Battle of wits and will at Old Trafford

Spinners likely to play crucial role in fourth Test

Battle of wits and will at Old Trafford

A stroll around the Old Trafford cricket ground will remind a visitor about the special relation this venue shares with spinners.

Pictures and graffiti keep alive the memories of off-spinner Jim Laker’s 19 for 90 against the Australians in 1956, and Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century against Mike Gatting in 1993.

Those were heady days for spin bowling. Cut to present, both India and England don’t have spinners in the classical mould, the type that beguiled batsmen with their craft.

However, spin will not be an irrelevant footnote when the fourth Test between India and England starts in a day’s time. Moeen Ali – a part-time off-spinner – rattled India by taking six wickets in their second innings of the third Test at the Ageas Bowl. Not just that, Ali has so far taken 15 wickets to be placed joint-second with Bhuvneshwar Kumar in the bowlers’ chart.

So, it offered little surprise when the Indian top-order batsmen devoted a special session at nets to counter spin. It started with Virat Kohli practicing sweep shot and then Ajinkya Rahane and M Vijay followed the suit.

Fielding coach Trevor Penny and skipper MS Dhoni performed the role of off-spinner, trying to emulate the line Ali bowled at Southampton.

Ian Bell, the England middle-order batsman, explained the effect Ali had in this series. “Moeen’s got all the skills to become a fine spinner at this level. He drops the ball, shapes the ball.

At Lord’s he had 20 overs, he would go and back up the seamers and go for two runs an over which is just as important as when it is day five and conditions favor you. Then it will be time to get wickets with seamers supporting you. That was it this time at Southampton.

“Ali has all the skills. He has bowled a little bit quicker at Ageas Bowl, but I don’t think he has to bowl fast. It’s the energy that he has to bowl with. Swann had such an arm swing to create drop and drift and Ali has all that, but for us, it’s important that he gets in the game. He has understood that and he prepares like that,” said Bell.

It was evident that the Indians wanted to perfect sweep – a shot seldom used in the third Test – to disturb Ali’s line here. But the Indians just might be planning to give England a taste of their own medicine. There have been desperate cries from several quarters to play R Ashwin, and the Indian think-tank seemed to have relented at last.

The Tamil Nadu off-spinner had an extensive net session on Tuesday both with the bat and the ball. If indeed India include him in the playing eleven then either Rohit Sharma or Ravindra Jadeja will have to sit out.

Of course, the Old Trafford pitch has not been an ally of bowlers over the years, and the high number of draws – 36 out of 75 Tests – here suggests that. Curator Matt Merchant didn’t reveal the nature of 22-yard strip but indicated that the spinners might have to wait till the fourth day to get some purchase.

“This is not a concrete slab, but there will be adequate bounce for bowlers to exploit. We will also need to take into account the weather factor as intermittent showers have been predicted for the next 48 hours,” said Merchant.

The bounce part will keep Ashwin interested and the Chennai man will also be eager to put behind those two modest outings in Australia (2012) and South Africa (2013). The other change India might mull over will be the inclusion of Gautam Gambhir, whose was dropped after the Test against England at Nagpur in 2012.

Opener Shikhar Dhawan, who has been struggling for runs of late, might have to give way for his Delhi mate, and it would also work in India’s favour that the 32-year-old is a fine player of spin.


So, teasing loop and flight might not be in store, but a more precise battle is brewing here.

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