By Gaurav Joshi
Entire England knew life after Graeme Swann was going to be tough, but the way Alastair Cook has handled his replacement, Monty Panesar in the fourth Test, Swann’s loss could even be more catastrophic than one first thought.
First occurrence of Cook’s lack of faith in Panesar was in the first innings when the left-arm spinner trapped Australia’s in-form batsman, Brad Haddin LBW only to be overruled by DRS. Panesar had a moral victory over Haddin and from that instance, Haddin stayed glued to his crease for the next couple of overs. It was an ideal chance to persist with Panesar but watching wickets tumbling from the other end, Cook immediately reverted to his pace bowlers seeking the wickets of the tail rather than dismissing the well established Haddin.
This was in stark contrast to the way Michael Clarke used Nathan Lyon on Day Three and the confidence Clarke had in his spinner. It ended with Lyon finishing with his best figures in Australia. Importantly, Lyon had the backing of his captain despite Ben Stokes and Kevin Pietersen’s aggressive approach against him.
Clarke’s use of Lyon was a lesson in itself for Cook but instead of encouraging his spinner, the English captain went on a different tangent.
It took Cook 20 overs to introduce his primary spinner on a day Australia needed 200 runs to win. Unfortunately by then, Australia batsmen had eaten away half the runs.
Chris Rogers, the man at the crease who scored freely in the first 20 overs is arguably Australia weakest link against spinners, he doesn’t sweep, doesn’t use his feet and importantly would have had to deal with distinct rough patches outside his off-stump. Instead Cook persisted with his quick men; it seemed to also play into Shane Watson hand.
Australia’s No 3 had struggled with a groin injury affecting his stretching but instead of testing his font foot stretches with his spinner, Cook adopted a contrasting approach.
Panesar might not have turned the Test match, but given Australia struggles against spin recently, Cook had to back his spinner with more runs in the bank.
Eventually when Panesar was introduced, it was an act of desperation rather than assertion. Furthermore, Cook had injected Panesar from the wrong end. Over the duration of the match, it is the end Lyon had bowled from Southern Stand end. The logic was Lyon bowled into the rough and the wind allowed his ball to drift away from the right handers. Cook was so indecisive; he had forgotten the basics of the game.
One of the reasons Cook has struggled with Panesar is because he lies in the modern day psyche which believes a spinner is a defensive weapon rather than an aggressor. According to Cook, Panesar’s role in the team is to primarily hold up an end, rather than take wickets. That theory is perfectly fine on first three days of a Test match, but when a team is trying to win a Test on a wicket with footmarks, Cook was on a different tangent.
Panesar is in a different class to Swann, but the way Cook has handled his spinner during the course of the Test match suggests Cook has forgotten one of the greatest assets in our modern game, a spinner.
(Gaurav Joshi is an Indian-born Australian who played with Michael Clarke in his junior days. He coaches and reports for a Sydney radio station. Over the years he has freelanced for Australia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and is a regular on ABC cricket show Cow Corner. He is the author of the book “Teen Thunder Down Under” – The inside story of India’s 2012 U19 World Cup Triumph)
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