For a decade or so, India has been the final frontier for all the touring sides around the world. If you have to beat India at their own den, you have to beat them in their own game. Here spin is to win and the Indian spinners are nothing short of a nightmare to the opposition.
Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja were the second most prolific Indian bowling duo ahead of the series against England and they took no time to become the most successful Indian pair in the first Test itself. Despite India making a comeback in the series with a win in the second Test, there seems to be a pattern reminiscing with England’s 2012 tour of India, the last time any team breached this final frontier to clinch a Test series.
Almost every time since then, the Indian spinners have conceded fewer runs to take a wicket (average) on tracks suiting the tweakers well. In their last Test series loss at home, the Indian spinners were in a transition mode. They had Harbhajan Singh, two 26-year-old Ravichandran Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha, and even younger Ravindra Jadeja and Piyush Chawla (for the final Test) in their squad up against Graeme Swann (33), Monty Panesar (30) and Samit Patel (26). In that series, the Indian spinners took 43 wickets at 40.62 but their England counterparts were much more effective with 39 wickets at 28.61.
This time around for the first two Tests, the Indian spinners have scalped 23 wickets at 38.39, while the England tweakers have taken 33 wickets at 33.90. Not that the opposition spinners have never averaged less than the Indian tweakers in the middle of a series ever since. As per a stat shared by ESPNCricinfo, the Australian spinners averaged way less than the hosts in the first two Tests of the 2016-17 tour but Indian tweakers managed to make a comeback in the last two Tests that helped the team clinch that series. In 2016-17, the Australian spinners averaged around 12 in the first two Tests, in comparison to the Indian tweakers averaging over 20. By the end of the series, the Indian tweakers did enough to take their average to 24.13, a little over their Aussie counterparts’ 24.73 average at the end.
This time, India were outplayed in the first Test on the back of leaving some runs in the first innings and a once-in-a-lifetime knock from Ollie Pope. Rahul Dravid confirmed the same after the loss in the opener. “I thought we left probably 70 runs on the board in the first innings. You know, I think in our first innings, when conditions were pretty good to bat in on day two, I thought in the kinds of situations we got ourselves into, some good starts and we didn’t really capitalise.
“We didn’t get a hundred, you know, we didn’t get somebody getting a really big hundred for us. So, in some ways, in India, I just felt we left those 70, and 80 runs back in the hut in the first innings. The second innings is always going to be challenging. It’s one of those things that, you know, it’s tough. It’s not easy to chase 230 or it’s not done very often,” he said in a press conference after the Hyderabad Test.
“I haven’t seen a better exhibition of sweeping and reverse sweeping (than Ollie Pope) ever in these conditions against that quality of bowling,” he said on Pope.
In the second game, this trend continued with no Indians other than Yashasvi Jaiswal getting a notable knock in the first inning and then also in the second one where no one other than Shubman Gill got a score of over fifty. This change in pattern surely is also forced by the way the Indian batters have played against the England spinners. Batting better against England spinners is also a thing the Men in Blue would have to do because this is not that threatening spin attack that we saw in 2012. With Jack Leach ruled out, this attack (with no disregard) lacks the experience of Test and first-class cricket too. The most experienced spinner in the England team is their part-timer Joe Root who has played over 205 first-class games but the next best is Tom Hartley with 22 first-class games.
Ravindra Jadeja missing out on the second Test and Axar Patel’s missing guile that we saw in the 2021 home series against England seems to suggest this reminiscence of the 2012 spin pattern. England have been troubled with the spin and some sensational bowling from Jasprit Bumrah but when they were not, they found ways to counter the Indian bowling. The Indians have done it before. With the series locked at 1-1 and Jadeja’s name in the squad for the final three Tests (though his participation is subject to fitness clearance), India would be looking to deny England of that pattern and hold the fort they have done for so many years.