Are the English capable of withstanding this 2016 test by spin
Are the English capable of withstanding this 2016 test by spin Let’s not forget they did win in splendid style on their last tour out here four years ago and also came back from a Test down to beat Dhoni’s men in the Old Blighty a couple of summers ago. The Englishmen surprised us by winning out here in 1984-85 season too, but when they returned in 1993 they were whitewashed in conditions specially designed for them by Ajit Wadekar heading the think tank as the manager-cum-coach then.
‘Lord’ Ted Dexter was the chairman of Test selectors then and when he flew out here during the tour he made the famous comments about Mars not being in right alignment with the stars. “Blame it on the stars’ was the ruling philosophy then. What could a half decent England side packed with quick bowlers do when confronted with the spin of a young Kumble and Venkat Raju besides the somewhat doubtful faster arm ball of Rajesh Chauhan, the offie with a strong elbow More than the quality of Indian spin, it was the designer pitches that made the task frighteningly arduous for Graham Gooch & Co.
Team England can’t be lumped with the Kiwis when it comes to rating them for Indian conditions because they have often bucked history by coming up with a startling performance just when they were being written off as innocents against spin. They had landed at a most chaotic time in modern Indian history in 1984, lost the first Test to a young leggie with three God’s names and still came back to beat a divided India. Team England is not to be scoffed at although it would be fair to say the circumstances have changed somewhat since the last tour.
Alastair Cook was at the helm last time out too and he played the game to perfection in using his spinners to upset the Indian batsmen. Who can forget his debut 10 years ago as well as Monty Panesar’s when Sachin Tendulkar became Panesar’s first Test victim, so palpably leg before to one that did not spin all that much. Sachin paid back for that ‘insult’ by playing one of his finest innings to settle the series conclusively at Chepauk in a grand final day performance in 2008 that is still fresh in the memory of those who saw the day begin with England very much in it despite Sehwag’s smashing heroics of the fourth evening. And then he dedicated this 41st century to the victims of 26/11.
Team England have always had a management team that may need a full coach to get to the cricket and if that think tank is doing its job then Team England must be competitive, whatever be the challenges. Even so, the fear is 2016 is completely different from 2012. India has in that time perfected the art of preparing pitches. I think it started with the Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde Chepauk strip of 2013 against Australia that played true stump to stump but presented huge opportunities for those who could spin the ball sideways from outside the batsmen’s comfort zone.
There being no Kevin Pietersen in this line-up — didn’t he play that extraordinary innings in Mumbai in the last series — nor even an Ian Bell who shaped up splendidly to the India in spinners in Kolkata, it is the England batting that will be suspect. What quality their spinners can deliver is a different matter altogether. Would Moeen Ali, Adil Rashid, Gareth Batty or Zafar Ansari make a combination brainy enough to do what Swann did along with Monty, that too so spectacularly as to take 19 wickets between them in the famous Mumbai Test
Since England’s remarkable win here four years ago, India have gone to the top of the Test world, winning 12 and drawing one of their last 13 Tests at home. In that sense at least, 2012 appears to be so long ago as to have faded into a sepia-like tint. Of course, team India is still a work in progress after the retirement of so many greats, including Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who restricts himself to limited-overs cricket these days in order to keep his remarkable career going. A pity he won’t be around to seek revenge on the English who had sent his spectacular Test career into a dive with a 4-0 drubbing in 2011 and then came here to pull off the great surprise.
The suspicion is the Indian batting — in this building phase far from formidable as it was in the old days — could be under pressure at times although the depth will lift it out of any fall of a clutch of wickets. The question is will it be able to pressure England into an abyss of 5-0 by turning out at its best all the time over a long series. For the sake of good cricket, it would be nice of England get very competitive and stretch India to the wire. It’s the McGraths of the world who say 5-0 before any series.
It would be a huge achievement if Team India lives up to that kind of expectation, although England’s Bangla experience would suggest it could be far more vulnerable than India’s batsmen.