Spin twins lose plot as England barge in

Ashwin and Ojha faltered even as Panesar, Swann made merry

 In many of the Indian minds, the outcome of the second Test match had already been written even before it had begun.

It was all familiar images – Indian batsmen making tons of runs, and then spinners – three of them – gobbling up the hapless English batsmen for an easy victory for the home side. But it required just 159.3 overs for England to mess with that popular story line. They bowled out India twice for a 10-wicket victory, and more humiliatingly from an Indian perspective, two spinners carried out the destruction.

If the pre-series build-up was anything to go by, Monty Panesar and Graeme Swann were here to see with envy-filled eyes how their Indian counterparts – R Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh – operate. Instead, the English duo offered a valuable lesson to them, bagging a sackful of wickets on a pitch that was made for spinners.

Let’s take a look at the stats to study the domination of English spinners. Swann and Panesar took 19 wickets from 121.2 overs, while the Indian spin triumvirate managed just 9 wickets from 113.1 overs conceding 410 runs. It’s a staggering gulf – not just statistically but in the ability to exploit favourable conditions. Doubts will naturally arise then how the Indian spinners failed in conditions more familiar to them. Indian skipper MS Dhoni had an answer.

He started with lauding Panesar for his brilliant effort. “Monty was different from all the bowlers. All the bowlers were getting a bit of turn and bounce. But Monty was someone who was bowling at real pace, close to 90-95 kmph, and he was able to get some turn. He was someone who had a big impact on the game.”

Fair enough appreciation of a bowler who bagged 11 wickets in the match. Then Dhoni further said, “There is also a particular style of bowling. I felt what we could have done slightly better is to let them drive a bit more. If you bowl short on a wicket that has bounce you will get a more time (to play shots),” he added.

But was it only about pace as Dhoni mentioned? A closer look at the way the bowlers bowled would reveal that. On an average, Ojha was slower than Panesar by at least 5 kmph, and that not only took the edge away from the left-arm spinner’s bowling but also allowed the English batsmen to wait on the back foot for the turn or as Nick Compton showed step out and smother the spin.

Against Panesar, Indians didn’t have any such luxury, and Dhoni admitted it. “He didn’t give us anything to hit.” The classic left-arm spin bowling made it mandatory for the Indian batsmen to play Panesar largely on the front foot, and the pace at which he was bowling meant even the faintest of edges will reach close-in or slip fielders. Had Jonathan Trott been a little more alert in slips, Panesar and Swann would have been even more destructive.

That brings us to Ashwin and Swann, the off-spinners. Swann followed the orthodox principles of off-spin bowling, relying more on a vicious off-break. But Ashwin was more eager to follow the innovative route – using carrom ball and all other variations he has.

He even tried a couple of leg-breaks – the much-hyped mystery delivery – but failed to land them on the spot, only adding to his general waywardness in this Test. Perhaps, now he might have realised that simplicity would yield better results at times.

The most experienced among the Indian spinners was Harbhajan Singh, who was playing his 99th Test and boasts of 406 Tests victims. But the offie was a pale shadow of his old self, failing to get enough bite off the surface and largely struggling to make an impact.

In the end, it was a sobering experience for Indian spinners, getting outdone in their own space and trade. Hopefully, they have learnt a few lessons.

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