An unlikely English destroyer

Moeen Ali's innocuous off-spin has exposed the lack of fight in this Indian side

An unlikely English destroyer

Abysmal. It’s the best way to describe India’s outing in the fourth Test at Old Trafford that culminated in an innings and 54-run defeat. So, who was the real perpetrator of that doom then?

James Anderson? Stuart Broad?

Anderson took just two wickets in the second innings. Gautam Gambhir didn’t know how to deal with a leg-side bouncer, while Anderson has made it a habit in this series to dismiss Virat Kohli – four dismissals in 30 balls conceding a mere seven runs.

Broad was not even on the field due to a broken nose, and it’s scary to even to think the size of India’s total had he also been part of the attack. A most unlikely candidate, or everyone thought so at the beginning of this series, brought destruction upon this Indian side – Moeen Ali.

A seemingly gentle, harmless off-spinner, Ali had wrecked the Indian line-up in the third Test at Ageas Bowl, taking six wickets in the second innings. In Southampton, the nature of the pitch made a long spell mandatory for Ali, but here he was pressed into service due to the force of the circumstances.

In both the cases, Ali paid no respect to Indian batsmen’s reputation as the finest players against spin. He reduced them to a muddle-headed bunch not with mindboggling variations but with precision. It was a shocking sight.

Cheteshwar Pujara was unlucky to be given out leg before. But the approach of Ajinkya Rahane, Ravindra Jadeja and skipper MS Dhoni revealed the indecisiveness in the Indian minds. Rahane, usually a calm customer at the crease, looked disturbed after Ali’s off-break beat him for the turn, and he lasted just three more balls — his half-hearted drive resulting in a return catch to Ali.

Ravindra Jadeja charged against everything bowled at him. He seemed a nervous wreck, the cavalier stay ended with a snick off Ali to Jordan in the slip. Dhoni too adopted a counter-attacking method. It was entertaining while it lasted, boundaries coming at a fast clip. Unfortunately, the need of the hour was different. There was no match to win, but there was one to be saved and all the Indian batsmen had forgotten about it.

Indians’ capitulation against Ali was so frustrating because they had spent several sessions at the nets ahead of the Old Trafford Test to counter the off-spinner. Rahane, Pujara, Vijay, Kohli and Gambhir all were perfecting the sweep shot, an attempt to shake Ali off the line. Trevor Penny was leading those sessions. Now, it’s hard to understand the logic behind a fielding coach directing the batting session that focuses on a specific area like tackling a spinner. We may find out the reason for that once!

Dhoni, however, offered an explanation of India’s failure against Ali. “He (Ali) has his own trajectory. He keeps bowling in one area, and is quite willing to bowl that way. Our bowlers are different. They have their own way of bowling. Ali is very persistent with his lengths. The odd ball turns, and the others are just straight. He wants to keep it very tight. And if you want to take him on, you can try your luck,” said Dhoni.

India’s batting collapse in the first innings was quite understandable as Anderson and Broad exploited the gloomy conditions, perfect for their brand of bowling, to the hilt. But there was no justification for a train wreck of an effort against Ali on a third-day pitch under basking sun. India lost nine wickets in the post-tea session and four of them fell to Ali. For heavens’ sake, it’s Ali and not Muttiah Muralitharan we are talking about!

Even England skipper Alastair Cook was surprised at Ali’s success. “A part of their game must have been to attack Moeen. Moeen has improved rapidly. He was brilliant in helping us get nine wickets in one session. I’ve never seen a bloke who works so hard and make such an improvement in such a short span of time. He’s a canny operator,” Cook added.
Indian batsmen just didn’t have the will for a fight, even against a ‘part-time’ off-spinner.

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