bowls. They would, of course, hope that their batsmen fill their boots in their solitary dig.
The only thing that might well mitigate the plight of the touring English is that unlike the Aussies, who are slated to tour in the harsher weather patterns of March and April, their time here under Indian skies now is in less sweaty and tolerable conditions, which won't tire them too physically. Small consolation!
History will point out that both, in 1984 and 2012, the Three Lions came back roaring after getting a licking in their tour openers (at Mumbai in ‘84 and Ahmedabad in 2012). But the chances of a repeat this time won't even attract many of its betting addicts; the term "whitewash" may well mark a comeback into cricketing lexicon after a brief hiatus.
Rajkot awaits. How the high and mighty of the English raaj have fallen, not only as an erstwhile superpower! The boot is on the proverbial other foot this time.